21 Aug Publicis Omnicom – threat or promise for the next generation of advertising people?
The announcement on 28th July of the merger of these two substantial firms with combined revenues of $23billion reminds me of the one time editor of Campaign, Bernard Barnett’s quote ‘there are many ways to destroy an advertising agency but I have never come across anything more effective than Merger and Acquisition’. Of course, these two players are not advertising agencies they are major groups who own such businesses. Like WPP, they are also smart enough to know that independent creative freedom alongside tight financial controls is the most effective way to keep top talent. However, I see several risks which the new group is going to have to tackle:
1. Two Headquarters (in Paris and New York) sounds like a challenge and very different to WPP’s Farm Street HQ in London with clear direction from Sir Martin Sorrell the longstanding CEO. One HQ will have to emerge why not make it Paris?
2. Nationality. If the two HQs were say London and New York that would be less of a challenge but the French sensitivities, particularly given fears of US domination, are going to hamper teamwork and productivity. It is a good move to put the Publicis name first but I presume the international language of the group will be English but will that apply in Paris?? A French senior executive in Alcatel Lucent post that merger once confirmed to me that the group language was English and then, with a long face, added ‘unfortunately’. While I cannot see it being any other way Omnicom management will have to show commitment to a truly global stance which will inspire the French.
3. Leadership. John Wren and Maurice Levy may feel great about the deal but the turf wars they are going to have to cope with over the next two and a half years are going to be spectacular. And they may not stop when Levy becomes non executive Chairman. Those issues are going to demand days of time which should be spent on driving the business. They will need to put in place a mechanism which separates client service and ‘politics’
4. The culture of creativity. The Economist concluded (3rd August) that however much the traditional agency groups bulk themselves up the glory days will not return. The glamour of the ‘Mad Men’ era is in the past; these days the power in increasingly in the hands of the ‘Math Men’. That maybe true for media and targeting but if that is the new imperative for big advertising groups how are they going to recruit and retain the successors to Bartle, Bogle, Hegarty, the Saatchi brothers, David Abbott, Jeremy Bullmore or David Ogilvy? Big business will still need compelling and distinctive work and people with similar qualities to these greats will emerge. Will they want to make their names in groups like Publicis Omnicom? They may sell their businesses to such groups but clients will value them more highly when they are independent. This business must answer a key question: Is the Employer Brand of this new group stronger or weaker for outstanding talent than it was before 28th July? They might find a way to sponsor emerging talent yet without owning it and demonstrate commitment to the creative heartland of this trade.
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