Publicom and on and on and on

August 15, 2013

Maurice Levy, John WrenNearly three weeks on from the seismic news that Publicis Groupe and Omnicom are to merge and still no end in sight to the discussion of possible permutations.

Not, be it noted, among the clients involved – who are mostly too stunned, or too busy topping up their tans, to react – but within the industry trade press. At AdAge, the merger has virtually gained supplement status with a regularly updated online sidebar.

But pickings are increasingly thin, as the few facts to emerge shear into speculation. My current favourite ramification? Did Messrs Lévy and Wren not consider the impact of their merger on the industry’s premier creative and effectiveness award schemes? It seems they did not, with dire consequences for both the Cannes International Festival of Creativity holding company of the year award and its Effies equivalent. Alas, these hallowed categories, engineered with such care and precision over the past few years, may now be consigned to the scrapheap by the appearance of a juggernaut so colossal that it will  steam-roller any conceivable competition for the heretoafter. Quelle horreur!

Here’s one factoid that may be of more than passing interest. In the four weeks to August 12th, WPP was the only significant loser in market value within a sector that is generally on the upswing. Its shares shed 1.8% in value. I owe this pearl to Bob Willott, editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence, who speculates that the back-track reflects investment community anxiety that WPP may embark upon something big and silly as a riposte. In other words, a price-inflated mega-merger.

I doubt it, given that the only acquisition with appropriate critical mass would be Dentsu. Just think about it, but only for a nano-second. For once, Sir Martin Sorrell is likely to play a waiting game. The sole visible benefit of the Publicom merger to clients – in whose name such things are theoretically carried out – is consolidated media buying in North America. Of traditional media, that is. The very thing that may attract regulatory interest. “Big data”? Don’t make me laugh. It’s a smokescreen, though admittedly a trendy one. How much data, exactly, do Omnicom and Publicis own and farm compared to the specialists in the field (from Google downwards)? And, even supposing it were enough, how long will it take to merge the holding companies’ two very different platforms?

One other thing. Who is actually going to run the new show? There are an awful lot of chairmen, current and sequential – Bruce Crawford, Maurice Lévy and John Wren – but who is going to handle the grubby job of steering the global behemoth from day to day? A Frenchman does not seem likely (though a Frenchman handling the finances, that’s another matter) – because of a lack of global projection. Other than Lévy, the only French adman of global standing is, er, David Jones (well, he speaks fluent French and has a French wife). The natural choice might be Andrew Robertson, head of BBDO and indisputably a citizen of the world (he started off in Rhodesia). But maybe I’m in a minority of two on this. How’s your French, Andrew?

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P&G’s Gillette strategy? Blame the messenger with a $150m account review

September 18, 2012

It seems Gillette advertising is the best a man can get not after all. Not at least when that man is Procter & Gamble Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard. Pritchard has just put the North American shaving, deodorant and body wash business up for review, which at a spend of $150m last year (according to Kantar) makes it the kernel of the Gillette worldwide business.

That, by the way, will also be up for review quite soon, and must be worth upwards of $300m in total.

In the world of advertising, this is a seismic event. BBDO has handled the Gillette account for ever. Or, to be a little more precise about the matter, since 1966 in America, when it bought the Clyne Maxon agency, which first won the business in 1931. In 1989 BBDO devised one of the most famous advertising tag lines of all time: The Best A Man Can Get. And in 2005, it successfully hurdled perhaps the biggest agency relationship crisis it had ever faced when P&G acquired the formerly independent shaving products company for $63bn, yet decided to retain BBDO as its global agency – despite it never having appeared on a P&G roster previously.

So why a review now? Why at all in fact? After all, highly public account reviews of this kind  – it’s going to last up to 6 months according to P&G – are as rare as hens’ teeth on Planet Cincinnati.

Naturally enough, P&G is playing down the significance of the review. It’s only a chunk of BBDO’s advertising contract that is under threat, they say – not Braun, not the Venus ladies range, not the media account. As if Hamlet could somehow continue to play without the presence of an insignificant character like the Prince. And they are at pains to reassure us that BBDO advertising is still “good” (according to Patrice Louvet, president global grooming and shave care). But, and here is the kiss of death for the Omnicom-owned advertising network:  “We believe there’s an opportunity to be even better and, importantly, to better integrate the product proposition with the overall idea.”

Let’s unravel all the marketing-speak for a minute. BBDO and its sister below-the-line agency Proximity are going to repitch for the business: sure they are, but with what chance of success? The present advertising stinks, is P&G’s subtext.

P&G has been losing share in some very trying market conditions. There’s a recession on out there. People are thinking of value for money but what they’re seeing in its place is an overpriced top-of-the-range Fusion razor system and a fading mid-market legacy brand, Mach 3, that’s being out-priced and out-promoted by Schick. Gillette’s ace in the pack is innovation: it prides itself on being able to charge its customers more for (literally) cutting-edge razor technology. A replacement for Fusion is coming up – probably in 2014 – and Cincinnati has got the jitters. If Fusion Plus (0r whatever it’s going to be called) doesn’t come up with the premium-priced goods, then P&G shareholders are going to be really unhappy. So, it’s time to blame the messenger – or at any rate keep him mean and keen with an extravagant display of market disciplining.

Wieden & Kennedy – the agency that can do anything, including handling Tesco, these days – is the roster favourite to win the account. But don’t underestimate Andrew Robertson, President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, as he rises to the account challenge of his career.


Break-up of the odd couple that kept AMV BBDO on top of the league table

July 27, 2012

The decision of Farah Ramzan Golant, executive chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, to leave the agency and become chief executive of independent production group All3Media, brings to an end one of the most remarkable partnerships in recent UK advertising.

Ramzan Golant was part of a managerial duumvirate, latterly triumvirate, that has made AMV BBDO indisputable queen of the Nielsen UK Agencies League table years after all the partners who created the agency’s original winning formula had departed the scene.

That in itself is a remarkable feat. One that the second generation of management at BBH has yet to prove it can pull off. Highly creative agencies rarely make a successful transition to second-generation maturity within a more corporate, international framework. Boase Massimi Pollitt tried it, as part of DDB, but arguably AMV has been a lot more successful. The credit for that achievement – and the collegiate leadership style that has effected it – must in some measure go to former group chairman Michael Baulk – the surprisingly self-effacing showman who was the agency’s fourth partner in all but name.

Baulk was the watchmaker. He set up the action and left. Two women have proved themselves the jewels in the works: Cilla Snowball and Ramzan Golant. Snowball was originally the agency chief executive but after a bit of a wobble and top management reshuffle in 2005, Ramzan Golant was brought in as agency CEO and Snowball moved up to the group chairman and CEO role formerly occupied by Baulk.

The ensuing partnership has been unique in itself: two women at the summit of the top UK advertising agency. But by all accounts, extra piquancy has been added by the, at times, difficult relationship between them. They are very unalike: the ‘odd couple’ comes to mind. Ramzan Golant is fiercely bright, an aggressive go-getter. Snowball has the emollient people skills that keep clients and staff on side.

If rumour is true, the ever-ambitious Ramzan Golant at one time aspired to follow in the footsteps of another of Baulk’s protégés, Andrew Robertson – as chief executive of the BBDO network’s premier US agency. Clearly she has readjusted her sights.

Like Baulk’s manoeuvrings behind the scenes nearly a decade ago, there is a strong hint of managed succession about Ramzan Golant’s decision to step down. For some time, Ian Pearman has been understudying her role. Pearman was brought in as agency managing director in 2008 and early last year moved up to CEO. Which left Ramzan Golant in the surely impermanent role of agency executive chairman. Pearman now takes on that role as well. He has already made a series of changes to the senior AMV management team, including the promotion of Richard Arscott, head of account management, to managing director.

Ramzan Golant leaves AMV in October after 22 years at the agency and starts at All3Media, which has made such TV hits such as Peep Show and Midsomer Murders, the following month.

UPDATE 3/8/12: The other shoe drops. AMV has hired three industry stalwarts to add extra fibre to the new management team headed by Ian Pearman. Most interesting is Michael Pring, who only three months ago quit Dare to become international managing partner of Leagas Delaney. Joining him as managing partners in the new set-up are Tom Vick – once of Duck Finn Grubb Waters, more recently joint managing director of JWT London – who has been “resting” at headhunter The Lighthouse Company; and Clive Tanqueray, who was client services director of Sapient Nitro. Both Tanqueray and Pring have had long experience of working at AMV. Interestingly, the three new members of the senior team report to Pearman directly rather than to new managing director Arscott. Their rapid appointment following Ramzan Golant’s announcement of her departure reinforces the notion of engineered management change.


Nick Brien heads for McCann exit. But who would wish to step into his shoes?

March 16, 2012

Word reaches me that Nick Brien, chief executive officer of Interpublic Group’s troubled leviathan McCann Worldgroup, will be stepping down very shortly. Possibly within a few weeks.

The size of Brien’s no doubt handsome severance package is likely to remain a mystery, the reason for his departure less so.

McCann has, in recent years, been a slow-motion accident gradually picking up speed. The traditional banker of Interpublic, accounting for 30% of group revenue (according to the Wall Street Journal), it was once a licence to print money on account of 5 foundation global clients. These were: Unilever, Exxon Mobil, Nestlé, L’Oréal and General Motors. More recently it has come to rely upon Microsoft as well. Here’s the recent tally:

Unilever (mostly Walls) has long gone, and the souring of the relationship can hardly be blamed upon Brien (even though the last bit of media did leave in 2011). Less excusably, his 2-year tenure has coincided with serious difficulties afflicting the other five.

Nestlé? McCann lost the crown-jewels global Nescafé creative account (worth about $25m income annually) to Publicis Groupe. McCann had handled the vast majority of the business for several decades.

Exxon? Lost the $200m creative account (which went back to 1912) to BBDO after a year-long review completed late last year. Universal McCann, MRM and Momentum have, however, managed to cling on to media.

General Motors? McCann lost out in the recent contest for GM’s $3bn global media business (of which Universal McCann had a substantial chunk), and is still on tenterhooks over whether it has won, lost or drawn in a creative review of the worldwide Chevrolet business, which accounts for the bulk of GM adspend.

Did I mention the Microsoft débâcle? About a year ago, UM and Mediabrands lost more than half Microsoft’s global media business after a review which saw the $615m US business pass to Publicis’ Starcom MediaVest.

And so to L’Oréal – perhaps the single most important McCann relationship, accounting (I’m told) for about 20% of its operating profit. Brien made a fundamental wrong turn last year when he sought to shoehorn Maybelline into a standalone shop, Beauty Village, which was also to house L’Oréal’s main brands. Characteristically (for a former media man), he had spotted the cost benefits of ruthlessly streamlining the business. Equally characteristically, his critics would say, he showed almost zero client empathy in setting about the task. When L’Oréal’s ‘C Suite’ finally tumbled to what he was doing, they were apoplectic and nixed the whole project.

Worse, it would appear, is on the way for McCann. L’Oréal now seems poised to take a considerable amount of its creative work in house. From what I hear, it will drop one of its two global agencies. And given that Publicis is the Paris-based home team, currently rejoices in a better brand name and – in Digitas – a superior digital operation, who do you think that unlucky agency might be? Driving L’Oréal’s thinking, sources say, are potential cost savings of $50m a year.

An indication of the way the wind is blowing may be detected in the recent defection of McCann’s L’Oréal worldwide account director Aude Gandon, who joined Publicis Worldwide last month. Gandon was a Brien protegé. She was formerly managing director of Leo Burnett’s beauty, fashion and luxury division, Atelier-lb, and was brought into McCann shortly after Brien got the top job.

Hers is not the only departure. Note that Garry Neel, the GM brand leader at McCann is quitting (although he will stay on as a consultant). As is Matt Freeman, who was hired as chief global chief innovation officer and vice-chairman less than a year ago. Only last week, Cathy Saidiner, president of McCann LA since 2008 – and a key Nestlé contact – also quit, according to an AdWeek report which also carried a denial that Brien is about to step down.

Against all these losses, McCann under Brien has yet to nail a significant new business win. Sense a pattern, anyone?

Equally interesting, while on the subject of Brien’s imminent departure, is who might replace him. Who, now that Brett Gosper has quit, has sufficient stature within McCann? And if an external candidate, which first-rate suits would be prepared to risk their reputation in taking on such a vertiginous challenge? The ideal candidate might well be Andrew Robertson, BBDO Worldwide CEO (who has not so far landed that top Omnicom job he was rumoured to be angling for). But why would he want to go to McCann? Surely not for the money.

UPDATE 19/3/12: Another top level casualty: this time Tom Gruhler, global managing partner at McCann Worldgroup, who is heading off to Microsoft as vice-president of phone marketing. Gruhler, who joined McCann in 2003, oversaw a specialist technology and telecoms unit the agency was developing. Previously, he was point man on the Verizon account, but much of that defected to agency-of-the-moment McGarryBowen in 2010. There’s now an inescapable whiff of the Führer Bunker, April 1945, in the air.


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