Is there no end to the recrimination and no bottom to the poisoned
well that fuels the feud between True North and Publicis? The stormy
global marriage between the two groups has been followed by a divorce
which will be neither quick nor clean. Particularly now that True North
has filed a lawsuit to regain the dollars 60 million it claims to be out
of pocket because of the split.
Quite how this venomous affair will end is anybody’s guess. There are no
precedents for it within the ad industry. Never before have two big
names squared up to each other in such a fashion. To make matters worse,
it has become a deeply personal duel between the main protagonists -
with Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, accusing Bruce Mason, his True
North counterpart, of waging a vendetta against him.
In some ways, the dispute is the product of an increasingly vicious and
competitive business environment in which companies, which would once
have simply shrugged their corporate shoulders, no longer shrink from
going to law to seek redress. In advertising, which is built on personal
chemistry, such conflicts often grow very nasty as relationships sour,
commonsense goes out of the window and egos take over.
Whether or not True North can expect to be compensated for an investment
that turned out to be worth less than expected is for a court to decide.
What is certain is that the war has become immensely debilitating for
both parties, diverting the attention of senior executives from the jobs
they should be doing while lawyers’ fees rocket.
Meanwhile, such squabbles may not only foul up long-term plans but cause
nervousness on stock markets and among potential clients which do not
favour companies with protracted legal actions hanging over their
The best hope is that Mason’s retirement in March opens the way for a
successor with no axe to grind and a determination to end the affair
once and for all. If not, this fight is in danger of a rapid descent
into farce while reinforcing all the outside prejudices against an
industry that can’t quite seem to grow up.