WPP’s controversial Aussie film outfit Plush becomes Bento – kill or cure?

WPP doesn’t so much ruffle feathers as grab the offending bird by the neck and give it a good shaking and Plush Films, its joint commercials production venture in Australia with marcoms company STW, is a typical case in point.

Plush was invented to service WPP’s creative agencies in Australia (whether they liked it or not) and to keep a chunk of the profit, up to 60 per cent according to some accounts. Aussie ad paper AdNews estimates it was making up to $A2m at its peak.

In-house commercials production by another name.

The plan was to begin in Australia and roll the model around the world. The company was led by former STW CEO and founder Russell Tate (pictured).

But from the outset in 2003 Plush met vehement opposition from creatives inside and outside WPP and also from the Screen Producers Association.

AdNews quotes one rival producer thus: “I’m a huge fan of Plush in the most negative way I can possibly find. They are courageous in their averageness. Plush decimated parts of the business but in the end they found their level. All the creatives found themselves hamstrung.”

Now Plush is being revamped as Bento, a new online production outfit. Some see this as a mark of its failure, others as a more positive move.

Plush/Bento says: “The Plush model has been an outstanding success for its shareholders and clients. It has driven incremental value for all and produced outstanding work.

“But Plush was modelled and became the biggest film production company in Australia at a time when the argument was between 35mm and 16mm film. The world has moved on, from offline to online, and the impact is no more evident than in the film production area.

“We’ll be substantially investing in the new Plush, upgrading studios, putting in new edit suites that will focus on content and viral production, and expanding into music production.”

On balance then it looks as though Plush Films has failed, another case of WPP vertical integration coming unstuck.

It will be interesting to see if Bento makes its way with rather less controversy.

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