Will Corporate Edge put Australian group Photon on the European map?

Chris%20WoodBranding agency Corporate Edge – once described by Bartle Bogle Hegarty founder John Bartle as the “industry’s best-kept secret” – is looking to boost both its profile and its scale, following its acquisition by Australian marketing services group Photon (MW last week).

The agency, which also offers corporate communications, created the original concept and name for Egg and worked on the launch of Nectar, but does not have the international reach or recognition of rivals such as Interbrand, FutureBrand or Wolff Olins.

It was announced last week that Corporate Edge had been bought by Photon Group UK, part of Australia’s biggest marketing services company Photon Group. Corporate Edge chairman Chris Wood says: “We have focused on clients, rather than publicity in the past, but the recent focusing of the business is part of a process intended to dissolve some of that secrecy.” 

Corporate Edge, in its current form, descended from two famous marketing services companies: design agency Michael Peters Limited and branding consultancy Craton Lodge & Knight – both of which were founded in 1972. They were eventually bought by the Princedale Group in the early 1990s, before a management buy-out saw the creation of CLK.MPL in 1997. The entire group was then rebranded as Corporate Edge in 2001.

The agency’s corporate communications division has doubled in size since the MBO in 1997 and now offers an integrated service, covering print, digital and corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultancy. On the brand side, Corporate Edge developed the identity for financial services company Gartmore and can boast a 30-year relationship with Cadbury Schweppes. It helped launch brands such as the soon-to-be relaunched Wispa and has also worked with Diageo and Shell for 20 years.

International network
Wood, who joined Craton Lodge & Knight in 1976, adds: “We have produced some outstanding work for a broad range of clients, but our independent stance, plus lack of alignment with an international network, has meant that it is often not attributed.” 

Observers describe Wood as a client-focused “whirlwind”. Managing director of brand consultancy Brand Catalyst Peter Shaw, who worked at Corporate Edge for 12 years and was part of the management buy-out team, says: “I don’t know anyone who has managed to maintain that level of energy. Most people who get to chairman level fall into a figurehead role and don’t really get involved in the day-to-day thinking of clients’ businesses. But that’s where Chris’ enjoyment comes from. His strength very much lies on the client side. He’s not an agency luvvie, he’s very commercial.” 

Juggling demands
Chairman of consultancy Commercial Advantage Emyr Williams, who has known Wood for 30 years, believes one of his greatest achievements has been to juggle Corporate Edge’s different disciplines. But Williams thinks it will be increasingly difficult for Wood to continue to be so hands-on with clients as the agency looks to expand.

“Chris is a very likeable individual who people rightly feel they can trust,” says Williams. “But he’s also a businessman who has kept quite a diverse and wide-ranging marketing services company running which is not an easy job. He’s the classic young-at-heart guy. He’d love to be able to take the business a stage further, but he’d also like to carry on doing client work himself. The challenge for Chris is to be able to balance those two things.

A well as helping Corporate Edge to expand, many believe the acquisition will help to put the relatively unknown Photon on the European map. Keith Hunt, managing partner of Results, which was Corporate Edge’s leading adviser on the deal says: “I’d be prepared to bet they’ll be making some more acquisitions in the UK in the not too distant future. We’re going to see the emergence of a new group in Europe.”

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