John Tylee reports on the continuing strife between the agency and True
Like a married couple locked in mutual loathing but vowing to stay
together for the sake of their child, Publicis and its True North global
partner now seem content to irritate each other.
Last week, Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, gave True North, the
Foote Cone Belding holding company, another poke in the eye by taking
control of BCP, Canada’s seventh largest agency (Campaign, 13
Technically, there is nothing to stop him doing this. The two parties,
which have a 20 per cent stake in each other, revoked their worldwide
contractual agreement in March. And, as far as acquiring agencies in
each other’s territory is concerned, all bets are off.
But with the Canadian acquisition coming on top of other agency
purchases in Brazil and Mexico, and the likelihood that the group will
soon have representation on the US West Coast, it’s plain that Levy has
given up on a new accommodation with True North.
Much of the bad blood seems to have been caused by Publicis’s
acquisition of the Paris-based FCA network in 1994, which gave Publicis
control of the Bloom agency in New York and Dallas. True North
complained that its partner was reneging on their agreement.
But behind the Bloom row lurks a more fundamental culture clash,
symbolised by the buccaneering Levy, whose declared intent is to build a
global network of his own, and his True North counterpart, the waspish
Bruce Mason. The pair dislike each other intensely.
The ‘child’ forcing them together is their European joint venture,
controlled by Publicis through its 51 per cent shareholding.
Publicis acknowledges it needs its partner to lock in conservative US
clients. At the same time, Europe accounts for 40 per cent of True
North’s annual profits.
In the end, it may be that True North has no choice but to let Publicis
have its way. Failure to resolve the dispute is partly blamed for
dragging down the company’s stock and hampering its ability to make its
own major acquisitions.
Significantly, Mason has now been relieved of his role in managing the