Publicis Omnicom: What started as a joke came to pass

By Ian Darby, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 01 August 2013 08:00AM

Like Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, Omnicom's John Wren isn't likely to forget Paris. He spent last Sunday in the company of Publicis' Maurice Lévy as they announced advertising's mega-deal at the French group's offices.

Lévy and Wren: ‘The prize is not to be on top – we care about the opportunities and what clients say’

Lévy and Wren: ‘The prize is not to be on top – we care about the opportunities and what clients say’

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The love-in followed six months of talks that began with casual social conversation before progressing to serious negotiations. What started as a joke between the pair ("I never thought we could merge with Omnicom – it was not in my plans," Lévy told Campaign) culminated in last week’s deal.

Levy, 71, and Wren, 60, looked to have struck an unlikely new advertising double act as they breezed through the event in Paris before heading to the US, where they held another press conference on Monday ahead of a "roadshow" for investors.

News of the deal began to emerge last Friday evening and, following the closure of the New York markets, Omnicom and Publicis told its most senior network chiefs that an announcement would be made on Sunday. Lévy, speaking from Boston, said that the initial plan was to announce the news a week before on Sunday 21 July, but that this was delayed by "small legal aspects that took one more week".

By Saturday afternoon, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell had e-mailed his agency chiefs to prepare them for action. He wrote: "If true [the merger reports] this will present major client and talent opportunities for us and our competitors except, of course, Omnicom and Publicis. Please review immediately the client conflict and talent opportunities that such a merger would offer and pursue as soon as possible. There are big opportunities that this deal will present – if it happens and even if it does not."

The leadership at Publicis and Omnicom were also busy behind the scenes. Calls were made at each group to senior agency executives on Saturday to inform them that the deal would be announced the following day. Lévy said that the French authorities had not been wooed to gain their support but were told just ahead of the Sunday announcement and were "very positive" about the deal.

Local agency bosses of both holding companies then began the process of speaking to clients on Sunday night, with calls also made to global clients from senior Publicis and Omnicom management. One local UK agency chief played down the immediate impact on clients and expressed the view that international or global clients were more interested in the detail of the deal than UK brands.

The road ahead is not yet clear. Lévy is adamant that the deal was not driven by personal ambitions, ego or even a desire to be the number-one holding company. "I will have a great sense of achievement the day we can demonstrate that this is working to the satisfaction of clients and shareholders," he said.

He added: "The prize is not to be on top – we don’t care about that – we care about the opportunities and what the clients say and raising standards in the industry. People say ‘yes, you are creating something new’; it’s big, yes; but it’s also the best and people are thrilled."

Clients and shareholders might pose the immediate challenge for Lévy and Wren, but regulators must also clear the deal. Network chiefs at the two holding companies said that there are no meetings in the diary to brief on the way forward, and one suggests that this is wise: "Until the regulatory process is concluded, any meetings concerning the remotest sense of who does what and where is too dangerous."

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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