OPINION1 March 2009

Revolutionary road



In retrospect it was always clear that WPP’s purchase of TNS wouldn’t be the end of the story. Sorrell is too much of a strategist to just allow the research giant to exist in isolation within the Kantar portfolio. After the Sturm und Drang surrounding the acquisition, now comes the serene attempt at integration.

With the news that Research International has been folded into the TNS operation, it becomes quite clear that serenity was no watchword in the integration plan. A major overhaul within the research business is afoot. It’s even clearer when one considers that the social research team at BMRB, a time-honoured jewel in that company’s crown, also becomes part of the TNS family. You can check our news story on page 5 for the full details of the restructure and there you’ll discover that the changes are even more wide-ranging than those mentioned above.

Eric Salama, Kantar CEO, described the restructure as being, “all about clients. It’s about how we help clients access the best talents and capabilities we have, when and where they need it.”

That’s as may be but it’s also going to be about cost-efficiencies. TNS is already flagging potential redundancies and is taking stock of all international offices and assets. Expect more upheaval from the Sorrell shop.

No real news there. The entire industry is starting to hurt and jobs are being lost. What marks this change as being more worthy of note is the sheer scope and scale of change. This is not a gentle rebranding or a trimming of costs. It is a soup to nuts change designed to present a compellingly clear face to market.

However, the path to clarity can sometimes be a muddy one, especially at what Pedro Ros, the new TNS CEO, called the “discovery stage” of proceedings. The big picture has certainly been outlined, but some pretty swift attention needs applying to the detail. Detail surrounding the prominence of Kantar as a brand, of job losses and of further managerial and structural change. We’ll be closely tracking those detailed changes over the next few months.

It’s quite possible that this starting gun fired from WPP’s Kantar Group signals a period of revolutionary change in the research business. It’s difficult to imagine other research giants receiving this news and thinking, ‘Not a problem. As far as we’re concerned it’s business as usual.’

It will be fascinating to see how the Kantar shuffle pans out. Nearly as fascinating as how the rest of the research business reacts. We’ve had the earthquake. Now brace yourself for the aftershocks.