Today, Publicis Groupe’s Media division announced the union of two agency networks, Blue 449 and Spark Foundry, to create a single entity serving clients around the world.
The two currently include such major brands as Mondelez, Campbell’s, Marriott and Southwest Airlines, among many others, on their client rosters.
This marks the latest in an ongoing series of restructuring and consolidation moves for the holding company, the most recent of which retired the 28-year-old Razorfish brand to create Publicis Sapient. In this case, however, neither business will completely disappear, as Blue 449 retains its name in three key markets: the U.S., the U.K. and France. CEOs David Elhers, Simon Davis and Pascal Crifo will continue to lead those regions and work cooperatively with the new worldwide Spark Foundry organization.
Spark Foundry global brand president and U.S. CEO Chris Boothe, who was promoted to that role approximately one year ago, will oversee the entirety of the new network and report to Publicis Media CEO of the Americas Tim Jones. Meanwhile, Blue 449 co-founder Phil Georgiadis has confirmed his plans to step down from the holding company entirely after serving as global chairman of Publicis Media U.K.
The news also follows September’s announcement that global brand president Andras Vigh, who was Boothe’s equivalent at Blue 449, would be leaving Publicis.
“As a brand-led organization, we are committed to our strong agency brands as transformation partners for clients,” said Publicis Media CEO Steve King in a statement. “Guided by this commitment, we are further scaling Spark Foundry as a global network.”
Both agencies are relatively new additions to Publicis Media, and both are themselves the products of mergers and rebranding moves. Blue 449 was born of Walker Media, a mid-size shop that Georgiadis founded in collaboration with M&C Saatchi just over 20 years ago before Publicis acquired a majority stake in 2013 (last month, the holding company spent $32.95 million to buy out the remaining 24.9 percent stake). It then became part of ZenithOptimedia before a restructuring and subsequent retirement of the Optimedia name in December 2016.
Just over six months later, Publicis also terminated Mediavest, turning the network within Starcom Mediavest Group (SMG) that had been known as Mediavest | Spark into Spark Foundry.
As a result of this merger, the global brand will deepen its presence in 12 markets around the world including Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, MENA, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Singapore and Spain. Spark Foundry now employs 4,200, a total that does not include Blue 449 staffers in the U.S., U.K. and France.
“I am thrilled to welcome the Blue 449 talent and clients to the Spark Foundry family,” said Boothe. “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.”
The executive emphasized that this move is not a “takeover” but a “strategic alliance.” He attributed the decision to Spark Foundry’s “incredible trajectory and momentum” over the past 12-18 months and said talks about teaming up with Blue 449 to strengthen the networks’ global footprints began some time ago.
“[Spark Foundry] was eclipsing the performance of some of the other [Publicis Media] brands” just under two years after its launch, he said. Blue 449 then provided one key answer to the question, “How can we take this to the next level?”
While global leaders will now report to Boothe, regional and client teams will largely remain separate. Even in cities like New York and London where the two agencies will share a building, they still plan to maintain their own independent spaces.
Boothe also said Publicis Media’s decision to merge these two units does not reflect negatively upon the performance of either. Spark Foundry won several major reviews in 2018, most prominently scoring global and U.S. duties for Marriott and Macy’s, respectively, while picking up Mondelez in North America and APAC and retaining that business in Latin America and the Middle East; this made for a successful year despite losses including KFC and Northwestern Mutual. And while Blue 449 did recently lose business including Puma (global), Nintendo (U.S.) and T-Mobile digital (U.S.), it retained much of the latter account while picking up U.S. media planning and buying for Dunkin’ Brands.
French consultancy Comvergence’s final New Business Barometer for 2018 had both agencies increasing their revenues over the previous year, with Blue 449 leapfrogging from $1.4 billion in the red to $400 million in the black.
“It was right to keep them as a brand in the U.S.,” Boothe said, even though Blue 449 has not been the most visible of Publicis Media agencies. He also called the two cultures complementary and noted that Spark was, for some time, the smallest of the SMG agencies. “They have the same challenger spirit that we had,” he said. “We like to use the word scrappy.”
Spark Foundry chief client and operating officer Sarah Kramer told Adweek that very little will change for the agency, operationally speaking—especially in the U.S., which remains its largest region.
“One of the challenges that we face, when we are either managing existing global relationships or in a new business pitch, is consistency in how we go to market,” said Kramer. “A new advantage for us in pitches [will be] the ability for them now to have access to globally centralized resources.”
Boothe said the two networks have already begun functioning as one on global pitches.
Speaking of his departure after 21 years, Georgiadis cited Davis’s leadership of Blue 449 in the U.K. and said, “Now is the right time for me to move on.” He cited his own role in the decision to consolidate the media network in White City’s Television Center in London, saying, “I can see it will be a catalyst for even more transformative behaviors, and I wish Steve, Sue [Frogley, U.K. CEO] and everyone based there every success in the future.”
“I would like to thank Phil for everything he has done in leading Blue 449 and latterly in his role as Chairman of Publicis Media U.K.,” added King. “He is, without question, one of the all-time greats of our industry.”