Executives split on whether APCO-Text 100 partnership will set a trend

Will more agencies team up to pitch major accounts following BlackBerry giving its global business to APCO Worldwide and Text 100?

Will more agencies team up across holding-company lines to pitch major accounts following BlackBerry giving its global business to APCO Worldwide and Text 100?

Agency leaders are divided on whether the industry will see firms more frequently create partnerships across holding-company lines and pitch together for new business.

APCO Worldwide and Text 100 turned heads earlier this week when they won BlackBerry's lucrative global business after a multi-round review. Text 100 is part of London-based holding company Next Fifteen, which also owns and operates M Booth, The OutCast Agency, and Bite. APCO is independent.

“It is an interesting and surprising match-up,” observes Chad Latz, president of the global digital practice at Cohn & Wolfe.

“You tend to see less collaboration within the PR sector across multiple holding companies. Within the PR category, there may not be as much perceived differentiation to warrant going outside the portfolio of a single holding company to make it beneficial to the brand,” he says. Latz notes that Next Fifteen does not have as large a portfolio as WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, and Interpublic.

Latz thinks the fact that BlackBerry selected the APCO-Text 100 combination is indicative of account consolidation in favor of multi-agency teams, but he doubts it will spur many other shops to strike alliances outside their holding companies when pitching for new work.

However, others assert that the APCO-Text partnership has the potential to be a game-changer for the PR industry.

“The idea that this might help break down the walls between agencies is great because at the end of the day, we're all one industry,” says Tom Coyne, president and CEO of the eponymous independent firm. “As an industry, if we can put forth better products, then that is what we should think about doing. Why not put agencies together to do something really special and elevate our industry?”

The argument that holding company-owned agencies have everything they need in their networks or that larger firms have all the necessary capabilities in-house misses the bigger point, Coyne contends.

“Regardless of who owns you or how your profits get divided, at the end of the day it is about who are the best account people to service a client,” he says. “And sometimes you might find that half of the best team is at one agency, and the other half at another firm.”

The BlackBerry global account is also unusual because of its value, scope of work, and the challenge of relaunching the BlackBerry brand, which changed its name from Research in Motion in January. The account is estimated to be worth $10 million. BlackBerry previously worked with more than 20 agencies around the world, and the APCO-Text 100 team will handle as much as 80% of the company's global PR work. Research in Motion had collaborated with Brodeur in North America for 16 years.

In the case of APCO and Text 100, the agencies have shared clients outside of North America, but this is the first time they pitched together, says Text 100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes. She says she got to know Margery Kraus, her counterpart at APCO, over the years, and they had talked about partnering on initiatives.

“When this opportunity came up, it was based on already knowing each other very well, so it felt very natural,” Hynes tells PRWeek. “And so neither of us, including from my group company [Next Fifteen], was questioned about it because we truly felt it was the right solution for BlackBerry. The thinking was that if this is right for BlackBerry, it is right for our firms, too.”

She compares the mentality behind their setup to brands taking a more customer-centric approach to marketing communications, in that “it doesn't matter if something comes from marketing, advertising, or communications, it's about coming up with a solution or campaign that addresses our audience challenge.”

“Our industry also needs to take a very client-centric approach in going to market,” explains Hynes. “The differences between firms have become less relevant. It is more about how you coalesce and how you bring the best possible skills to bear.” 

However, the account is not without its challenges, particularly logistics, notes Kraus.

“When we have a brief from the client, we'll sit down together and decide how to best service the account, but we do have a general sense of how it will work,” she says. “We have a sense of trust that it will be something fair to everybody and the best service to the client.”

While time will tell whether other firms embrace a similar approach, the APCO-Text 100 win does show that some PR agencies are willing to work with one another regardless of their ownership differences, notes Shift Communications CEO Todd Defren.

 “The lines of demarcation between independent agencies and shops held by conglomerates is not carved so deeply that any agency principal wouldn't try to tap a helpful resource, in-network or not,” he explains. 

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