Advertising agency WCRS in £20m buy-out deal from its parent Havas

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The Independent Online

WCRS, the advertising agency behind the controversial 118 118 directory enquiries campaign, is to buy itself out from its parent Havas in a deal that values the firm at £20m.

The agency, led by one of the most colourful figures in the ad world, Robin Wight, the co-chairman, has also produced the "It's a Mini Adventure" commercials for BMW's Mini car.

A 27-strong management team is putting up much of the money needed for the buyout, which will see Havas retain a 25 per cent stake. The agency employs 122 staff.

Havas bought WCRS in 1989. The buyout will see the return of Peter Scott, another leading ad man, as co-chairman. Mr Scott and Mr Wight were among the four founders of the agency 25 years ago, providing the "S" and the "W" in its name.

Matthew Freud, of the PR group Freud Communications, is the only outside investor in the deal, taking a small equity stake. Mr Wight said the 27 managers were providing "millions" of pounds for the transaction, while Barclays Bank is loaning the rest. Unusually, no private equity group is involved. Mr Wright said there were no plans to float the business.

"I am looking at the 'in' rather than the 'out'. It is much more fun to be in charge of yourself," said Mr Wight. He said that while Havas had been a "benign" owner, "there is no better shareholder than yourself". He also said the best work comes from environments where people are "motivated" with equity. The agency is setting aside some equity to provide staff with a share option scheme.

Mr Wight said there was a trend in the industry in which clients preferred to use independent agencies rather than those that are part of larger businesses.

"The UK independents are winning the business and doing the best work," Mr Wight said.

The WCRS campaign for 118 118, the new telephone directory enquiry service, is credited with burning the number into the consciousness of consumers with memorable ads. However, the two mustachioed runners used in the campaign drew protests fromDavid Bedford, the former runner, who claimed they were based on him. Although the regulator ruled that 118 118 could continue using the image, the characters have now evolved into detectives.

Stephen Woodford will continue as the chief executive of WCRS. Completing the core team are Debbie Klein, its planning director, Leon Jaume, creative director and Julian Hough, business development director.