As you read this Larry Weber, chairman of McCann-Erickson’s public
relations arm, is scouring the globe armed with a long list of PR firms
and a fat cheque book.
His mission is to build the advertising giant a top five worldwide PR
network by the year 2001. ’Top three’, he adds hastily, ’in the key
markets of the US, UK, Germany, France, Australia, Japan and Latin
His method is to buy the ’absolute best’ agencies in each area.
Healthcare, consumer, public affairs, strategic consultants, hi-tech and
publicity - no sector will escape Weber’s scrutiny.
The buying frenzy began in earnest last week when McCann snapped up
corporate and financial agency the Ludgate Group in a deal estimated to
be worth around #10 million.
The agency has become part of Weber’s hi-tech group Weber PR Worldwide,
which was bought by McCann at the end of last year and is the building
block of its PR empire.
Under the agreement Ludgate chief executive Tim Trotter becomes deputy
chairman of Weber PR, reporting to Weber and McCann chief executive John
McCann already has a UK PR subsidiary. McCann-Erickson PR has five
offices, employs just under 40 people and recorded a fee income of
#815,600 in 1995.
However, despite the declaration in PR Week last year by McCann CEO
Brian Child that he knew of many PR people ’who would kill to get their
hands on the McCann-Erickson name,’ a re-branding exercise seems
unlikely. Both Trotter and Weber insist that Ludgate will retain its own
identity at least ’for the foreseeable future.’
’McCann-Erickson is a very strong brand name in advertising but not in
PR,’ explains Weber. ’Ludgate has a strong reputation for financial PR,
we want to build on that.’
The plan is to grow both Ludgate and Weber side by side through a
combination of acquisitions and organic growth. This strategy will make
Ludgate a truly global player. The company already has offices in New
York and Hong Kong and a network of 22 affiliates in 20 countries.
With McCann’s capital it is planning to grow its US investor relations
capabilities. It is also aiming to expand its financial PR services from
its Hong Kong office into Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the
Philippines and stretch further into Europe.
Weber, meanwhile, will grow his Massachusetts-based hi-tech business
along the same lines but continue on the acquisition trail for more
Healthcare could be the next on the list.
Unlike the communications group Omnicom, which keeps its businesses
separate, Weber and Trotter have not ruled out combining their efforts
on the occasional pitch. ’We will grow side by side and have areas of
cross fertilisation,’ explains Ludgate chief executive David Simpson.
’We could pitch together,’ he added. ’For example if a large financial
services company was looking for financial PR and product PR in
Tie-ups between Ludgate and McCann’s main advertising business, which
has billings of $8 billion and operations in 110 countries, are
’Advertising and financial PR personnel PR are very different beasts,’
explains Simpson. Although he is hoping the Ludgate name will become
’better known’ among McCann clients Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nestle
To Weber, the Ludgate deal is just the start. ’I want to build what B-M
was to this century,’ he pledged in an interview last December.
Weber predicts the four or five global PR firms like B-M, Edelman and
Fleishman-Hillard will grow to seven or eight. The gap between these
large companies and the mid-range and niche agencies will widen. He
wants Weber PR to be up there pitching with the big boys. ’There is a
huge opportunity in the PR market to create another global brand,’ he
Agencies on Weber’s list are not the biggest, but are niche outfits.
’Over the last five years there has been a growth of entrepreneurial PR
companies like Ludgate,’ he says. ’I want to grab them and manage them
Also high on the agenda is ’interactive abilities’. Weber PR’s USP will
be its use of technology with, for example, virtual press rooms and
CD-ROM annual reports. Its existing strapline ’The agency for the
information technology’ may be adopted by other companies within the
Media analyst Lorna Tilbian sees a promising future. ’McCann-Erickson is
catching up with Omnicom, which has Gavin Anderson and WPP, which has
Hill and Knowlton,’ she says. ’The breakaway from Shandwick Consultants
to form the Hogarth Partnership is proof the PR market is pretty
buoyant,’ adds Tilbian. ’McCanns is buying at the right time.’
Weber has set himself ’quarters, not years’ to achieve his goal of
making Weber PR a top global network. If he does succeed it may cost him
his own job according to a promise he made last December: ’I’ve told
people around here the second I see it hit number one, wherever I am in
the world, I’ll stop working.’ Fighting talk.