Midsize networks, not traditionally players on the global stage, are getting new stamps on their passports as they seek share, influence and talent.
In the past, it may have paid off to open offices just to appear competitive with larger global networks, but the gratuitous adding of dots on the corporate map is giving way to more selective expansion criteria for midsize shops.
While business opportunities will always be a guiding force, these are now joined by considerations such as the need to absorb new cultural and consumer influences, and access to talent.
As Wieden + Kennedy opens in Sao Paulo this week, we look at how these agencies are redefining global expansion.
WIEDEN + KENNEDY
Wieden + Kennedy's move into Brazil is as much about cultural enthusiasm as it is business opportunity. "That region is doing some very interesting things. We want to be part of that momentum," says global COO Dave Luhr. The opening of W+K's eighth office also reflects its evolving expansion strategy. The agency started its global outreach because of client Nike, opening in Amsterdam in 1992. More recently it's moved into markets like China and Brazil without a specific client. (Russia may soon be on that list.) The agency now calibrates its moves overseas not only upon current and projected needs, but also cultural importance.
R/GA has the best of both worlds: The credibility and creativity of a seemingly independent digital shop and the back-end support of its parent, global giant Interpublic. R/GA CEO Bob Greenberg is looking at an aggressive international expansion determined by new business wins like the global MasterCard assignment last year, for which the agency created hubs in Singapore, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aries. But don't expect any acquisitions: R/GA is rolling out videoconferencing across the agency's seven locations, with Greenberg insisting, "We want to be local but also to represent the best of everything in the R/GA architecture."
CRISPIN PORTER + BOGUSKY
Crispin Porter + Bogusky has primarily expanded through acquisition, a risky gambit given the agency's strong idiosyncratic nature. Crispin moved into Europe by buying Swedish digital shop Daddy last year and this summer opened in Canada after absorbing MDC corporate sibling Zig. Crispin CEO Andrew Keller says the key to melding disparate entities is to export U.S. staffers to propagate CP+B culture elsewhere. For an agency with a strong digital skew, physical distance becomes less meaningful anyway. "The Internet has literally shrunk the world, uniting us more by mind-set than countries," Keller says.
For Naked, globalization is more than just a strategic or business imperative; it's the chance to learn from consumers with fast-evolving media habits. "These markets often leapfrog more mature markets in adoption of new techniques and processes," says founding partner Paul Woolmington, who adds those eager adopters also carry less behavioral baggage. Naked, which opened in London in 1999, is now in 13 countries and looking to expand in Asia and the Americas. Woolmington argues marketers now demand more than just the local translation of global campaigns. The tenor of the times, he says, is more in tune with locally committed, culturally attuned agency partners.
Arnold is making a second run at becoming a global player. As VW's lead agency a decade ago, Arnold tried to establish itself as a creatively driven second network to Havas sibling Euro RSCG with offices worldwide. Arnold relinquished those ambitious goals in late 2005 after losing VW and other clients, closing some of the offices. Since new CEO Andrew Benett took charge in February, the agency is again looking abroad, albeit with a tighter, more disciplined approach. This summer Arnold opened in Amsterdam to service global client Volvo and serve as a European hub. Next year Arnold moves into Asia Pacific and Latin America; Sao Paulo could open as early as January.
In looking at expansion, Anomaly co-founder Carl Johnson advises: "Casting is everything." Anomaly set up its first overseas outpost in London last year, learning from its ill-fated New York spin-off, Another Anomaly, which closed after its founding partners exited in 2008. In the U.K. the agency hired slowly and in-line with revenue growth. Johnson says the Anomaly model, based on IP share as well as fees, has built-in appeal: "Anomaly represents an idea and not just one about names on the door. It felt more compelling to have a proposition that traveled more easily and be something local talent want to buy into."
--with Eleftheria Parpis and David Gianatasio