C&W, GCI plan to focus on large clients, broaden global presence

NEW YORK: Following the merger with sister WPP agency GCI Group, Cohn & Wolfe said it plans to expand its global presence and focus primarily on large-scale clients.

NEW YORK: Following the merger with sister WPP agency GCI Group, Cohn & Wolfe said it plans to expand its global presence and focus primarily on large-scale clients.

The combined company will retain the name Cohn & Wolfe (C&W). C&W CEO Donna Imperato will remain CEO, and GCI Group CEO Jeff Hunt will remain president. The new entity will have more than 1,000 employees in 50 wholly owned offices around the world. The agency will also include a separate global specialty healthcare firm called GCI Health that can compete with C&W's own healthcare practice.
"It's definitely going to expand our presence globally," Imperato told PRWeek. "Clients that want you to be a global agency expect you to have a presence in a [certain] number of regions. By coming together, we are able to offer the sheer number for a [larger] global footprint."

Imperato said the merged agency would "definitely" be a top 10 global player. She added, "I'm not sure where we would fall within that top 10, but somewhere in the middle."

When asked whether the new entity could become a top 10 agency, one former GCI executive told PRWeek, "They definitely have an appropriate chance."

GCI joined WPP when the holding company announced it was acquiring Grey Global Group in September 2004. C&W joined WPP in 2000, when the holding company acquired Y&R Brands. The two agencies have been long-rumored as a merger opportunity for WPP.

Both of the agencies have been increasing their global offerings over the last several years. C&W is currently in the process of acquiring a Chinese agency, and earlier this year it acquired a majority stake in the European technology firm AxiCom. GCI has 30 wholly owned offices outside of the US.

Imperato said that initially US and Europe will be the agency's strongest markets, but expects Asia and the Middle East to provide future growth.

Prior to the merger, both of the agencies mainly competed against boutique and midsize firms for business. But Imperato now expects that the firm will go up against other top 10 agencies.

 "Our clients will probably be a little larger at the gate," she explained. "Not that we'd turn [them] away, but for clients looking for a boutique and have about $100,000 to spend - we probably won't be their choice."

Initially, growth will be focused on expanding C&W's creative-focused clients to the digital offerings at GCI and vice versa, Imperato said.

Hunt noted that most of the challenges of integrating senior teams and systems were already addressed because the two agencies have worked closely together for several years.

GCI Health will also be based in New York, but will include operations in Europe. Despite industry perceptions, Imperato said GCI Health would not serve as a conflict agency for C&W.

"I want GCI and Cohn & Wolfe competing for the same business," she said. "I'm sure... the perception [is that it is a conflict brand], but people shouldn't let their guard down. [GCI Health] is going to be a force. And [it is] going to get everything [it] needs to build and grow and compete with us."

Jill Dosik will serve as the president of GCI Health, but in a role that could eventually evolve into a CEO position, Imperato said.

"We want to build on our brand equity - it's not a conflict shop," Dosik said. "And I don't see our competition changing as we become a more specialized agency. I see us competing against big agencies and the small."

A competing healthcare practice told PRWeek that, "Boutiques are nothing new in healthcare, and I've seen it happen far too often. So it's probably not going to change the landscape much out there."

Dosik said that the health entity retained the GCI name because it holds strong a brand recognition in the health sector, but that the agency also wants to utilize and leverage C&W's international network.

"We look forward to working with both agencies and the resources they'll be able to bring to our business," said Amy Rose, director of media relations at Merck, which works with both agencies.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that Merck works with C&W; however, it should be  noted that Merck worked with both GCI and Cohn & Wolfe prior to the merger, and continues to work with both agencies.

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