Airtel switch to JWT rekindles talk of Sorrell feud with Redifussion’s Arun Nanda

Airtel, the huge Indian mobile company with 110 million subscribers, has switched its account from Arun Nanda’s Redifussion agency to WPP-owned JWT leading some observers to say it’s the latest act in a long-running feud between WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and Redifussion founder Arun Nanda.

WPP owns 26 per cent of Redifussion through Y&R and Sorrell is apparently keen to buy the rest. Nanda, a 67-year old veteran of the Indian agency scene who speaks for 60 per cent of the agency shares, doesn’t want to sell, claiming that most big Indian clients are primarily interested in the massive domestic market so don’t need a global set-up.

Sorrell, who’s keen to expand in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, begs to differ.

Airtel, controlled by Indian tycoon Sunil Mittal, is Redifussion’s flagship account and its loss is a blow in terms of prestige as well as money. To make matters worse the agency has also lost Colgate-Palmolive in India to Bates 141, also part of the WPP empire.

Cynics might say that, at this rate, there won’t be that much left to buy.

Overseas companies buying into India face a number of hurdles, including the requirement to win agreement from their local partners for any change in ownership.

But hurdles like that are meat and drink to the ever-acquisitive Sir Martin.

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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.