Neogama loses Bradesco, Omo to Interpublic – and 40% of its revenue

January 30, 2013

alexandre-gamaNot all fairy tales have a happy ending. One such is the marriage of convenience between Brazilian hotshop Neogama, its micro-network affiliate BBH and Publicis Groupe. Readers of this blog will recall that, a little over six months ago, Publicis chief Maurice Lévy bought out the 51% of BBH PG did not already own. A useful by-product of the deal was that he acquired not only BBH’s 34% stake in one of Brazil’s hottest agency properties, but the majority shareholding of its founder and creative supremo, Alexandre Gama, at the same time. Neatly, Lévy solved the creative succession crisis at BBH with the same stroke of his pen – by appointing Gama as BBH’s global creative chief, replacing Sir John Hegarty.

Alas, the deal has worked out somewhat better for Gama than for Lévy and Publicis. Gama managed to bank his cheque, but Neogama has just lost about 40% of its revenue, and two of its principal clients. Or so I hear.

It is common knowledge that one of the reasons Gama was hawking his majority stake in the first place was that he feared his agency was too reliant upon a single account, that of Brazilian bank Bradesco. Indeed, rumours soon began to surface that the bank was about to review. Well, now it has: and placed the account with McCann.

For Interpublic, McCann’s parent, Neogama’s plight is, however, a double joy. Another major – this time multinational – client has also fallen into its lap. I mean Omo (“Dirt is Good”), which has moved to Lowe.

In retrospect, we can see this was an accident waiting to happen. As is well known, PG is a Procter & Gamble agency group, and Omo is owned by Unilever. Under the status quo ante, Neogama had an element of protection from client conflict, in that BBH – itself a major Unilever network – was still majority-owned by its founding partners (i.e., Nigel Bogle and Hegarty). All that ring-fencing was swept away by the Lévy deal.

8027388763_a9feed3b19_zIt will interesting to see who gets the blame for this cock-up. My money is on Jean-Yves Naouri, the once but not future king of Publicis.

One thing you can be sure of: it won’t be the Silver Fox himself, who now seems comfortably ensconced in a permanent chairman role, despite recent protestations that he was – at 70 – on the point of retiring.

Advertisements

Last top 10 Brazilian indie Neogama sells out to Publicis Groupe, not BBH

July 4, 2012

It seems that months-long negotiations over who will own the controlling stake in fashionable Brazilian agency Neogama BBH (see my earlier post here) are now completed. So says the Brazilian trade press.

And the answer, shortly to be announced on the French Bourse, is: Publicis Groupe. Not BBH.

Do such technicalities matter, given that all these agencies are part of the same, happy, family? Well, yes they do. There’s more for micro-network BBH in this award-winning agency than a 35% stake.

Neogama’s biggest single client is burgeoning Brazilian bank Bradesco, but the agency also plays an important role in servicing BBH global clients such as Unilever and Diageo.

As is well known, Publicis Groupe is essentially Procter & Gamble-aligned. The only reason BBH, and therefore Neogama BBH, is permitted to handle Unilever business is a ring-fencing 51% stake in BBH held by its senior staff, chiefly group chairman Nigel Bogle.

If Publicis Groupe has directly bought out Neogama BBH, which it appears to have done, what will happen to that sizeable chunk of Unilever business? That is the question – as posed by rival Unilever agencies WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom.

Neogama’s principal shareholder is its flamboyant founder, Alexandre Gama. His is the only top-ten agency Brazilian agency that, up to now, has managed to remain independent. His motives for selling out? He has been running his agency a long time – over 12 years. Bradesco is overweight as the main client. And money, yes money. Gama’s services are highly in demand, and he knows it. He has been hawking his stake about for some time – in the not unreasonable expectation that he will get a bigger wedge from PG if he does so.

Ideally, BBH should have been the one to buy him out. But it doesn’t have the money. So Publicis Groupe, which probably had first refusal anyway, stepped in and snapped up the agency. Gama will now have to report directly to PG group chief executive Maurice Lévy, which he will not enjoy very much. By all accounts, the two men loathe each other.

Even when the Neogama acquisition is completed, WPP – owner of Y&R, JWT and Ogilvy – will continue to be the biggest biller in Brazil.

Neogama’s $667m turnover in 2011 was up 5% on the previous year, according to Inter-Media Project. Its revenue was $53m. It has 270 staff, according to Publicis Groupe.

UPDATE 9/7/12: Some further facts and figures about Neogama’s performance have come my way. Almost certainly included in the deal were two Neogama subsidiaries, Triacom – a promotion company – and MIM – a digital specialist. BBH’s precise share in Neogama was 34.4%. It had no share in Triacom or MIM. The latest financial performance figures were:

Gross revenue, for Neogama, Triacom and MIM respectively:  $66.7m, $8.7m and $1.1m. Net revenue: $57.3m, $7.9m and $0.9m. Operating profit: $28.4m, $1.5m and $0.4m. Operating profit after tax: $18.1m, $06m  and $0.3m.

A rumour has surfaced that Neogama’s biggest client, Bradesco, is reviewing.


Strong Interpublic financial results swell optimism in global ad recovery

February 24, 2012

Things really must be getting better in the global advertising economy, the cynical might observe. Interpublic, the world’s fourth-largest and most financially challenged advertising conglomerate, has just reported a decent set of Q4 results.

Despite a heavy kicking from principal clients SC Johnson – which quit after decades at IPG subsidiary DraftFCB – and Microsoft – which withdrew all its media strategy and planning business from media powerhouse Universal McCann – IPG was able to report profits (net income) up nearly 40% (50 cents compared with 36 cents per share) on revenue slightly ahead at $2.07bn.

Admittedly IPG chief executive Michael Roth was wary of calling a recovery. “We have some local wins and some existing clients spending money, but I wouldn’t say that the recovery is taking hold and we’ve seen bottom,” he said during the conference call.

But that cautious scepticism was surely belied by his assertion elsewhere that the company is setting out on the acquisition trail.

Besides, a slew of uplifting data elsewhere seems to suggest that IPG’s positive figures are not an isolated anomaly. Publicis Groupe and Omnicom, respectively numbers 3 and 2 in the world, have already posted Q4 results ahead of analysts’ predictions. WPP has yet to report, but there is no evidence the results will be grim. On the contrary, I have every reason to believe pre-tax profits and revenue will be well ahead of analysts’ expectations.

More circumstantially, but no less significantly, the US Advertiser Optimism Index – roughly equivalent to the IPA/BDO Bellwether Report over here – has just reported the second-highest level of confidence in ad budgets being raised since 2008. The index, published by research company Advertiser Perceptions, measured the sentiment of advertisers and agencies during October and November.

Finally, UK-based WARC has just produced a report suggesting America is leading the world out of (ad) recession. “Marketing spend in the Americas increased sharply in February,” it noted in an update to its monthly Global Marketing Index. Even doldrum European ad markets are experiencing “improving conditions”, it seems.

Let’s hope IPA/Bellwether doesn’t spoil the party with its next quarterly report, which must be coming out quite soon.


Havas figures that simply don’t add up

November 2, 2011

Here’s an arithmetical problem for City analysts. Why don’t marketing services group Havas’ splendid Quarter 3 figures actually add up properly?

First, a bit of background. Agency holding company performance has continued in strong recovery mode, despite the rest of the world economy going to blazes. Organic growth, which is seen as the purest underlying growth indicator because it strips out acquisitions, has been particularly vigorous at Aegis, which has just reported a Q3 surge of over 11%. But Interpublic, Publicis Groupe and Omnicom have all reported sparkling figures, with WPP trailing among the big boys on a still respectable 4.9%.

Havas delivered its best quarterly sales in 3 years, beating analysts expectations, with a sterling like-for-like (ie organic) growth rate of 7.3%, thanks to strong performance in North America, Asia and Latin America. Not unnaturally, the Havas share price surged on publication of these figures.

I have no doubt that Havas did indeed perform very well. The trouble is, the regional figures broken out in Havas’ own analysis, when added up and averaged, don’t hit 7.3%. They reach nearly 6.4%.

Let’s get technical for a moment. The method used, so far as I know, by all parent companies for arriving at a global organic growth figure is to multiply the share of each region by that region’s growth rate and then add up the resulting figures to give a global total.

In Havas’ case the declared figures are as follows. Europe, 51.6% (ie 0.516 of the whole), growing at 1.8%, gives us a figure of 0.93%; North America, 34.5% at 8.2%, gives us 2.83%; and Rest of World, 13.9% at 18.7%, gives us 2.6%. Now add up 0.93%, 2.83% and 2.6%. You get 6.36%, which rounds up to 6.4%.

Not 7.3%. Which is quite a difference when it comes to investors assessing the future performance of a company and making their bets accordingly.

My question is: where has the rest of Havas’ growth come from? Answers in my mailbox please.


Omnicom closes $100m Communispace deal

January 25, 2011

Silence reigns at Omnicom Towers on its mooted $100m deal with eCRM and insight company Communispace. Which is odd, for two reasons. First, it is the biggest deal engineered by the marketing services juggernaut since its ill-fated acquisitions of Agency.com and the somewhat more successful Organic in 2003. Second, and rather crucially – I hear the deal has gone through.

At all events, Communispace founder, president, chief executive and 10% shareholder Diane Hessan is packing her bags (now presumably heavy with loot).

The question is, what happens now? In an earlier post, I pointed out that $100m is a very steep price – yet, curiously, it does not seem to have been a stumbling block for that wily operator John Wren, Omnicom president and chief executive officer.

At the time I concentrated on the financials, and speculated that there must be something very special about this deal for Omnicom to hazard such an over-priced acquisition. That logic can be applied with equal relevance to Communispace’s clients. True, there are many the two parties have in common, plus a few that Omnicom would like to lay hands on. Yet it’s hard to ignore the conspicuous conflicts. Not just on the brand side, either. A slug of Communispace’s business flows from Omnicom’s rival agencies. Here’s an excerpt from AdAge that neatly summarises the conflict dilemma:

One reason why an Omnicom deal would make sense? Communispace lists as its clients several marketers that work with agencies under the holding company’s banner, including HP, PepsiCo, FedEx, Kraft and Campbell. But the Communispace client list also includes agencies at rival holding companies, like Havas’ EuroRSCG, Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest Group and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Martin Agency. Were an Omnicom deal to happen, such alliances would likely have to dissolve, as would accounts with clients like Verizon, a major competitor to a big Omnicom client, AT&T.

I’d add WPP’s Ogilvy to the list of competitors as well (check out Jim Edwards at BNET on this one).

How does Wren plan to steer himself around that one? His last experience with a major acquisition, controversially managed through off-balance-sheet vehicle Seneca Investments, was not a happy one. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself.


Which agency network group will land the next big deal?

December 31, 2010

Corporately, the 2010 agency scene has been remarkable in only one respect: the absence of a big, transformative deal. Consolidation, the key underlying trend of the past decade or so, seems to have stopped in its tracks.

True, there have been some near misses. Most notably, Dentsu nearly acquired digital network AKQA for about $600m, but backed off at the last minute over fears about the excessive price, not to mention the perceived hostility of AKQA’s senior management.

Publicis Groupe, however, did not launch its much-touted (not least by me) all-shares takeover bid for a holed-below-the-waterline Interpublic Group. And Vincent Bolloré, chairman of Havas, did not conclude the longest hostile takeover bid in history by acquiring the 70% of Aegis Group he does not already own.

Symbolic of this lacklustre M&A year has been the muted activity of the sector’s most aggressive actor, WPP. Group chief Sir Martin Sorrell restricted himself to useful infilling, of which the most decorative has been the acquisition this week of Blue State Digital, the agency that helped to propel Barack Obama into the White House, and the bankrolling of Peter Mandelson’s consulting business, Global Counsel. The £100m channelled into acquisitions this year is mere pocket money compared with WPP’s last big splurge – £1.1bn spent on buying research company TNS in late 2008.

Now I know New Year crystal-gazing is a dangerous thing – not least because the wildly inaccurate predictions, which often result, come back to haunt you. But I do believe change is in the air. No, really.

One straw in the wind is Omnicom’s return to the poker table after about a decade’s absence. Chief executive John Wren has pooh-poohed suggestions that his company will seek out transformative deals of the Razorfish (Publicis) and 24/7 Real Media (WPP) kind. But he has acknowledged Omnicom’s backwardness in the digital sphere and announced a Big Leap Forward. Typically, this is to take the form of partnerships rather than outright acquisition. All of which has not stopped Omnicom from getting into intensive negotiations to acquire eCRM company Communispace for about $100m (we may know the result of these quite soon; I gather there are some tax complications). Note that Omnicom has access to $2bn of revolving credit, with the option of an extra $500m.

Nor, for all the caveats that must surround any such bid, should we expunge Publicis/IPG from the script. Publicis has been put off its stride during 2010 by a messy succession crisis, which has now been settled for the time being. If anything, IPG’s plight has worsened during that time. To add to chief executive Michael Roth’s woes (prime among them, a smouldering fire in the IPG engine room, McCann Erickson), it looks very likely that one of his principal networks, DraftFCB, will lose its $1bn signature account, SC Johnson (which it has handled for decades).

Mitchell: Deal doesn’t add up?

And let’s remember that Aegis is not off the hook, either. Probably the most significant agency deal of 2010 was Aegis’ £200m acquisition of Mitchell Communications in July. Back then it seemed a shrewd move, and not only for Harold Mitchell, the eponymous founder, who ipso facto became a 4% holder of Aegis stock. In return, Aegis reckoned it had got significant exposure to Australasia, and a form of insurance against another hostile sortie from Bolloré – even if it did pay top Australian dollar for the privilege.

I have since heard the deal wasn’t quite as margin-enhancing as Aegis chief Jerry Buhlmann would have had us believe at the time. Mitchell has now admitted that revenues are not all they were cracked up to be. At any rate, Aegis has had to reissue its circular, with certain embarrassing amendments to corporate expectations contained therein. How Bolloré must be laughing all the way to his bank (Mediobanca).


Publicis’ sweetheart ad deal with Google turns sour after kickback allegations

November 25, 2010

When is an agency kickback not a kickback? When it’s a strategic partnership with Google – according to Kurt Unkel, senior vice-president at Publicis Groupe digital arm VivaKi.

Google and Vivaki have found themselves in the eye of a hurricane, thanks to an exposé published by the respected online journal TechCrunch. It sheds disturbing light on the highly incestuous relationship between the internet giant and agency group, with particular reference to their collaborative display advertising operations.

The technicalities are complex, jargon-ridden and difficult for outsiders to understand, involving as they do the secretive workings of so-called agency “trading desks” and “demand side platforms” (DSPs). But at heart the issue is simple. It’s exactly the same one aired in one of my recent posts on a historic kickback scandal at Grey Advertising. It’s about playing the agency client for a mug, possibly because the client in question is indifferent, but more likely because he or she hasn’t the first idea about what is going on. Or, as one anonymous Publicis employee quoted in the TechCrunch piece bluntly puts it: “Our clients are so clueless it is a joke.”

So how does the scam, if that’s what it is, actually work? Google is desperate to prove that it is not a one-trick pony, relying pretty exclusively on search advertising revenue. It has made considerable inroads into display, which now accounts for $2.5bn a year revenue according to the company itself. Some of this comes from its own sites, which include YouTube, but quite a lot is also generated via special units, the DSPs mentioned above, which are attached to all the big agency network groups – Omnicom, WPP and Interpublic as much as Publicis. According to one source quoted by TechCrunch, these DSPs already handle 10% of online ad spending but, such is their power, they could handle up to half in a few years’ time.

The issue is not whether money changes hands between Google and Publicis to boost Google’s market share. An explicit bribe would be illegal, not least because the financial inducement would not have been remitted to the ultimate paymaster, the advertising client. Rather, what seems to be going on are a series of non-monetary inducements offered by Google to improve agency performance. These, according to TechCrunch, include investment in the agency trading platform, co-marketing and training.

Google does not deny this is what is happening with Publicis. That in itself is serious enough, because it hints at abuse of market power, which could in time attract the attention of the competition regulator. In a nutshell, is Google using profit gained from its search operation to distort the display market?

But the implications are even more serious for Publicis, which depends on digital advertising revenue to sustain its industry-beating profit margins, of which we have been hearing so much from Groupe chief Maurice Lévy of late. According to a Publicis secret squirrel quoted in the piece, Publicis will run $1bn of advertising through Google this year, most search but about $200m display. To put this figure in context, digital was nearly 30% of Publicis’  Q3 €1.3bn revenues. And the rate at which digital revenues are growing – 28% in North America, which is the hub of global activity – is much higher than the industry average of 17%. Just to round off the point, there is an incestuous relationship between Google and VivaKi’s DSP technology: the technology is effectively licensed from Google.

If that’s the case, the not unreasonable question arises: are media planners at VivaKi acting in the best interests of clients when they allocate client funds, or the best interests of their employer?

I should point out at this stage that VivaKi does do business with display ad exchanges other than Google’s DoubleClick; for instance Yahoo’s Right Media. It also has a sweetheart display advertising deal with Microsoft, struck as a clinching quid pro quo during the Razorfish acquisition last year.

Nor does Google have an exclusive partnership with Publicis. It has a relationship with all the major advertising holding companies and a similarly structured deal to the Publicis one with Omnicom.

Whichever way you look at it, however, this exposé is a wake-up call for clients. Advertisers really need to pay a lot more attention to how their money is being spent.

POSTSCRIPT: Troubles, they say, always come in threes. To add to Publicis’ Google woes, there is a still-breaking corruption scandal in its China media buying operation, plus fresh news that Matthew Freud’s high profile PR subsidiary is plotting defection. For more information on this last, see what my old chum Stephen Foster has to say over at More About Advertising.


%d bloggers like this: