WCRS | Engine Group : advertising & marketing profile

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WCRS is a highly regarded full service agency, based in London. Until 2004, it was part of the Havas-owned Arnold Worldwide Partners network. The agency's management team bought back their independence that year, and WCRS added to its resources with the acquisition of a string of marketing services companies involved in interactive, branded content, sponsorship and direct marketing. Parent group Engine was created as the umbrella for these different units, and now operates as a broadly integrated group offering a complete range of interlinked marketing services. This expansion has revived memories of WCRS's early history. For a while, in the late 1980s, the agency aspired to become one of the world's largest marketing groups. The WCRS international network was later split out to form what is now the entirely separate media services business Carat. In 2014, US private equity investor Lake Capital acquired Engine Group, with a view to building up a new middle-tier marketing services holding company.

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Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Feb 2018: Debbie Klein, head of WCRS parent Engine Group in Europe and Asia, has jumped the tracks to take up a newly created position at long-time client Sky, the satellite broadcaster currently controlled by 21st Century Fox but soon expected to become a unit of Walt Disney. Klein has been named as group chief marketing & corporate affairs officer. No date has yet been set for her departure; she will stay at Engine until her successor has been chosen.

Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Oct 2017: Ads Of The Week: "Pride & Breadjudice". Forget Sylvester Stallone, forget the Muppets; WCRS tops both its previous campaigns for British baker Warburtons with this really rather wonderful epic starring beloved local comedian Peter Kay. It's not just that it's funnier than its predecessors, but Bolton-born Kay is the perfect fit with Warburtons cherished Northern heritage, far more suitable than those previous US imports. Even international viewers unfamiliar with Kay's lad-next-door charms will be won over by the multiple gags in this brilliantly conceived Jane Austen-inflected parody. Just great.

Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Sep 2017: Engine Group, the privately owned marketing roll-up best known for UK agency WCRS, announced plans to adopt a new management structure which bears some similarities to that recently implemented by Publicis. Engine's subsidiary businesses are being realigned to form four "client-centric" divisions. "Since its inception, Engine has led the way in seamlessly delivering integrated marketing communications," said divisional CEO Debbie Klein. "We’ve always been client-led in our approach, building bespoke teams around business need. By bringing our market leading brands together into four connected business units, we will be able to further leverage the collective firepower of our specialists whilst continuing to value and protect their distinctiveness." WCRS will be grouped within a new Engine Creative & Content division led by Matt Edwards, alongside DF London and Trailer Park. Engine PR & Activation houses MHP, Mischief, Slice and Synergy; while Engine Digital Transformation, Data & Insight becomes parent to PAA, Transform, Fuel and Orc. The fourth unit is Engine Media.

Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Jun 2017: Ads of the Week "We Got The Power". Power company E.ON teamed up with Damon Albarn's virtual rock band Gorillaz for this delightful film, engineered by WCRS and Engine Group. Solar energy was used to power up thousands of individual battery-operated toys, which then groove out to the track "We Got the Power" from the new Gorillaz album. It's a cute idea, though in reality there's a slight fudge to the underlying concept. How much better might it have been if the toys were directly powered by solar energy rather than rechargeable batteries, which still had to be physically inserted by humans? Anyway, the general idea is clear enough and the ad is too much fun to quibble with such technicalities. 

Adbrands Weekly Update 18th May 2017: In a development that would potentially alter the dynamics of the marketing industry, management and accounting consultancy Deloitte was reported to be considering a bid for Engine Group, best known for its UK ad agency WCRS as well as a collection of other units. The story was first reported by The Drum. Currently, Engine is owned by US private equity fund Lake Capital. Its managing partner, and Engine executive chairman, Terry Graunke refused to comment directly on the speculation, but told The Drum "We continue to enjoy being an independent group with a strong entrepreneurial culture... we continue to focus on growing the group organically and by acquisition and remain robustly financed. It’s business as usual." In other words, not unless the price is right. A deal would, arguably, catapult Deloitte ahead of Accenture as a force to be reckoned with in traditional marketing. However, it would still sit behind Accenture and PwC in marketing-related revenues, according to AdAge's estimates. Deloitte's most significant purchase in the field to-date is San Francisco creative boutique Heat.

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Free to all users | see full profile for current activities: British advertising agency Wight Collins Rutherford Scott launched in 1979, a a breakaway from Euro Advertising (later Lansdown Euro) formed by Robin Wight, Ron Collins, Andrew Rutherford and Peter Scott. The agency quickly generated a reputation as a hot creative shop as a result of work for clients such as BMW and Carling Black Label ("I bet he drinks Carling Black Label"). But in 1985, the agency lost two important accounts, Nabisco and Philips, because it lacked an international network. As a result, the partners came up with a bold plan to develop their own network on the back of a stock market flotation in 1985. The company quickly acquired several UK businesses including PR company Biss Lancaster and sports sponsorship agency Alan Pascoe Associates.

A year later, WCRS acquired US agency HBM/Creamer, which already handled several international accounts including Sheraton Hotels, as well as Della Femina Travisano, co-owned by legendary New York adman Jerry Della Femina. In 1987, the portfolio was bolstered with Australian shop The Ball Partnership and a 49% stake in Groupe Belier, the PR arm of what was then called Eurocom, a network controlled by French media group Havas. This added Belier's UK operation FCO Univas to the WCRS portfolio. In turn Eurocom took a 20% stake in the WCRS Group. Then in early 1988, the agency paid $120m to acquire a 50% stake in French agency SGGMD, already Europe's biggest media buyer. Shortly afterwards, that company changed its name to Carat Holdings.

By 1988, WCRS Group was the world's #6 advertising group with billings of $1.2bn. Yet as the world's other big ad agencies went on their own acquisition sprees over the following few years, WCRS began to slip behind. Crucially, agencies such as Saatchi, McCann or BBDO presented a unified global network, whereas WCRS was structured as a loosely-knit group of independently branded partners. It wasn't enough to attract the bigger multinational accounts. A more serious threat was the news that the group was being targeted by unscrupulous media tycoon Robert Maxwell. In 1989, in a set of complex interlinked deals, the company's advertising and media operations were split up into two separate businesses. The group sold its core WCRS advertising agency network to Eurocom, and then acquired the remaining 50% of Carat Holdings in France, as well as the pioneering British media independent TMD (The Media Department). The resulting group repositioned itself as a media-only business under the new name Aegis. Peter Scott moved to Aegis as chairman; his three partners stayed with the advertising business. (A separate group of WCRS group media directors split off to form the core of PHD).

As a new recession hit the industry in the early 1990s, Eurocom exerted increasing pressure on its newly acquired British agency and its small network, which traded under the unwieldy name of Eurocom WCRS Della Femina Ball. In 1990, the network was merged with another Havas subsidiary, HDM Europe. A year later, Eurocom merged with French rival Roux Seguela Caysac Godard to form Euro RSCG, and attempted to persuade WCRS to rebrand as Euro WCRSG. WCRS's directors refused and the agency was allowed to retain separate branding in the ensuing merger of all five London outposts of Euro RSCG. The rest of the short-lived Eurocom WCRS Della Femina Ball network was disbanded; Jerry Della Femina finally left his New York agency in 1992 after a bitter war of words in the press with the French group. His agency, by then named Della Femina McNamee, was folded into Euro RSCG's New York flagship MVBMS/Euro RSCG.

WCRS was effectively ignored by Havas Advertising for the next four years, but it was finally given an enlarged role in 1996 with the creation of a second network, the loosely-knit Campus. However the agency found it hard to recapture its former magic, despite the continuing presence of flamboyant and outspoken chairman Robin Wight. In 2000, WCRS was hit by a disastrous series of major account losses including Rover, Land Rover, Sega and above all key accounts Orange and Carling. However by luck and coincidence, Havas was then in the process of digesting its new purchase, Snyder Communications. US agency Arnold Communications was handed the senior role in a revamped Campus, and the network gradually metamorphosed into Arnold Worldwide Partners.

The shift of focus to the US caused many observers to wonder if Robin Wight would take the opportunity to move on, but he remained in situ, presumably biding his time. WCRS bounced back in 2001, capturing a string of important accounts to replace those lost a year earlier. But that trend reversed once again in 2002 and 2003 as a further string of important clients walked out the door. With problems mounting within Havas by 2003, Wight and his fellow directors at WCRS took the opportunity to begin talks to buy themselves out of the French group. A deal was struck in early 2004. Following the buyout from Havas, founding director Peter Scott rejoined the company, becoming executive chairman of parent company Engine. Following the departure of chief executive Stephen Woodford in 2006 to join DDB London, Scott became group CEO. See full profile for current activities

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