Omnicom's TBWA is poised to take a stake in independent agency Lucky Generals in a deal that could be announced as early as next week, The Drum has learned from multiple sources.
It is understood that the founders – Danny Brooke-Taylor, Helen Calcraft and Andy Nairn (pictured) - would remain in the management team and take on senior positions within TBWA should the deal go through. By doing this rather than an outright acquisition, it is hoped that the agency network can tap the culture Brooke-Taylor, Calcraft and Nairn have cultivated at Lucky Generals since its launch in 2013.
Keith Smith, the president international for TBWA and Troy Ruhanen, president and chief executive at TBWA Worldwide, are believed to be leading the talks with the Lucky Generals founders.
Sources have told The Drum that TBWA had been in preliminary conversations to acquire a stake in Lucky Generals last year but it ultimately fell through before being resumed last Autumn.
It would mark a major coupe for TBWA, which has been lagging behind some of its sister Omnicom shops in recent years thanks to the loss of several major accounts and staff.
In 2015, the agency’s London office lost Royal Caribbean International to Hometown London after just six months on the account. That same year creative directors Walter Campbell and Sean Doyle left after three years. Add to that the departures of both Absolut and Adidas since 2012 and it’s no surprise the agency has been to get on the comeback trail.
Ruhanen has made no secret of his hope to win back both Adidas and Absolut, spearheading the network’s bid to get back to its disruptive best since he replaced Tom Carroll at the head of the business since 2014.
By contrast, within just four years Brooke-Taylor, Calcraft and Nairn have amassed a client list at Lucky Generals that includes Paddy Power, Twitter and Amazon as well as earning a reputation for consistently pushing the boundaries for the likes of Hostelworld and Pot Noodle.
Lucky Generals has also been on an expansion drive, and in the past six months launched two new divisions under the Lucky Enterprises umbrella; a sports marketing start-up and an experience design arm led by former R/GA executive Kelly Wright.
It remains unclear what will become of these divisions when Lucky Generals joins TBWA.
Should a deal be struck then it would the first major move on the mergers and acquisition front since the turn of the year, one that promises more amid a consolidation of skills and businesses as the big networks look for ways to stay ahead of shifting client needs. Accenture made the same point when it acquired Karmarama in November, explaining to The Drum that it needed a “creative powerhouse” that could assimilate its design, build and customer expertise.
However, Tony Walford, a partner at corporate finance advisers Green Square, believes the deal is more likely to reflect the one between DDB and Adam & Eve than it that of the management consultancy and creative shop.
Accenture buying Karmarama was for a different reason - they wanted to "strengthen the ability of Accenture Interactive, to create and deliver integrated customer experiences to brands,” he explained.
“Lucky Generals is about injecting fresh thinking, entrepreneurial spirit into TBWA, much in the same way DDB buying Adam & Eve was about reinvigorating creativity in DDB. But either way, this shows the value that top quality independent agencies can command - the demand is not going to go away, but how many businesses are there of that quality and appropriate scale? A lot fewer than in days gone by.”
When these businesses are discovered, the risk is that they struggle to then integrate into a wider network, a challenge Keith Hunt, managing partner at Results International, believes Lucky Generals and Omnicom would need to settle on a solution for before a deal is sealed.
"This is one of the biggest challenges buyers and sellers face when it comes to a deal like this and frankly it often doesn’t work out so well,” he continued.
“There aren’t any hard and fast mechanics [to making it work] and it’s about building relationships. People within Lucky Generals and the Omnicom network have got to want to make friends with each other and build relationships and be open enough to sharing their relationships with clients and also be willing to give up time to help each other."
Omnicom declined to comment on the move.