Publicis and Omnicom: Oh Dear -- Brian Jacobs

By The Cog Blog Archives
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Generally speaking when one organization merges with another someone responsible for corporate guff produces some words that claim certain benefits to a) staff; b) shareholders; c) suppliers; d) clients; e) society or consumers as a whole; or f) all of the above.

No one really believes the benefits except perhaps the shareholders. To the staff there are inevitably job losses; to suppliers, tougher terms; and to clients, promises rarely if ever kept. As to society as a whole -- well, generally society as a whole couldn’t care less.

In the case of the Publicis Omnicom merger as far as I can make out there were few words from the mergees, although plenty from everyone else. This wasn’t because the benefits to one and all were crystal clear -- in fact the exact opposite was the case. No one, me included, could think of a single benefit to anyone not called Levy or Wren. Here’s what I posted last August.

Marketing services businesses merge (or combine through takeover) for a set of pretty obvious reasons. There might be geographic holes that need filling; or skills weaknesses to be addressed. Or the businesses might just be wonderfully complimentary -- a highly creative digital agency with no track record in “traditional” advertising merging with an admired creative agency that has little experience with digital or social channels.

There might be shared clients who would benefit from a stronger team on the business than can be afforded by either agency on its own. Or there might simply be a fantastically talented group without the business acumen or scale to grow to their potential.

All of these, and no doubt very many more are good reasons to merge; or for one organization to take over another. None of these, as far as I can see, apply to the coming together of Publicis and Omnicom. The only reason I have seen postulated is that somehow one giant organization can screw better deals and more rebates out of certain media companies than can be achieved by two very large media buying organizations. Oh, and there was also something anodyne about Big Data -- but then everyone in advertising has to mention Big Data at every opportunity as not to do so marks them down as not serious players.

What we heard when we eventually heard anything at all was guff -- and furthermore everyone except perhaps some ill-informed analysts and the odd gullible trade press journalist recognized it as such.

Now the rumour mill (notably The Wall Street Journal) has it that maybe the merger will not actually take place after all. Something to do with tax (clearly big data expertise doesn’t run to tax) and with who gets which job (bound to please the shareholders, that one).

I should make it clear that I have no idea if the rumours are true -- but if they are does it matter? Messrs. Wren and Levy will look ridiculous and will have their respective legacies tainted. Lots of people will have wasted lots of time and no doubt a great deal of money -- time and money that could perhaps have been better spent not losing quite so many accounts over recent months to WPP.

Meanwhile Sir Martin Sorrell will enjoy himself enormously whilst hoovering up business. What I am prepared to bet he won’t do is buy IPG -- despite this being a nailed-on certainty just a few short months ago in the eyes of the aforementioned ill-informed analysts and trade press journalists.

Omnicom and Publicis shareholders will no doubt be upset, but then they shouldn’t really be all that surprised, as anyone with any knowledge of the ad business could have told them months ago that as this planned merger would bring zero benefits to staff, suppliers or, most important of all clients then maybe they shouldn’t bank on it delivering some great golden egg to them either.

Meanwhile the guys who work for either Omnicom or Publicis will no doubt carry on doing what they do, many of them very well, without the distraction of having to contribute to what is said to be 70 integration committees. Maybe they’ll toil away with a tad less admiration for their leaders than they used to have though.

Brian Jacobs spent over 35 years in advertising, media and research agencies including spells at Leo Burnett (UK, EMEA, International Media Director), Carat International (Managing Director), Universal McCann (EMEA Director) and Millward Brown (EVP, Global Media). He has worked in the UK, EMEA and globally out of the USA. His experience covers shifts from full-service ad agencies to media agencies; from traditional single-commercial-channel TV to multi-faceted digital channels; and from media planning to multi-disciplinary communication planning. Brian can be reached at brian@bjanda.com.

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