Make no mistake about who the arbiters are in any marriage
involving Young & Rubicam which, this week, was weighing up the rival
proposals of Publicis and WPP.
They are not Maurice Levy, the Publicis president, the Y&R chief
executive Tom Bell, WPP’s Martin Sorrell nor the bankers and legal
advisors surrounding them.
The men who have the final say on whether these deals live or die are
those such as the Ford boss Jac Nasser and his Renault counterpart Louis
Little matter that there are compelling strategic reasons for a Y&R
alignment with either Publicis or WPP to sustain its place as a serious
Throughout the talks, Publicis privately acknowledged that a non from
Renault would be a ’showstopper’. Meanwhile, Y&R sources were making it
clear that Ford’s refusal to share an agency group with a rival carmaker
would scupper a Franco-American partnership.
Whether powerful clients should be able to dictate and enforce such a
rigid conflict policy is a moot point.
The truth is that multinational advertisers can’t continue to have their
cake and eat it. By demanding such a huge range of marketing services
from their agencies, they have fuelled merger mania which may soon
result in no more than half a dozen holding companies. Slowly but
surely, hard-line client attitudes towards conflict are becoming
If push comes to shove, how many global agency groups have the scale,
the strategic and creative talent and a gap in their client portfolio
which could enable them to accommodate Ford or Renault? And would either
carmaker wish so much upheaval in hunting and appointing one?
Circumstances have conspired to give agencies this extra power which,
through their own inertia and insecurity, they failed to snatch years
ago. Client companies have never had problems over conflicting business
handled by their lawyers or management consultants but -when it comes to
their advertising suppliers - they revert to the old master-servant
Agencies have never had a better opportunity to redress this. As
businesses converge and retailers become banks, no agency would be able
to pitch for anything if unyielding conflict policies are carried to
Whether the day will ever dawn when agencies will juggle their conflict
as lawyers and accountants do now remains to be seen. If clients can be
convinced that their ring fences are secure?