Publicis merges Blue 449 into Spark Foundry – £60m later

At the start of February Publicis coughed up £25m or so for the quarter of media agency Blue 449 that it didn’t own. The lucky beneficiary was M&C Saatchi which had sold most of what was Walker Media to Publicis some years before (boy, M&C knows how to cut a deal.)

Quite why Walker Media, a staple of the UK media agency scene, needed to become Blue 449 is not entirely clear. Blue 449 is a pantone colour.

But now Publicis’ wholly-owned pantone colour is to be merged into its Spark Foundry, another newbie name on the media agency scene. Spark Foundry used to be Mediavest, attached to Publicis’ Starcom. You can see why they wanted to get rid of Mediavest but Spark Foundry?

Actually we should qualify that a bit. Blue 449 is mostly to be merged into Spark Foundry except in the US, UK and France which are almost certainly its three biggest markets. There the Blue 449 bit will focus on domestic clients while Spark Foundry has the international ones. New boss is Chris Boothe who headed Spark Foundry in the US.

Boothe says: “I am thrilled to welcome the Blue 449 talent and clients to the Spark Foundry family. I’m confident these clients will benefit from continuing to work with the talent who know them and their business well, now backed by Spark Foundry’s unique Heat proposition strongly resonating and delivering for clients around the world.”

We won’t go into the “Heat” proposition (this is confusing enough as it stands) but quite how this signifies a major step forward in Publicis’ much-vaunted “transformation” plans is hardly clear. It looks like a monumental jumble and an expensive one at that.

In the Maurice Levy era Publicis spent billions on acquiring probably overpriced digital agencies, now mostly residing under another expensive acquisition Publicis.Sapient.

It now has another such entity in Publicis Media, headed by Steve King. Quite why it bothers with Zenith, Starcom, Spark Foundry and its £20m pantone colour (£60m if you include the original £35m payment for Walker) is anyone’s guess. Account conflict maybe.

But you can forgive clients for feeling a tad confused as they transition from one silly name to another.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.