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Doner extends its global reach by acquiring London agency Addition of GGK lifts annual billings above $500 million


Moving to strengthen its foothold in the global advertising market, W. B. Doner & Co. announced yesterday that it has acquired a London agency that built a reputation for high-profile campaigns but suffered the loss of several big accounts and saw its financially troubled parent company placed in receivership.

Acquisition of GGK in London, for an undisclosed amount, will increase Doner's annual billings by more than $32 million, pushing the agency above the $500 million mark for the first time, the company said.

For the past 1 1/2 years, GGK International of Zurich, Switzerland, GGK's parent company, has been in receivership.

Over the past few years, GGK of London has lost major accounts such as International Business Machines Corp., Swissair and a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG. Still, the 9-year-old GGK has weathered the troubles well, retaining a healthy client base and billings.

While Doner has maintained a small shop in London, the new agency subsidiary, which will be called Doner Cardwell Hawkins, will greatly strengthen its brand name across the Atlantic and make it a legitimate competitor for more high-profile European accounts, Doner Chairman Herbert Fried said.

Doner, a privately held, independent agency with headquarters in Baltimore and Detroit, had been eyeing prospective acquisitions and negotiating with them for about two years, Mr. Fried said.

"Putting us together gives us great synergy and additional clout," Mr. Fried said. "This will allow us to have some critical mass over there and allow us to better service the Doner clients. When we look into handling the U.K. and Europe, this will be a great selling tool for us. They can pull on the U.S., while we, too, can pull on the U.K."

The Doner chief said he was particularly impressed with two key players at GGK: Chairman Andrew Hawkins, who will be managing director at the new subsidiary, and Paul Cardwell, who will serve as creative director.

"You're buying people primarily, and these guys really fit with our sense of the advertising profession," Mr. Fried said.

He credited them with helping build the reputation of a "very good, hot agency" that received every major European advertising award for its Electricity Association work and now handles advertising for InterCity, a British rail network with billings of $4 million, its biggest account.

Don Riesett, president of Doner International, will serve as chief executive of the London agency, with a staff of 27.

In London, Mr. Hawkins, who has fielded rumors of possible takeover by any number of outsiders for months, expressed relief that the agency's fate now appeared much more certain.

"This represents a fresh start with the same clients, same people and our names on the door," he said. "It's a rebirth, basically."

Doner, which has about 12 staffers in its current London shop, lists among its international clients Chiquita Brands International, Iams Pet Foods and Arby's Restaurants.

Also yesterday, Doner announced that it has acquired three major advertising accounts with total annual billings of about $65 million.

Doner's Detroit office will handle Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, the No. 2 retailer in the do-it-yourself home improvement business, and ABC Warehouse, the top home electronics and appliance retailer in Michigan.

The Cleveland office of W. B. Doner will handle MTD Products Inc.'s line of yard equipment.

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