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WPP buys French creative agency to strengthen Red Cell

LONDON - WPP Group is to acquire French creative agency Les Ouvriers du Paradis to strengthen its growing fourth advertising network Red Cell, which has been strongly tipped to acquire HHCL & Partners in London in recent weeks.

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WPP has acquired the entire agency, which is viewed as virtually the only reasonably successful agency to have been launched across the channel.

For Red Cell, the addition of a creative hotshop such as Les Ouvriers is a major step toward real international credibility. Now with Berlin Cameron in New York, it is only the London gap that needs to be filled.

Lee Daley, Red Cell's chief executive, recently said that it was "possible that it [the HHCL deal] will become a deal, although we are examining parallel paths".

Based in Paris, Les Ouvriers's client list includes some of France and Europe's pre-eminent luxury brands, such as Bon Marche, Baccaraat, Louis Roederer, Nina Ricci and Falke.

The agency will merge its operations with Red Cell's existing French operation, Red Cell Paris, and will be renamed Les Ouvriers du Paradis/Red Cell.

Les Ouvriers employs 33 people and had revenues of £2.84m and net assets of £880,000 for the year ended December 31 2001.

WPP has been busily making efforts to build Red Cell in the past year and has expanded the network in the US and the Asia Pacific region.

Most recently, speculation has centred on London where the network lacks any real agency or creative structure.

Speculation has centred on the Chime Communications-owned HHCL & Partners, with reports suggesting that WPP was set to acquire the agency in a deal with Chime, making it the London base of Red Cell.

The reports first emerged earlier this month, but so far no concrete news has emerged.

Red Cell's future was recently discussed at a WPP board meeting in New York, boosting speculation that HHCL's senior management will take over what has become virtually a Red Cell "shell" operation in the UK.

For Red Cell, the addition of a creative hotshop such as HHCL would be a major step toward real international credibility. For HHCL, the move would give it access to an international network and to pitchlists closed to it as a mainly domestic shop.

A source close to HHCL told Campaign recently: "Talks are still going on but because a deal isn't imminent, it's not a certainty."

WPP set up Red Cell in January 2001, linking the former Conquest European network with Singapore's Batey Advertising and Seattle's Cole & Weber, to chase so-called "challenger" brands.

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