NEW YORK, August 3—Big may be beautiful, but when something is small and perfectly formed, even Interpublic apparently knows better than to mess with it.
The giant holding company, which recently combined Weber Shandwick Worldwide and BSMG Worldwide to create the world’s largest public relations firm, has acquired DeVries Public Relations—but will allow the New York-based brand building boutique to keep its own name and operate independently of both Weber Shandwick Worldwide and IPG’s other major PR brand, Golin/Harris International. It will report to Larry Weber, head of IPG’s Advanced Marketing Services group.
IPG has allowed other acquisitions—including west coast entertainment specialist Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, added to the fold earlier this year—to keep their own names, but this is the first PR acquisition that won’t be absorbed into the larger entities. In that way, this deal resembles Omnicom’s acquisition of Boston-based cause branding specialist Cone, which operates independently of the holding company’s three major PR brands and is charged with building a cause marketing practice that serves the entire network of agencies.
Interpublic has similar hopes for DeVries, which will be positioned as a “global boutique” specialized in brand building.
The firm, with revenues of around $10 million in 2000, has the credentials. It works for just 10 companies, including Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and 3M, representing multiple brands for each of them. And it has been enjoying 20 percent growth through the first half of 2001, at a time when many rival firms are feeling the impact of a shaky economy.
“We have a business model that really works for us,” says DeVries. “We have very few clients, but they all use PR in a big way.” She says the firm may work with both Weber Shandwick and Golin/Harris on global assignments, if those firms have the right resources in place, but that it has a mandate to expand its own brand into new marketplaces. The decision on which marketplaces to target will be “totally client driven.”
DeVries says she has maintained a friendship with Weber for several years, and that they share similar beliefs about the PR business. Her agency also has ties to McCann, IPG’s leading advertising agency. DeVries had an informal partnership with the ad agency in the late 80s and early 90s (until it acquired its own dedicated PR subsidiary, The Weber Group) at a time when current IPG chief executive John Dooner was running that agency.
“McCann introduced us to some major clients like Taster’s Choice and Texas Instruments, so we got a sense of how a partnership with a major advertising agency could work for us,” says DeVries. “At the same time, we were able to add value to their clients.”
That past experience made the acquisition attractive to both parties.
“This deal enables us to align ourselves with some terrific resources for clients, and to offer the kind of benefits to our employees you can only offer if you are part of a large public company,” says DeVries. “It was also important for us to find a partner that respects what we have done here and would allow us to keep our own identity and culture.”
DeVries started its life as a fashion and beauty PR specialist, but over the past five years has expanded beyond that niche to become a major marketing public relations force, focused on consumer brands. It expanded into healthcare, with clients such as Glaxo Smithkline, Berlex Laboratores. Old Navy remains the last link to its fashion past.