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No crock of gold at end of Red Brick’s rainbow

When was the last time you heard anything about Frank Lowe-inspired Red Brick Road – you know, the Tesco agency? I thought so: when it lost its only other account of note, the global Heineken business, to BBH a few months back.

Red Brick Road’s inability to win new business after such a spectacular start back in 2006 means it is badly in need of an exit strategy. Which may well account for the following rumour. There’s going to be a merger with WPP’s JWT some time in the summer. The only real casualty will be JWT’s B&Q account. There, that’s it.
It’s quite an attractive rumour in its way. JWT, which has experienced a “recovery of sorts” following managing director Alison Burns’ departure is still weak on top management, the problem being the idiosyncratic personality of JWT Europe executive chairman Toby Hoare. Who better to up the ante than one of London’s best managers? Yes, step forward Red Brick Road ceo Paul Hammersley. Add to that the prize of Tesco, which JWT narrowly failed to lure a few years back when it was looking promiscuous at Lowe, and the idea seems juicier still.
There’s only one problem. The rumour isn’t true. What is true is that 20% stakeholder Sir Frank would like to get out and that he has held intermittent talks with WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell. These talks have considered several scenarios. One was to poach the Tesco media account from Initiative and place it in a WPP-sponsored outlet, probably MindShare. That at least was the WPP angle. Sir Frank had other ideas, such as a joint media venture with WPP in which Red Brick Road would hold a 50% stake. No dice with Sir Martin, it seems. And when finally  the Initiative account did come up for review last year, well it just stayed put. There have also been whispers of  ‘doing something’ with Johnny Hornby’s CHI, already part-owned by WPP, but this one was stillborn on the drawing board.
WPP now seems to have given up on any kind of a deal. But that doesn’t meant Red Brick Road’s strategic problem has gone away. Nor has it prevented the agency’s executives from spinning imaginative fantasies about solving it.
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