Last week's news that the Interpublic Group of companies was
creating a new group, The Partnership, headed by Frank Lowe, chairman of
The Lowe Group and Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, came as little
surprise to some.
When IPG's new chief executive, John Dooner, took over the reins it was
inevitable that he was going to make his mark on the group. Developing a
holding company along the lines of his old territory, the McCann World
Group, seems to be his chosen starting point.
The restructuring follows the company's recent acquisition of True North
Communications and means that The Partnership will now become IPG's
third global network group alongside McCann-Erickson and True North's
Lowe will head the new holding company, with True North's David Bell as
the chief executive and Michael Sennott moving from Lowe Lintas &
Partners Worldwide to act in a supporting role.
"What Dooner created with an integrated collection of agencies with the
McCann World Group, is a sensible thing to do and The Partnership is
trying to replicate that," comments a source within IPG, who is
reluctant to divulge their identity prior to official confirmation of
"Something like this is a sensible thing for Dooner to be doing. He
needs to put some shape on the disparate parts of Interpublic."
Lauren Fine, the managing director in equity research at Merrill Lynch's
New York office, concurs. "You've got a lot of different assets there
and if you can align them differently and get them to work better
together, it looks like a good idea," she says.
The plan is that The Partnership would team IPG's PR, media, advertising
and marketing services agencies into more streamlined groups. Details
are yet to be confirmed, but it is thought that the network will
principally be composed of Lowe Lintas & Partners, Initiative Media and
IPG's recently acquired Deutsch. It will also include Dailey &
Associates, Mullen/LHC, The Martin Agency, Draft Worldwide, Golin/Harris
and Suissa Miller. Bozell and Avrett Free Ginsberg are also expected to
be folded into the new group.
"The goal here is not necessarily to integrate each of those assets but
you do run the risk, as you align them, of people getting sensitive
about conflict issues and also of egos clashing," continues Fine. "It's
a high-risk, high-reward type of move but I think it is very consistent
with my view of John Dooner. He is willing to shake things up and is
committed to improving the growth rate."
However, Fine feels that The Partnership's chosen title will rob the
group of one of its strongest assets. "The Lowe name still has a panache
to it and I am surprised that they are not trying to do something with
it," she says.
"These people will not take easily to being all part of The Lowe Group,"
explains the IPG source. "This is why it is branded The Partnership and
not The Lowe Group, which would have been the obvious choice when
"We're seeing an emerging plan that Dooner hopes will take shape over
the next couple of years. Basically, it will become a more cohesive and
tightly managed group over a period of time. But he has to start with a
relatively loose collection of companies because he just wouldn't get
those people to play the game right now."
It could also be argued that IPG and Lowe want to keep other agencies
such as Mullen/LHC separate from The Lowe Group brand, which is meant to
be emerging as a separate integrated offering. An influx of new agencies
would only muddy the water.
Lowe himself may have preferred the entity to carry his name, but in the
end seems to have accepted giving up his name on the door in order to
get rival networks to play the game. Sources are adamant that his new
post is not a sweetener for an early exit, saying that if Dooner wanted
him out he would have already gone. The view from inside IPG is that the
company is handling Lowe well here. He's been given a big job but IPG
hasn't given him everything he wanted.
The management structure also resolves some key power issues within Lowe
Lintas & Partners' Worldwide. With Sennott moved slightly to one side,
the position of Jerry Judge, the chief executive and chosen successor to
Lowe, is rendered more secure. Some had speculated that Sennott was
beginning to run the show.
It's the choice of chief executive for The Partnership that has been
greeted with most scepticism. "The appointment of Bell as chief
executive is probably a short-term thing," says the IPG source.
"He's halfway out the door and is only there to soften the blow to some
Lowe himself insists that handing the day-to-day running of the Lowe
network to Judge will allow him to focus once again on the network's
creative product and get away from a number-crunching role.
"I like going to see people to talk about advertising, not about
finance," he offers. "I always vowed I would go back to doing that."