Local Beats Out Global in Agency Identity Crisis

Publicis is just the latest worldwide agency to ride the brand coattails of a local shop

Think globally, act locally. That’s one interpretation of Publicis Groupe’s merger this month of its namesake global agency with a local shop to create Publicis Kaplan Thaler in New York.

In short, The Kaplan Thaler Group is a more recognized brand name in the local market, though Publicis is larger. In that sense, the merger recalls the 2009 rollup of Interpublic Group shops Lowe and Deutsch. Back then, the global Lowe brand ceded to Deutsch in New York. So much for international clout.

As Euro RSCG prepares to rebrand as Havas Worldwide in September, one has to ask: Why can’t European agency names like Publicis, Lowe and Euro RSCG survive here?

The short answer: reputation, stemming from both the caliber of agency leaders and the success of their work. While agency names matter, they’re clearly no substitute for results.

“These businesses come in, but no one knows what their point of view is,” said Rosemarie Ryan, co-founder of the brand consultancy co: collective in New York. “Just the fact that they’re from England or they’re from France isn’t really going [to cut it]. It’s like, what are you in the business of doing?”

That explains why at the start of ad reviews, marketers are drawn to some agencies more than others. Wieden + Kennedy means something in the marketplace: creative excellence, consistency. With other shops, however, the picture is unclear.

“The name is one thing,” said Daniel Wadia, managing director at Redscout, a brand consultancy in New York. “[But] it’s more what you do than what you say. And what you do should be to find the best local talent to drive your business in that market.”

In March, Havas CEO David Jones signaled Euro RSCG’s name change, which takes effect Sept. 24. The move stems from a desire to simplify the company’s structure and promote collaboration among sister agencies, a Havas rep said.

The larger wave of consolidation, particularly within holding companies, compounds the agency branding problem, making advertising like other industries in which established monikers disappear overnight. “This is what happened to the banks seven years ago,” Ryan said. “Every time you looked around, whatever bank you were with changed to a different bank. They were all kind of consuming or subsuming each other.” The merger and renaming of agencies, she added, signifies “commoditization of the business on some level, which is not a great thing.”

Indeed, shops that tout rebranding efforts, be it a new name, website or strategic vision, often have less happening creatively or businesswise. It’s not a good sign when your press release trumpets a new logo.

“It is in some ways a distraction from the issue at hand of how to maintain differentiation and really quality work,” said Lenny Stern, co-founder of SS+K. “It’s not bad to [rebrand]. It’s just, that’s not where the priority is.”

Or as Fearless partner Jerry Judge put it: “Do good work, be attractive, be desirable, be modern, and you can call yourself ‘The Bum Factory’” and still succeed.

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