Dentsu seems to be motoring at last and now it buys UK digital agency Steak

All sorts of reasons have been offered for Japanese giant Dentsu’s inability to expand out of its home country (where it enjoys a dominant share of a huge market), the most convincing being its apparent determination to keep all the power in the hands of Japanese executives.

But this began to loosen with the appointment of former Toyota marketer Tim Andree (pictured) as head of its US operations in 2006, although this was rapidly followed by a near-disastrous falling out with creative head Steve Biegel.

But Andree persuaded John McGarry to sell Mcgarrybowen to Dentsu in 2008 and the ex-Y&R executive and his team have helped Dentsu in the US to prosper mightily since, most recently by winning Sears Holdings and Burger King.

Andree is now head of Dentsu West and seems to have struck another good deal when he hired London veteran Jim Kelly from RKCR/Y&R (Kelly was the ‘K’) in 2009 to be head of Europe.

Kelly has now pulled off a deal to buy London-based digital network Steak which also has offices in New York and Melbourne.

Steak was founded in 2005 by Oliver Bishop and Duncan Parry and now employs about 100 people. In January Kelly bought German digital outfit Social Thinkers.

Such deals don’t alway work out of course (although Mcgarrybowen certainly has). Kelly knows a lot about them, having rolled his agency RKCR into WPP’s struggling Y&R London operation and helped to turn the agency’s fortunes around.

He also had the highly educative experience of working for WPP’s notoriously demanding CEO Sir Martin Sorrell.

Dentsu’s UK ad business (pre-Kelly) was built around what was left of the once-stellar CDP, which definitely was not a good idea or deal.

It will be interesting to see what it does now as far as its mainstream creative offering is concerned. Building it on Mcgarrybowen, which opened an office in London in 2010, seems the obvious thing to do.

John McGarry might wish to keep his Japanese owners at arm’s length though.

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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.