Editorial: The attraction of opposites

As PR Week went to press, the pens were poised on Chime Communications’ long awaited purchase of ad agency HHCL. The deal -put together with a little help from WPP - will see Lowe Bell and HHCL continuing to operate independently, while the interesting combination of Piers Pottinger and Rupert Howell will act as joint chief executives of the merged group.

As PR Week went to press, the pens were poised on Chime

Communications’ long awaited purchase of ad agency HHCL. The deal -put

together with a little help from WPP - will see Lowe Bell and HHCL

continuing to operate independently, while the interesting combination

of Piers Pottinger and Rupert Howell will act as joint chief executives

of the merged group.



The deal answers some questions about the next stage of Chime’s growth by

doubling the size of the business at a stroke, and this will undoubtedly

help Sir Tim Bell’s stated ambition of improving the group’s ratings in

the City. But at first glance the two firms make an odd couple. Their

cultures seem poles apart - with Bell’s ’mover and shaker’ style and close

association with the ancien regime on the one hand, and HHCL’s brand of

radical but politically correct advertising and ’3D’ communications on the

other.



Strategically, however, the deal looks inspired. It will not only add a

new range of skills to the group, but it will also help to deflect

attention from Bell himself as the pivotal figure in the operation and

reduce the significance of his links with the Tory old guard. More

importantly, it will inject some new excitement into the Chime brand.

Aside from the new business possibilities this will undoubtedly bring, it

will also help Bell raise the firm’s profile among City investors.



The link with WPP is crucial to the deal, in that it offers HHCL access to

an international network of ad agencies including JWT and Ogilvy and

Mather. But it also gives Lowe Bell the tantalising bonus of international

connections with Hill and Knowlton and Ogilvy Adams and Rinehart.



Back in 1991, when a merger was mooted between Lowe Bell and Shandwick,

part of Bell’s motivation was to gain access to an international

network.



Since then Chime has continued to thrive and has gained a public listing

in its own right, but the need for a global presence to mirror client

structures is in itself an attractive reason for getting into bed with

WPP. The only question is how such an arrangement could be made to work,

both culturally and practically.



Any such cross-agency co-operation is expected to be conducted on a purely

informal basis, which is probably just as well. For as other global groups

have found, forging closer ties between such strong agency brands can be

an unsettling process for both clients and staff, and insiders in WPP’s

PR camps are already nervous about the prospect of international

co-operation between such different agency cultures.



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