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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Fallout from the Publicis/Omnicom merger

July 29, 2013

Richard PinderBy Richard Pinder

When first hearing the Publicis and Omnicom merger rumours you could have been forgiven for thinking it to be some silly season gossip.

But as we know POG is not a passing fancy, it is for real. Hats off to Maurice Levy who has consistently shown his ability to be daring, decisive and dynamic just when people least expect it.

So what drove it? And who are the winners and losers? First, two sets of observations:

The announcement was made in Paris, not New York. The Group will be called the Publicis Omnicom Group, not the Omnicom Publicis Group. The revenues of Publicis Groupe are some way below those of Omnicom Group though their market caps are much closer, but it will be a merger 50/50 owned by the two companies shareholders.
After the dust has settled and the merger is done, the silly co-CEO thing is finished with and the company starts to operate normally, the CEO will be John Wren, from Omnicom, the CFO likely to be Randy Weisenberger from Omnicom, the ticker marker on the NYSE will be OMC and largest market for the combined entity will be the USA.

Once the incredulity subsides, you can see the attraction to Maurice and John. And as the above simple summary shows, you can see the game that is being played by both to get the other to agree to the deal. The former gets to show the French establishment what world class really means, a brilliant retirement gig as non executive Chairman of the world’s number one advertising group and without having to go through with the charade of making good his oft delivered promise to Jean-Yves Naouri to be his successor. The latter, within 30 months, gets to run something nearly double the size of OMC today, in seriously good shape in Digital and Emerging Markets, the number one ad agency of the number one spending client in the world – P&G who had only just taken most of their business from OMC – and all without the pain and risk of taking the long road there.

For Elisabeth Badinter it’s a fabulous end to her tenure as Chair of Publicis – seeing the company her father founded in 1926 become number one globally, as well as securing the very strong valuation on her holding that today’s Publicis stock price provides. For a number of senior managers there will likely be the triggering of various unvested options, stock grants and other goodies, not to mention the special dividends, that will mean good will all round. So, off on the August vacances with a spring in their step? Well not everyone…

For a start there is precious little in the announcement about WHY this is better for clients. We can see it’s better for doing deals with the big media partners, old and new. Scale counts there. But when the bulk of the enterprise’s activity is still about finding, creating and executing inspirational ideas to motivate the world’s population to choose one brand over another brand, there is a point beyond which scale can actually be a disadvantage – talent feels lost, ideas get killed by people who have no idea what the clients’ needs are and everything takes too long and costs too much. Well that’s what a large number of large clients have been telling me this past two years since I left Paris as COO of Publicis Worldwide.

There is also the small matter of the $500m savings mooted in the announcement. Publicis Groupe runs lean. Margins are already industry best. So the chances of finding much of the savings there seem slim. It will be interesting to see how the board of BBDO reacts to the likely loss of their top tier international travel rights, or the agencies of DDB cope with tough bonus rules that tie every unit in the company to the performance of those around them, as happens at Leo Burnett or Publicis today.

As a footnote on the winners and losers, spare a thought for those who fought, lost and thought they had won in the long-running soap opera called Maurice Levy’s succession. Just as the game looked like it would soon be over, the sport got changed and everything was different.

It will also be fascinating to see what WPP do about this. They have got used to being the world’s largest and Sir Martin is rarely quiet for long on any topic, let alone one so close to home. Bookies will surely be giving poor odds on a shotgun WPP/IPG or WPP/Havas union.

And me? Well as client choice reduces, the need for new global alternatives will continue to increase. It’s why we started The House Worldwide and it’s why we think it will  be increasingly relevant to clients who want to get back to a world where the client and the brand are more important than the agent promoting it, and where the money is better off going to the talent than to the accountants counting it.

Bigger and smaller, that’s the future of the ad network game.

Richard Pinder is co-founder and CEO of The House International. He was formerly the head of Publicis Worldwide.

 


Publicis Groupe and Omnicom disclose $35bn merger

July 27, 2013

Maurice LevyAs merger rumours go, they didn’t come much better. Omnipub. Or more probably Publicom. But let’s come back to that later.

The idea that the world’s number two marketing services group, Omnicom, is about to combine with the number three, Publicis Groupe, and topple WPP from its premier spot (by market capitalisation) eventually proved too much for Bloomberg News. Yesterday, after the New York Stock Exchange had closed, it went ahead and published on the basis of a single source, probably but not certainly a disaffected investment banker.

Hats off to Bloomberg: it got it right. The new entity is to be called Publicis Omnicom Groupe. Fuller details will be announced in Paris tomorrow. But Omnicom chief executive John Wren and Publicis CEO are expected to be joint CEOs of the combined companies. At least, for the time being…

Commentators have rightly fastened upon the many impediments to Wren and Lévy pulling off this $35bn marriage in advertising heaven. They range from anti-trust legislation, to rampant nationalism (Publicis is a French chauvinistic icon, and seen as a bulwark against Le Defi Americain), to apparently unbridgeable divergence in the two companies’ strategies, not to mention the little matter of crippling client conflict.

So that’s it then? It can’t possibly work? Well, no. I can’t speak for the thicket of legal obstacles likely to be thrown in the way of the touted merger, but most of the other objections can be turned on their head, sometimes to advantage.

Let’s take strategy as an example. Lévy is relatively weak in the USA, but has emphasised emerging markets and put his money where his mouth is – sometimes too much of it – with expensive digital acquisitions such as Digitas, Razorfish, Rosetta, Big Fuel and LBi. Wren is archetypally American – over 50% of his business comes from the States; he has shied away from digital acquisitions, which he regards as over-priced, and some (including shareholders) would argue that his conservatism, or complacency, has cost Omnicom dear in the Far East. So different strategies, yes; but incompatible ones, no.

Nor is client conflict the neurotic impediment to mergers in the advertising business it once was. Some clients – McDonald’s, Mars and Procter & Gamble for instance – are held in common by the two groups. The real deal-breaker – if there is one – is likely to be Coca-Cola (PG) and PepsiCo (Omnicom). Then again, maybe Wren knows something about the state of the PepsiCo business we don’t.

Next, might a merger not help to address some chronic succession problems in both organisations? Readers of this news site will be very familiar with those at Publicis. Jean-Yves Naouri, once 71-year-old Lévy’s favoured protégé, seems to have fallen by the wayside. While Arthur Sadoun – the capable, ambitious managing director of the elite Publicis Worldwide network – was probably too young and too little known outside France to assume the global mantle. An added piece in this jigsaw is Elisabeth Badinter, the daughter of Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, who has been a member of PG’s supervisory board since 1987 and its chairman since 1996.

Badinter will, according to the Wall Street Journal, co-chair the new Publicis/Omnicom entity with Bruce Crawford. But she is expected to retire at the end of 2015. Which would be a convenient moment for Lévy to metamorphose into an emeritus role. It might also be a convenient moment for Badinter to bow out and cash in an enormous cheque. She is a 9.1% share holder in Publicis Groupe.

John WrenTurning to Omnicom, the problems of its senior management are less well ventilated. But two things are certain: its directors are not getting any younger and there hasn’t been much mobility lately. The average age of the board is over 70 (my thanks to Bob Willott for this pop-up statistic), making 61-year-old Wren look a comparative spring-chicken. Omnicom remains a well-run company, but there is an unmistakable air of geriatric stasis hanging over it. It has lost some big, perennial, brands in the recent past: Gillette and Chevrolet. Another signature account – Anheuser-Busch – has been cut to ribbons by the cost-conscious Boys from Brazil (InBev). By contrast Publicis – for all its chief’s distinguished grey hair – is viewed as dynamic; a perception reflected not only in PG’s recent stellar results but its consistently superior stock market rating.

A “nil premium” merger (which is what Bloomberg has suggested this is) implies a combination of equals. In reality, although Omnicom is the larger company, Publicis will end up in the driving seat: we’re talking Publicom rather than OmniPub. The signs are already there: in the name, Publicis leading; and in the venue for the announcement tomorrow, Paris.

The important detail to look out for will be who becomes chief financial officer. My money is on Jean-Michel Etienne rather than Randy Weisenburger. It’s not only the French who have to be appeased, it’s also the investment community.

Bloomberg seeded one of the most galvanising “silly season” rumours in years. The only thing is, it turned out to be true.


It’s the Age of Google and Sorrell has no time – or money – for Twitter

April 29, 2013

Martin SorrellThe most interesting thing about WPP Group’s first quarter financial results were not the numbers, but its chief executive’s obiter dicta.

The numbers themselves were a curate’s egg. They beat the revenue forecast, bizarrely enough they delighted in Britain, but they disappointed in the United States. Which is just about the only part of the world economy currently showing signs of dynamism.

The obiter dicta, on the other hand, were curiously memorable. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell used the occasion (well, near enough: he was actually speaking at the FT Digital Media Conference the previous day) to highlight a singular phenomenon. So far as his company is concerned (and it  is, after all, the number one spender of advertising money in the world), Google will soon become a bigger destination for his clients’ money than the biggest traditional media owner in his stable, News Corporation. Google is currently in receipt of $2bn of WPP’s quarterly spend; while NewsCorp gets about $2.5bn. But, given the Google figure represents a 25% increase year on year, it can only be a short time – Sorrell assures us – before the search giant moves into pole position.

I say “search giant”, but that of course is history. Sorrell’s underlying point is that Google – after some initial fumbling – has made the transition from a techie company, peopled by nerds, into a multi-media corporation with global reach. He calls it  “a five-legged stool”: there’s search (of course); display advertising; social media (google+); mobile (via Android and AdMob); and video through YouTube.

Note well where Sorrell places his chips, however. From an advertising point of view, the Age of Google (as he calls it) is primarily defined by video. YouTube has made big inroads into what traditionally would have been television viewing. He’s bullish about mobile, too: Android is now the most popular smartphone platform and in some developing markets, like China, it accounts for two-thirds of all mobile sales.

But social media: Oh dear, what an advertiser’s no-no! Yahoo, though generally lacklustre these days, garners about $400m of WPP spend. Facebook, infinitely more successful with its audience figures, receives only $270m. And Twitter a lot, lot less. What’s the logic? Well, Yahoo “gets” the commercial need for a five-legged strategy (indeed, TechCrunch speculates it is about to buy Dailymotion, a smaller competitor to YouTube). Whereas Facebook and Twitter do not. Facebook, Sorrell reckons, is important for brands – but in a negative sense – absence of criticism, which has little to do with any advertising content. Twitter, on the other hand, is simply a PR medium with almost no value to advertisers.

“It’s very effective word of mouth,” Sorrell told Harvard Business Review last month. “We did analyses of the Twitter feeds every day, and it’s very, very potent…I think because it’s limited in terms of number of characters, it reduces communication to superficialities and lacks depth.”

Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis, speaks during the Reuters Global Media Summit in ParisThat last may sound a little harsh. And is certainly not a universally accepted view among admen. Significantly, it is not shared by Sorrell’s deadliest rival, Maurice Lévy – chief executive of Publicis Groupe. Lévy has just announced a four-year pact with Twitter which will involve PG’s media planning and buying arm Starcom MediaVest Group committing up to $600m of client money to monetizing Twitter’s audience. Details, at this point, are sketchy.  It is clear, however, we are not just talking “pop-ups” here. Lévy makes specific reference to video links and “new formats” yet to be developed. He admits to there being “some risk” involved in the project, though whether this relates to his own reputation, clients’ money or both is not apparent.


Age cannot wither them, nor shareholders vote them off the holding company board

April 16, 2013

David-Jones---Havas-007Whoever said advertising was a young person’s business? The conventional wisdom is that at 40, most ad executives would be advised to investigate a second career. And at 50, they’ll be positively clapped out and  have “post-economic” freedom foisted upon them whether they like it or not.

Superficially, membership statistics for the Institute of Practitioners of Advertisers (IPA – the UK adman’s trade body) bear this theory out. When I last looked (which was admittedly a while ago, but I doubt the demographic profile has improved), the number of members surviving their 50th birthday was a vanishingly small 6%.

But these are just the worker bees. Look at the nerve centre of the hive – the main board of the world’s leading advertising holding companies – and you’ll find that gerontocracy has never had it so good.

I was forcibly reminded of this the other day by Marketing Services Financial Intelligence editor Bob Willott.

Willott has done a demographic survey of the Omnicom main board and found the average age to be an astonishing 70. In his own words:

The oldest of the 13 board members is the chairman and former chief executive officer Bruce Crawford.  He is 84 and has been a director for 24 years. His successor as CEO John Wren is a sprightly 60 and has served on the board for 20 years.

I have yet to do the arithmetic upon the board composition of other global holding companies, but the most superficial of surveys suggests a similar age-profile, if their chief executives are anything to go by. At WPP Group, there is an evergreen Sir Martin Sorrell – still incontrovertibly ruling the roost at 68; and likely to do so for a good while yet unless shareholders go nuclear over his annual pay review. Interpublic Group chairman and CEO Michael Roth sails imperturbably on at 67, despite repeated attempts by the media to unseat him or sell his company to a rival. And at Publicis Groupe we have the grand-daddy of them all Maurice Lévy – 71 – with no successor in sight, despite repeated attempts to pretend he has found one.

All this looks terribly good for that comparative whipper-snapper, David Jones (pictured above). At only 46, the global CEO of Havas can anticipate at least another 25 years at the helm.


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.


L’Affaire Renault reaches a suicidal nadir

October 12, 2012

Ah, the cynicism of the modern corporation. Remember all those years ago when Jo Moore, spin doctor to Stephen Byers, Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions secretary, emailed her boss those immortal words, referring to 9/11: “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury.”?

Well, now the French are having a similar moment of national revulsion at what’s called “L’Affaire Renault”. Readers of this blog will recall my post detailing Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy’s grubby attempt – successful at first – to stitch up Renault director of customer marketing Philippe Clogenson when the latter had the temerity to consider placing his business outside the Publicis empire. Clogenson was one of four senior Renault executives summarily fired (Clogenson for corruption, the other three for alleged industrial espionage) at the beginning of 2011 – only to be rehabilitated in the most humiliating way possible for Renault boss Carlos Ghosn and his number two, who subsequently had to resign.

And, guess what? The judicial investigation into the Renault scandal, now consuming many hours of M. Ghosn’s time, has turned up a new shocker. According to verified documents published in Le Parisien today, the car manufacturer had prepared draft statements for release in the eventuality that any of the executives attempted or committed suicide. The draft document, prepared by then director of communications Frédérique Le Grèves, read, “The entire company is profoundly shaken by the seriousness of this act. Our thoughts are with the family of M. XXX.” Fill in, as appropriate.

Contacted by Le Parisien, Le Grèves – now Ghosn’s chief of staff – managed to dig herself into a still deeper hole by insisting that the draft communiqué was “pure and simple anticipation, just a form of words in case we needed to respond to journalists.” The rehabilitated executives must have been delighted with that touch. But the broader point, which seems to have escaped Renault’s senior management, is the French public is aghast at the cynicism of it all. Le Grèves simply can’t understand what all the hullabaloo is about. I wonder how much longer she will remain Le Ghosn’s chief of staff.

The examining magistrate, Hervé Robert, took up half a day of Ghosn’s valuable time during his last hearing – and has threatened a 10-hour marathon during his next. I’m sure Lévy can barely wait for the judge’s attention to be turned to himself.


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