MWW Expands Amidst ‘Independent Agency vs. Holding Company’ Debate

Today brings news that MWW has finalized its acquisition of London-based Parys Communications, which will now become part of the larger MWW organization. While the move expands the firm’s client roster to include names like News UK (part of News Corp.) and BBC Worldwide and adds all of Parys’ employees to its team, we’re most interested in its strategic implications.

As Edelman‘s David Armano noted in an August AdAge op-ed, the supernova merger of Omnicom and Publicis led to “swelling…support for independent shops” over the far larger holding companies that would (supposedly) lack the “agility” and entrepreneurial spirit of feistier competitors. Armano wrote that his original employer “had stopped innovating and…winning like we used to” after being bought by Omnicom and that he had a similar experience at Digitas.

His article described the holding company experience as a classic tale of a small fish in a big pond but ultimately concluded that the quality of work and employee satisfaction at any agency depends more on the talent within it than any other factor.

MWW is better qualified than some to comment on this trend, and today President/CEO Michael W. Kempner gave us his quick take.

You may recall that the firm regained its independence from Interpublic Group in 2011 with a buyout before rebranding itself with the “Matter More” tagline and re-naming its headquarters.

In the press release, Kempner says that “When we again became independent three years ago, one of the key goals of our leadership team was to grow into a true international agency” and mentions the value of exposing MWW’s existing clients to the European market and adding a new group of employees to the team.

When we asked him for a comment on the independent agency question, he wrote:

“At MWW, we sit at a unique vantage point as our management team knows what it’s like to operate within a large holding company as well as an independent agency. I’ve personally found that an independent business model creates the best opportunity to run a business where you can make decisions that are in the best interests of your clients and your employees, which has directly enabled us to grow domestically and now internationally.

In today’s media environment, constant change is the norm and I expect that it will be the innovative and agile firms, particularly those who can balance speed and sophistication, that will be able to deliver the best work for their clients.”

Our own experience tells us that a larger bureaucracy increases the risk of creative frustration and affects the quality of work produced, but there’s no doubt that holding companies have greater initial leverage due to the size and breadth of their portfolios.

Speaking from the client’s perspective, the ability to act quickly and creatively is a major asset for any firm—and price point could also be a major differentiator. At the same time, we have to remember that even the most “spontaneous” work—like the Oreo campaigns that everyone else wishes we would stop talking about—requires months of planning and coordination at every level.

What do we think of the larger trend?