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MullenLowe eyes new blood transfusion from 101

MullenLowe doesn’t sound the most exciting of agencies but there’s usually a surprise around the corner and this time it’s the Interpublic-owned agency’s plan to buy London independent 101.

The Lowe component of the merger with US-focussed Mullen has been decimated by the departure of just about every senior manager and creative with the main survivors being Tom Knox (until recently IPA president) and Helen Bell, who looks after its vital Unilever business.

MullenLowe’s current management is headed by Dale Gall and others chiefly from MullenLowe’s digital arm Profero.

In buying 101 it seems to be trying to replicate the success it briefly had with Delaney Lund Knox Warren (DLKW) which the then Lowe Group bought from Creston in a previous attempt at revival following the loss of Tesco to Sir Frank Lowe’s The Red Brick Road. Lowe, of course, had founded the eponymous agency after he broke away from CDP with Geoff Howard-Spink and some senior creatives, later selling to Interpublic for an estimated £100m.

101, comprising mostly ex-Fallon executives alongside former Cadbury marketing boss Phil Rumbol, has been bedevilled by its lack of an international network, losing newly-acquired Costa as Costa decided to expand internationally and its share of Britvic for what looks like the same reason.

It has a deserved reputation for grown-up marketing thinking, epitomised by co-founder and strategist Laurence Green (below) who learned his trade as a planner back at Lowe, and Rumbol. But, as with many independent London agencies, has found it hard to land really big accounts which are, mostly, the preserve of the networks.

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Adam&eve was the last London indie to win that kind of business, landing UK-only retailer John Lewis and domestic-focussed Lloyds Bank-owned Halifax (from DLKW) before it too succumbed to network opportunities and a reported £60m to join Omnicom as adam&eveDDB in 2012. It now handles Lloyds too.

MullenLowe though needs to be certain that 101 won’t just supply a short-lived new blood transfusion, only to be dissipated by key people leaving once their earn-outs complete. 101 will be wary of Mullen’s US executives, headed by Alex Leikikh, dropping in from a great height and leaving blood on the carpet.

It will be interesting to see if, even at this late stage, another buyer, maybe a consultant, emerges for 101.

Update

Looks too late for the latter, the deal’s done we hear.

Update Update

Apparently the deal isn’t done yet – but what do we know?

Also Dale Gall, the agreeably open CEO of MullenLowe, tells me that not all the new crew are Profero digital types. Which we’re happy to accept.

So let’s see what happens next. Who’d run an agency?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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