IRWIN GOTLIEB's 2005 Future Vision

By Jack Myers Jack Myers ThinkTank Archives

On October 21, at the Pierre Hotel in New York, one of the media industry's true visionaries, and a mentor to many, will be honored by the IRTS at the annual Hall of Mentorship dinner, along with BET Chairman/CEO Debra L. Lee. For dinner details, contact joyce.tudryn@irts.org. In 2005, Irwin outlined his vision for the media industry and for Group M. Irwin's vision then is being implemented now, and Irwin continues to mentor many in our community at all stages of their careers. I hope you'll join in paying tribute to Irwin on October 21.

"Developing Business Models that are Scalable is Essential," Says GroupM's Gotlieb

Business Realities Dictate New Strategies as Media Agencies Expand

"If you have sufficient needs in New York City real estate, you might choose to rent some property, buy some property and build some," says Irwin Gotlieb, using an analogy to the real estate industry to explain the strategies of WPP's GroupM, the $54 billion media enterprise he heads (2013 RECMA billings are $104.5B.) "I don't know if we'll invest directly in media," Gotlieb told Media Business Report, "but once you have a significant enough share of market you have to assure you hedge your bets sufficiently so your own actions don't cause pricing to increase."


Editors Note: GroupM's 2013 global RECMA billings are $104.5B and GroupM is ranked the #1 Global Media Agency Worldwide


GroupM is the largest global media agency holding company and third largest in the U.S. behind OMD and Publicis Groupe Media (currently #1). "There is enormous untapped opportunity to improve the health of the media industry," Gotlieb believes. "The vast majority of marketing communications budgets are being spent in areas other than media. As we gain scale we increase our ability to influence the future. The best way to predict the future is to create it," he quotes Peter Drucker.

Gotlieb tells the story of experimenting with the design of a simple power chord in his stereo system, believing he had identified a weak link in his system and also believing "things are only as strong as the weakest link." Gotlieb's wife, Liz, questioned whether a simple power chord could influence the sound, but she was able to hear a distinct improvement. Even as he manages a 12,000-person company, Gotlieb studies the media industry and GroupM with the same eye for the weakest link and opportunities for improvement. "My most efficient use of time is to help identify best practices so they can be broadly deployed across the organization," he says. "We need to intelligently apply scale to our business processes and prevent ourselves from being marginalized by competitors who are also growing."

Irwin recalls a conversation years ago with then Benton & Bowles CEO Roy Bostock who pointed out that "as a team, we had built a business model that had 'proved to be a better mousetrap,' and with that team we grew our media business at B&B and subsequently at MediaVest. The problem," Bostock pointed out, "is the business is dependent on a few people and isn't scalable." The challenge, says Gotlieb, is developing business models that are scalable to a vast global organization with multiple divisions.

This is especially difficult in a business in which it is difficult to set a clear agenda and allocate resources, Gotlieb says. "There are a lot of businesses where senior management can set an agenda for the next year and they can define how resources will be allocated. We have to be responsive to the needs of our clients. They set priorities. They decide when they will put their business up for review and we have to react. Plus, the rate at which content and distribution are changing the media landscape around us is scary. We need to handle our administrative jobs, be responsive to our clients' needs, and figure out how to innovate and position ourselves for the next five years."

"I miss being able to spend the kind of time I used to on a few key clients," he acknowledges, "and I also miss personal involvement with media sellers. It's very difficult to maintain personal relationships in business today." Gotlieb also regrets "not being able as an individual to start something, work on it and finish it. The trade off," he says, "is the ability to have a scalable business."

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