Lévy's appetite for power has not been sated yet
A view from Danny Rogers

Lévy's appetite for power has not been sated yet

Publicis Groupe's unexpected purchase of Walker Media - completed this week - was a stark reminder of the pressure that the Publicis boss, Maurice Lévy, continues to feel in a year when he engineered the most audacious merger in advertising history.

At an estimated valuation of £46 million, Lévy is paying nine times Walker Media’s pre-tax profits in 2012, which looks like a desperate attempt to shore up the ZenithOptimedia network.

There have even been rumours that Lévy’s appetite stretches beyond Walker Media to the whole of M&C Saatchi, which he would merge with Saatchi & Saatchi. This would bolster the latter, particularly in digital and direct, and remove confusion over the Saatchi name.

With multi-nation regulatory clearance for the Publicis/Omnicom merger potentially not being granted until the second quarter of 2014, Lévy may be frustrated with the lack of progress in his naked ambition to be the most powerful European in world advertising.

Just because Lévy and Wren hugged each other in front of the Eiffel Tower,
it doesn’t mean the rivalry is lessened

The uncertainty within Publicis has already caused a number of senior executives to jostle for position. And there are growing rumours of client unrest, not least at Coca-Cola, which is set to rub shoulders with Pepsi in the merged group, and Samsung, which would become stablemates with its arch-rival Apple.

Lévy has gone on record recently saying the merger is progressing "smoothly", but he must have been miffed last week when Disney US quietly moved its studio and home entertainment businesses’ media account from a dedicated group within Publicis’ VivaKi to Omnicom’s OMD. This would not matter post-merger, but it may well be of concern to Lévy now. Publicis’ global media buying operation continues to rival Omnicom’s in size and theoretically competes for clients.

Just because Lévy and Omnicom’s John Wren hugged each other in front of the Eiffel Tower in August, it doesn’t mean the rivalry is lessened. And bearing in mind the Institutional Shareholder Services has yet to ratify the proposed management structure, there could be serious machinations to come.

Lévy is one of the outstanding advertising figures of his generation, but WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell continues to ramp up the pressure on a man he both respects and dislikes. Sorrell has ruled out a merger with Interpublic, which would have created a rival mega-network, but is relentlessly snapping up digitally focused businesses in fast-growth markets.

And with Omnicom’s flatlining share price, Lévy feels the need to prove he is a global deal-maker with the greatest vision, raising the stakes further between him and Wren. This may not lessen post-merger.

danny.rogers@haymarket.com
@dannyrogers2001

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