EDITORIAL: Agencies grope with brand issue

Healthcare independent, Matthews Media Group, has been circled for

several months now, and was finally scooped up by Omnicom last week. It

won't be the last healthcare buy this year. What's more unusual is the

fact that such a relatively small firm has been bought not by a PR

agency, but by a giant holding company. It's a sign of PR's growing

reputation as a profit and growth center that the diversified agency

services (DAS) division - whose interests also include

Fleishman-Hillard, Porter Novelli and Ketchum - has brought a $10

million business directly under its wing.



As with the acquisition of Cone, the cause-related marketing specialist

based in Boston, which was bought by Omnicom last year, DAS seems to

recognize three problems that this solution addresses. First, no matter

how small, PR brands count with clients. Second, PR brands count among

PR multinationals, who for the most part have sought to retain a single

brand. Third, from a conflict standpoint, they need all the brands they

can get.



Others in the agency world are catching on to this. At Weber Shandwick

International, CEO Larry Weber calls single-branding 'old economy' and

is reintroducing Shandwick brand names such as Powell Tate in public

affairs and Miller in technology, as well as keeping Weber sub-brands

Red Whistle and Weber itself.



But the most dramatic example of this comes at Fleishman, another

Omnicom agency. For years, John Graham has vigorously built the business

around the Fleishman brand. Now, he's merging another Omnicom agency -

Canada-based GPC - to fuel global expansion. And the big difference is,

he's keeping the GPC name. Will Graham be able to continue the culture

with a collection of sub-brands? Will egos ever take a back seat in a

re-enfranchised Weber Shandwick? Perhaps the Cone/Matthews diversified

solution is just the easiest way out.



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