Opinion: Leader - Incepta/Huntsworth client offer unclear

The revelation that Incepta is now in 'advanced' merger talks with Huntsworth is another indication of how determined both groups are to increase their critical mass.

It is only three months since it emerged that Incepta was wooing Lord Bell's Chime Communications in a similarly heavyweight, but ultimately failed, merger bid. Meanwhile, Lord Chadlington's Huntsworth has snapped up an amazing 19 companies since the summer of 2001.

But while the immediate increase in 'shareholder value' of such mergers is apparent, the long-term value to clients is less clear. Huntsworth, by its nature, is a holding company for a broad array of specialists.

Incepta has made greater effort toward integration of its disciplines, but still has a long way to go.

Presumably both Incepta chairman Francis Maude and Chadlington aspire to competing on the world stage with the global marketing services groups such as WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic Group. These groups have many years' experience in coping with such integration issues, often taking different approaches. WPP, for example, is a classic holding company offering clients a loose-knit array of services. IPG, on the other hand, has taken a more integrated approach with its McCann-Erickson advertising operation and PR network Weber Shandwick often co-operating closely.

At a glance, the proposed Incepta/Huntsworth pairing throws up much discipline duplication, which will make effective integration of services even more challenging. And this is leaving aside the inevitable personality clashes among the heads of the specialist agencies therein. So while such moves are undoubtedly encouraging for the UK industry - fast emerging as the world's PR powerhouse - the cultural challenges remain fascinating. In the interests of the reputation of the whole discipline, the senior executives involved should ensure they place client requirements at the top of the agenda.

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