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Neogama loses Bradesco, Omo to Interpublic – and 40% of its revenue

January 30, 2013

alexandre-gamaNot all fairy tales have a happy ending. One such is the marriage of convenience between Brazilian hotshop Neogama, its micro-network affiliate BBH and Publicis Groupe. Readers of this blog will recall that, a little over six months ago, Publicis chief Maurice Lévy bought out the 51% of BBH PG did not already own. A useful by-product of the deal was that he acquired not only BBH’s 34% stake in one of Brazil’s hottest agency properties, but the majority shareholding of its founder and creative supremo, Alexandre Gama, at the same time. Neatly, Lévy solved the creative succession crisis at BBH with the same stroke of his pen – by appointing Gama as BBH’s global creative chief, replacing Sir John Hegarty.

Alas, the deal has worked out somewhat better for Gama than for Lévy and Publicis. Gama managed to bank his cheque, but Neogama has just lost about 40% of its revenue, and two of its principal clients. Or so I hear.

It is common knowledge that one of the reasons Gama was hawking his majority stake in the first place was that he feared his agency was too reliant upon a single account, that of Brazilian bank Bradesco. Indeed, rumours soon began to surface that the bank was about to review. Well, now it has: and placed the account with McCann.

For Interpublic, McCann’s parent, Neogama’s plight is, however, a double joy. Another major – this time multinational – client has also fallen into its lap. I mean Omo (“Dirt is Good”), which has moved to Lowe.

In retrospect, we can see this was an accident waiting to happen. As is well known, PG is a Procter & Gamble agency group, and Omo is owned by Unilever. Under the status quo ante, Neogama had an element of protection from client conflict, in that BBH – itself a major Unilever network – was still majority-owned by its founding partners (i.e., Nigel Bogle and Hegarty). All that ring-fencing was swept away by the Lévy deal.

8027388763_a9feed3b19_zIt will interesting to see who gets the blame for this cock-up. My money is on Jean-Yves Naouri, the once but not future king of Publicis.

One thing you can be sure of: it won’t be the Silver Fox himself, who now seems comfortably ensconced in a permanent chairman role, despite recent protestations that he was – at 70 – on the point of retiring.

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Alexandre Gama central to deal, as BBH sells 51% stake to Publicis Groupe

July 5, 2012

The other shoe has dropped. Not only has Publicis Groupe bought up Neogama BBH (see my post of yesterday), it has also taken the opportunity to acquire the 51% stake in BBH it did not already own. As will be seen, the two acquisitions are intimately related.

By any standards, this is a historic moment for all concerned. The old guard at one of Britain’s most illustrious agencies is moving aside after 30 years to make way for new management.

Down step the two surviving partners, group chairman Nigel Bogle (pictured) and worldwide chief creative officer Sir John Hegarty – both legends in their own lifetimes. Up step Simon Sherwood to Bogle’s position (he is currently group CEO), Gwyn Jones to Sherwood’s role and Neil Munn, CEO of BBH’s branding specialist Zig Zag, to an additional group chief operating role.

But here’s the clever bit. Neogama founding partner and chief shareholder Alexandre Gama is taking on Hegarty’s mantle as worldwide chief creative officer.

This too is highly symbolic. In seeking a successor to Hegarty, BBH and its paymaster PG have cast their net wide and picked someone quintessentially representative of the new wave of creativity coming out of emerging markets. The centre of gravity – they are saying in so many words – has changed, from Britain to Brazil, and countries like it.

The change from first generation agency to second generation management is always accompanied by high risk, no matter how successful that agency. Remember Collett Dickenson Pearce anyone?

But this deal has been carefully crafted to hedge, as best anyone can, against such a risk. The rounded symbolism of 30 years clearly suggests Bogle and Hegarty have long mulled their departure at this point. No one can accuse them of failing to bring on the next generation of management.

The Gama move is, however, a genuine surprise and must have been opportunistically fashioned out of Gama’s decision to sell his stake last year. Clever old Gama for parlaying his position so well. But a hat tip to Publicis group chief Maurice Lévy as well for crafting such an imaginative solution.

Now all they need to do is sort out the Unilever problem.


Last top 10 Brazilian indie Neogama sells out to Publicis Groupe, not BBH

July 4, 2012

It seems that months-long negotiations over who will own the controlling stake in fashionable Brazilian agency Neogama BBH (see my earlier post here) are now completed. So says the Brazilian trade press.

And the answer, shortly to be announced on the French Bourse, is: Publicis Groupe. Not BBH.

Do such technicalities matter, given that all these agencies are part of the same, happy, family? Well, yes they do. There’s more for micro-network BBH in this award-winning agency than a 35% stake.

Neogama’s biggest single client is burgeoning Brazilian bank Bradesco, but the agency also plays an important role in servicing BBH global clients such as Unilever and Diageo.

As is well known, Publicis Groupe is essentially Procter & Gamble-aligned. The only reason BBH, and therefore Neogama BBH, is permitted to handle Unilever business is a ring-fencing 51% stake in BBH held by its senior staff, chiefly group chairman Nigel Bogle.

If Publicis Groupe has directly bought out Neogama BBH, which it appears to have done, what will happen to that sizeable chunk of Unilever business? That is the question – as posed by rival Unilever agencies WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom.

Neogama’s principal shareholder is its flamboyant founder, Alexandre Gama. His is the only top-ten agency Brazilian agency that, up to now, has managed to remain independent. His motives for selling out? He has been running his agency a long time – over 12 years. Bradesco is overweight as the main client. And money, yes money. Gama’s services are highly in demand, and he knows it. He has been hawking his stake about for some time – in the not unreasonable expectation that he will get a bigger wedge from PG if he does so.

Ideally, BBH should have been the one to buy him out. But it doesn’t have the money. So Publicis Groupe, which probably had first refusal anyway, stepped in and snapped up the agency. Gama will now have to report directly to PG group chief executive Maurice Lévy, which he will not enjoy very much. By all accounts, the two men loathe each other.

Even when the Neogama acquisition is completed, WPP – owner of Y&R, JWT and Ogilvy – will continue to be the biggest biller in Brazil.

Neogama’s $667m turnover in 2011 was up 5% on the previous year, according to Inter-Media Project. Its revenue was $53m. It has 270 staff, according to Publicis Groupe.

UPDATE 9/7/12: Some further facts and figures about Neogama’s performance have come my way. Almost certainly included in the deal were two Neogama subsidiaries, Triacom – a promotion company – and MIM – a digital specialist. BBH’s precise share in Neogama was 34.4%. It had no share in Triacom or MIM. The latest financial performance figures were:

Gross revenue, for Neogama, Triacom and MIM respectively:  $66.7m, $8.7m and $1.1m. Net revenue: $57.3m, $7.9m and $0.9m. Operating profit: $28.4m, $1.5m and $0.4m. Operating profit after tax: $18.1m, $06m  and $0.3m.

A rumour has surfaced that Neogama’s biggest client, Bradesco, is reviewing.


Neogama founder and creative chief upsets the BBH applecart by trying to sell his stake

December 19, 2011

There’s an interesting ownership conundrum facing BBH and its 49% sponsor Publicis Groupe. Here is what I have learned.

It concerns Neogama BBH, the global micro-network’s Sao Paulo agency. Its founder, president and chief creative officer Alexandre Gama wants to cash up the majority stake he owns.

Neogama, set up in 1999, is one of Brazil’s top ten agencies and quite a feather in BBH’s cap. It is creatively highly regarded and was the first Brazilian agency to win at Cannes. In fact, if my recollection is correct, it now has at least 18 Lions to its name.

The agency’s biggest single client is burgeoning Brazilian bank Bradesco, but it also plays an important role in servicing BBH global clients such as Unilever and Diageo.

Here’s an example of Neogama’s latest work for Diageo’s Johnnie Walker, which may well be a Cannes prizewinner next year. It was devised by Gama himself:

As you can see, a slick, confident peaen to Brazil, the awakening economic colossus.

BBH, seeking to increase its profile in up-and-coming Latin America, came about its minority Neogama stake in a convoluted way. Back in 2002, Neogama was 40%-owned by Chicago-based holding company BCom3 – the 3 referring to an alliance between Leo Burnett, DMB&B (now deceased) and Dentsu. BCom3 passed on a part of that stake to BBH, in which it by then held a 49%  share through Burnett. Still there? Because it gets even more complicated. Earlier that year along comes Publicis Groupe, which swallows the lot, including Dentsu’s 20% strategic stake, in a $3bn takeover deal, making it the then fourth-largest marketing services group in the world. The important point to note is that PG ended up holding a direct 49% stake in BBH, but only an indirect one through BBH in Neogama. Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy and Gama are not thought to be best buddies.

Although the subsequent BBH relationship has been mutually beneficial, Gama is known to have been hawking his stake at other agency group doors. Why now? Nine years is a long time to wait for your investment to mature, but some go further in speculating that he is worried about his agency’s dependence on Bradesco as a client.

The sense is that Gama is engaged in an act of brinksmanship with Lévy, which involves using rival groups as a stalking horse. He well knows his own worth: Neogama is far and away PG’s best agency in Brazil (and one of its best in Latin America).

However, buying him out may not prove that easy. If BBH could stump up the cash on its own, that would be the simplest and most elegant solution; but  the likelihood is it cannot. So why doesn’t the parent group just step in and sort it out? Well, PG is not a bank – it will want something in return. Such as buying a majority stake in BBH. The trouble is – PG is also Procter & Gamble’s biggest agency group. BBH is of course a Unilever agency, but the 51% majority stake held by the partners keeps the relationship at arm’s length. Even in this enlightened era of agency conflict management, full ownership of BBH might not go down at all well with the good folk in Cincinnati.

As I say, it’s an interesting dilemma. Let’s see how Gama, Lévy and BBH group chairman Nigel Bogle sort it out.


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