Cheil Worldwide leaves home

As Cheil reinvents itself as a free-standing, "open source" network agency, we asked agency vets for their take on the challenges ahead.

Cheil Worldwide has grown up and left the house that parent co Samsung built. The agency network is striking out on its own, stripping itself out of Samsung’s 35 global offices.
Headed in North America by long-time Wieden + Kennedy exec Buz Sawyer, former managing director of Wieden’s New York office, Cheil is establishing a new kind of “open source” network: its offices will rely upon each other to the point of being able to share revenue, maintaining an open line of communication.
The Korean brain trust doled out $100 million in investment funds, as well as a new strategic directive: grow by attracting local businesses and top-tier talent; define what the Cheil network is and what it does; develop a core competency; initiate acquisitions; and first and foremost, focus on the Samsung and Hankook (a Korean-based tire company) businesses.
Sawyer named Matt Cammaert, former VP, director, client services, new business at Euro RSCG, as president of the Canadian branch. His first order of business has been to bring Cheil out of Samsung’s Mississauga office and into downtown Toronto. He’s also seeking out Canadian clients and local talent. Digital will be seeded strongly throughout the agency.
The biggest challenge, Cammaert says, will be changing public perception of being known as Samsung’s agency. “We have to win business on our merits,” he says. “It’s not easy to shake when you’ve been recognized as that for a decade here in Canada…It’s as much of a blessing as it is a holdback…It’s going to be a slow build for sure, but we have aggressive plans.”
Given that successful start-ups and makeovers are few and far between lately, strategy asked some agency vets why it’s harder to break through, and the biggest challenges agencies like Cheil will face.
Cundari chairman/CEO Aldo Cundari, who built one of Canada’s most successful indie shops, says digital is key for any start-up: “The difference between [starting up an agency] 20 years ago and today is that fundamentally, your foundation…has to be a strategic base that provides consumer insights layered with a digital foundation,” he says. “Everything else is a deliverable.”
A challenge for “new model” start-up agencies, says Bob Shropshire, president/CEO of Dentsu Canada, is attracting clients who like the model enough for the agency to make it viable. Dentsu, like Cheil, expanded to markets outside of Asia, acquiring local talent to anchor its presence in markets abroad.
“An agency may have an interesting new model, but, understandably, clients need to see the proof – case studies that a new agency with a unique offering may not have – and even if they do, their offering may be considered appropriate for one business situation, but not for another,” says Shropshire.
David Crichton, partner, creative, at Grip says the right talent as opposed to the agency model will help attract new business, and he knows about what it takes to start up a new kind of agency. Like Cheil, Grip was conceived by an anchor brand catalyst, Labatt.
“Calling yourself a ‘unique model’ is the biggest obstacle you’ll have to overcome,” says Crichton. “I don’t think you can say you have a unique model or offering and business just comes in through the door. The basic premise of Grip was more senior people under one roof working on clients’ business. The calibre of people who started the company, and who we continue to hire, is our point of difference.”