Split: Doug de Villiers and Jeremy Sampson in happier days before the separation. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Split: Doug de Villiers and Jeremy Sampson in happier days before the separation. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The withdrawal from Africa of global brand-marketing consultancy Interbrand will have no material effect on the South African agency that once bore its name and that, until recently, was still its official representative on the continent.

That’s according to Doug de Villiers, CEO of Intergroup.

US-based Interbrand has been involved with Intergroup for more than 20 years. The original partnership was with branding pioneer Jeremy Sampson, to create an agency called Interbrand Sampson.

De Villiers’s name was later added to the title, before Interbrand withdrew from the partnership, but retained Sampson De Villiers as its licence holder in Africa.

Now even that link has gone. On September 30, Gonzalo Brujó, CEO of Interbrand’s Europe, Middle East and African operations, announced that the global group was withdrawing from Africa.

He said: "We have mutually decided that the business in Africa will continue as an independent trading organisation. As a result, we will no longer have a dedicated presence representing Interbrand in Africa.

"We will, however, continue to partner with the Intergroup team, as well as working directly in service of Interbrand clients in the region."

Sampson is no longer with the agency. He left in 2014, about the time it was renamed Intergroup. He is engaged in a legal dispute with it, following the breakdown of an agreement whereby he would give Intergroup 20% of his time as a paid consultant for four years.

We wanted to work in East and West Africa, they weren't so keep 
Doug De Villiers

Sampson, who recently joined rival agency Brand Finance Africa, said in a recent interview, the agreement "has not materialised to my satisfaction". Sources say disagreements centre on payments and restraint of trade.

De Villiers says only: "I am saddened we have this issue with Jeremy.... I want it to be handled in a dignified manner."

Intergroup recently settled out of court in a disagreement with another former partner. Veejay Archary’s Black Africa agency merged with Interbrand Sampson in 2011, only to separate less than a year later.

The case, involving shareholdings and assets, rumbled on for four years until the two sides agreed on terms one day before it was due to be heard in court.

De Villiers says the loss of the formal Interbrand link won’t hurt Intergroup.

He says Interbrand will continue to use its Johannesburg-based former partner where necessary and Intergroup will retain access to data and global research.

De Villiers says Interbrand began rethinking its African commitments several years ago, about the time its South African partner was expanding into new territories on the continent. "We wanted to work in East and West Africa, they weren’t so keen. That was when they gave up their shareholding in the business."

De Villiers says Interbrand is increasingly concentrating on high-growth, low-risk markets with better business opportunities.

"That means markets like China. Africa, on the other hand, with all its political issues, makes a lot of international companies nervous. From our side, we see Africa as a priority market. We need to flex our muscles," he says.

The end of its formal association with its former partner, he says, frees Intergroup to approach clients that might once have been off-limits because of possible conflicts of interest.

Sampson says it was an easy decision to join Brand Finance Africa after the breakdown of his relationship with the agency he founded. The Johannesburg-based agency — headed by MD Ollie Schmitz and chairman Thebe Ikalafeng — is part of a UK-based group present in more than 20 countries. It was founded by David Haigh, with whom Sampson worked early in his career.

Sampson says: "Brands have never been more important, their impact ever increasing and embracing most aspects of our day-to-day lives on a global scale. In Africa, many brands are not measured, monitored or leveraged to their full potential. My appointment presents an opportunity to change this."

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