It may take more than the Alberto Culver win to woo sceptics. By
When Carat was at its most debt-ridden in the early 90s, it set its
sights on the US. But its subsequent invasion was on an extremely modest
scale. All it did was set up its corporate communications chief, Roger
Parry, in a serviced office in Manhattan. He visited some of Carat’s
European clients, got to know a few others and generally
Things have moved on since then.
Earlier this month Carat won its first piece of transatlantic business,
when its European client, Alberto Culver, appointed Carat North America
to its dollars 50 million media account. And, for what it’s worth, Carat
is now one of the three largest media independents in the US.
It is impossible to underestimate the uphill task Carat faces. Carat’s
US billings are roughly a third of those of the market leader, Western
International Media. But that’s not the problem. Since Western bills
just dollars 2 billion, there’s plenty to go around. The problem lies in
the position of the media independent in US advertising.
The blue-chip clients, such as Kellogg, General Motors - even, to take a
Carat Europe client - American Express, all use full-service agencies
These agencies set up bespoke media teams just to handle the accounts.
Chrysler, for example, buys its media through a company called Pentacom.
It spends about one-and-a-half times as much as Carat’s total North
American billings. But Pentacom is not a media independent - it is a
company set up by BBDO to service the media on that account. Media
independents are left fighting it out among the regional gas station and
bowling alley clients.
Carat has made its American advance by buying the East Coast
independent, MBS, and the West Coast company, ICG. To these it has added
the technology and planning company, MMA. Now it would dearly love to
persuade more of its multinational clients - the likes of American
Express for example - that it can handle their work globally. It might
succeed: certainly the Alberto Culver win is a considerable coup. But
the odds are stacked against it.
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This article was first published on Campaign