Interpublic’s revival plan for Lowe targets biggest Aussie indie 303

Interpublic has clearly decided that its troubled Lowe & Partners is worth preserving despite all manner of ructions and disappointments – the reason is presumably Unilever which under CMO Keith Weed seems wedded to the agency – and it’s now trying to bolster its presence in booming Australia by buying all or part (IPG usually wants all) of the biggest remaining Aussie independent, 303.

A couple of weeks ago marcoms rival Havas bought 51 per cent of another Aussie indie agency Host.

303, which employs about 100 people in Australia compared to Lowe & Partners’ skeleton crew of 20, looks set to take the reins of the new operation with 303 boss Nick Cleaver (pictured) as CEO.

The deal looks remarkably similar to that in the UK in which Lowe bought DLKW from Don Elgie’s Creston Group for a chunky £28m. IPG has continued to invest heavily in DLKW Lowe, most recently by poaching four top creatives from Omnicom’s DDB London.

Despite recovering mightily in financial terms under CEO Michael Roth, Interpublic still faces problems with its three big international agency networks McCann Erickson, DraftFCB and Lowe.

McCann is currently undergoing its own cultural revolution under Worldgroup boss Nick Brien, who is banking on the transformational qualities of former Mother US creative boss Linus Karlsson and sundry other imported Swedes.

DraftFCB, still one of the biggest agencies in Chicago, has resolutely refused to fly since the merger of Draft and FCB in 2006 and recently lost its $1bn foundation client SC Johnson.

Lowe, founded by the UK’s Sir Frank Lowe, was always slated as the most creative network in the group (although Brien clearly doesn’t see it that way) but has struggled since Sir Frank Lowe fell out with the IPG board a decade ago. Lowe’s London office lost its biggest account £40m Tesco to Sir Frank’s start-up The Red Brick Road a few years back.

Roth might be wise to take a leaf out of Publicis Groupe chief Maurice Levy’s book and buy 51 per cent of the creative agencies he targets. Levy pioneered this kind of deal in the 1980s with Bartle Bogle Hegarty and it seems to be the best formula for dealing with independently-minded creative types.

David jones at Havas has obviously seen the merit of this in his deal with Host. Even WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell went down the same route with London’s Clenmow Hornby Inge.

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