WPP mulls GCI, C&W union amid Feldman exit rumors

NEW YORK - WPP Group is considering merging PR brands Cohn & Wolfe and GCI Group, said sources close to the situation.

Bob Feldman, CEO of GCI Group, declined comment on rumors that he is leaving the firm, but sources confirmed he is in discussions with DreamWorks Animation SKG, which became an independent studio in October.

A statement from WPP said that it would be "incorrect to report that any decision had been made on this matter," but that the company is always examining the best ways to serve clients. C&W CEO Donna Imperato was not available for comment.

WPP completed the acquisition of Grey Global Group, GCI's former parent company, earlier this year. Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, told PRWeek at the time, "GCI is a very good business, and we want to develop it and expand it."

WPP has long flouted the notion that it would merge PR brands, so to do so now could be considered something of a departure. "I can think of one exception, but I can't remember another situation where the merging of two agencies has worked," Sorrell told PRWeek in January 2003.

Industry observers see obvious synergies in a potential merger between the two brands. C&W's traditional strengths lie in healthcare, with a burgeoning consumer practice, while GCI is built on technology and corporate business. One of GCI's flagship accounts is Dell. C&W won sizeable Pfizer business last year.

Information that both firms submitted for the PRWeek Agency Business Report, which will appear in next week's issue, shows that the firms have a similar spread of accounts across disciplines, with the largest percent- age of clients in healthcare and consumer, followed by corporate for GCI and tech for C&W.

C&W has four US offices, nine global offices, and 340 US staffers. GCI did not disclose staff numbers, but reported seven US offices and 39 globally.

The potential departure of Feldman raises questions of leadership within the merged entity, as well as within GCI. Imperato would appear to be the front-runner to lead a merged company. GCI's leadership includes Jeff Hunt, president of GCI Latin America, and Adrian Wheeler, chairman of GCI in Europe.

Feldman would be joining the new studio at a critical time. Since DreamWorks Animation's October IPO (which earned the company a value of more than $4 billion), stock has climbed more than 40%, based in part on the strong performance of Shrek 2 DVD sales.

Feldman is considered by some to be an unusual choice for a film studio, however. The entertainment PR business is famously insular, drawing on a small group of executives with lengthy Hollywood resumes.

Nonetheless, some insiders speculate that DreamWorks Animation's business-minded investors, including GE and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, could lead the company to pursue a more corporate PR path.

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