Editorial: IPG's results won't make its problems disappear

Interpublic Group finds itself in a no-win situation. It sent a release out last week announcing that it would be unveiling its long-overdue results by 30 September. If the results are bad, the market will criticise the company's performance. If the results are good, the market will focus on the fact that they are late and that there's still a Securities & Exchange Commission verdict pending on its previous accounting.

When he took up IPG's reins in 2004, Michael Roth made the painstaking clarification of IPG's numbers a priority. He decided IPG needed to restore the faith of Wall Street - this is why it has taken so long to publish the figures. But without a doubt, IPG's woes have gone from bad to worse.

Today, holding company chiefs are expected to become actively involved in new-business acquisition; something Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP networks have benefited from time and time again. With the weight of IPG's attention on its books, account losses have mounted and new business has dried up.

But Roth finds himself backed into a corner. There are few clients indeed that would be willing to hire a holding company that has question-marks over its accountancy practices. British Airways, for one, is rumoured to have avoided having any IPG agencies on its current shortlist because of IPG's current woes.

When IPG's accounting anomalies came to light in 2003, there were rumours that Coca-Cola and Nestle would move out. They haven't, but Roth needs to show that IPG is whiter than white. So it follows that the holding company also announced it had fired a number of employees implicated in "falsified books and records, violation of laws, regulations and company policies, misappropriation of assets and inappropriate customer charges", mainly outside the US.

Many employees have left IPG in the past few years. It will be interesting to see whether Roth chooses to pursue former staff that it has identified as blameworthy for the accounting anomalies. A high-profile scalp could help exonerate the holding company in the eyes of Wall Street, although this would risk drawing out the negative headlines.

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