As the first quarter of the year came to a close, we were again reminded of the high-stakes (quite literally, with a billion dollars of media spend changing hands in a single week) game being played out at the very top of the advertising and media industry.
The $35 billion mega-merger of the Publicis and Omnicom groups, announced to such fanfare eight months ago, still looks several months off with some big questions hanging over the deal. The new company’s UK tax status has yet to be resolved, Chinese regulatory approval has yet to be granted and rumours of unrest among senior staff within both companies persist.
And, true to form, WPP’s chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, has been doing his best to further destabilise the union by wresting away key media accounts from the merging business. Last week alone, Group M seized Vodafone’s £600 million global media account from Omnicom’s OMD, the smaller – but highly prestigious – £60 million Marks & Spencer business from Publicis’ Walker Media and the £110 million BGL Group/Comparethemarket.com account from Publicis’ ZenithOptimedia.
The message is that, although WPP may not be the biggest network by the end of Q2, it will remain the most aggressive
There is some coincidence in the timing of the conclusions of these big media reviews, but not in the noises coming from Group M. In a memo to WPP staff, MEC’s global chief executive, Charles Courtier, hailed the Vodafone win last Thursday as "life-changing". The message to the world is that, although WPP may not be the biggest network by the end of Q2 this year, it will certainly remain the most aggressive.
We are observing Sorrell, 68, quite obviously enjoying a new lease of life. Because there is suddenly a new edge to this global ad business that had begun to resemble a comfortable cartel. Hence Sorrell, and trusted lieutenants such as Courtier and the Group M president, Dominic Proctor, are tearing into every one of their C-suite contacts with gusto. The same can be said of the global creative prizes, with WPP bosses tasked with unsettling key Publicis Omnicom Group ad accounts such as Apple and Coca-Cola, soon to be potentially uneasy stablemates with Samsung and Pepsi.
POG bosses will not take it lying down, of course, with the always impressive Andrew Robertson, the boss of BBDO, and the consistently creative Leo Burnett, DDB and Saatchi & Saatchi networks well-positioned for the gathering storm.
But with the uncertainty hanging over the merger, it is more difficult for POG to marshal its forces; to focus its battlefield strategies. The stuttering merger continues to enthuse analysts in the longer term. But, for now at least, they look at the mercy of the fog of war.
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