Members Buy Worldwide Partners

In what could portend a trend for this kind of agency network, Worldwide Partners has been acquired by its 90 independent member shops.

In acquiring the 63-year-old, Aurora, Colo.-based network, which had $4.2 billion in billings last year, members received an undisclosed amount of stock in exchange for their membership dues, said WP representative Paul Davidson. Each agency has an equal stake.

“Ownership is different than membership,” said Patricia Fiske, who remains WP president and CEO. She said the new structure will provide “a different sense of who we are in the world” and attract more multinational clients. “If you can create a corporation, you certainly can do a global ad campaign,” she said.

“This gives us a financial bond and unifies the joint business interests we have,” said Mickey Gallivan, managing partner of Riester Robb Harris & Love in Salt Lake City. “We’ve been standardizing methodologies, reporting systems and, eventually, billings, so it’s a more unified process.”

The agencies will operate as branch offices; each client will have one shop as its lead contact.

A similar scheme has been discussed at the ICOM International Communications Agency Network in Rollinsville, Colo., said executive director Gary Burandt. “Some of the multinationals, in particular Publicis and Havas, have figured out that our members, both at ICOM and Worldwide Partners, are a great place to recruit for their networks,” he said. “Perhaps members will [now] be less likely to follow the siren song.”

On the downside, Burandt said, “Owning stock has different connotations in different markets, and the legal and financial intricacies could be different when you sell.”

WP agencies include Archer/Malmo, Memphis; The Chisholm/Mingo Group, New York; Gardner, Geary, Coll & Young, San Francisco; Grant/Jacoby, Chicago; and Mintz & Hoke, Avon, Conn.

T&O Group chairman Steve O’Leary becomes this year’s chairman of WP on Friday, taking over for Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners co-chairman Jonathan Bond.