Media Perspective: New IPG chief must not let media giant become a dwarf

There's a bizarre internet debate raging at the moment over whether 40 unarmed midgets could defeat one lion in a fight. Some 71 per cent think the lion would win. My money would also be on old Leo, unless the 40 little fellas were Spanish, who, let's face it, have a fearsome reputation when it comes to publicly skewering their prey.

Such a battle is never likely to happen, but in media we've had our own equivalent, as Interpublic's General Motors media operation was battered to a pulp by Publicis, which snatched the $3.2 billion US media business from IPG's clutches.

IPG, a giant in world media via Initiative and Universal McCann, is in danger of becoming a dwarf if it keeps on haemorrhaging business like this. One billion euros of Unilever gone in Europe, followed by an account almost three times the size in the US. And it is viewed by many at its local agencies as a Malcolm Glazer of an owner, rather than a beneficent Roman Abramovich.

Yet IPG has finally started to do something about its crumbling media fortunes. Last week, its search for a chief executive of its global media operations (including Initiative, Universal and the group buying unit Magna Global) ended with the appointment of Mark Rosenthal, a former MTV president and chief operating officer. Announcing the move the day after losing GM, IPG is aping WPP in creating this structure in a bid to find some sort of coherent strategy.

Rosenthal is promising to bring IPG's media assets closer together but has made it very clear that Initiative and Universal will remain independent.

Investment in research and Magna seems a key plank in the strategy.

Hardly revolutionary, but managers hope Rosenthal's arrival will galvanise the group effort after a period of neglect when IPG understandably had its eye on other things.

Universal's management situation has yet to be resolved, though, with the network still to replace its former chief executive Robin Kent (the Universal veteran Murray Dudgeon is minding the shop).It could struggle to attract outside candidates with any pedigree, yet could be due a fresh injection of energy and a gradual retreat from its McCann Erickson connections toward the IPG centre.

And Initiative's recent response to the Unilever loss - the departure of the worldwide chairman, Marie-Jose Forissier, followed by one of the dullest restructures ever (the UK's Jerry Hill and Germany's Dirk Wiedenmann promoted under the European president, Philip Bernard) - has hardly set pulses racing. Moving the furniture isn't enough any more for IPG's media operations. Rosenthal needs to change all this and add some much-needed dynamism. Otherwise his midgets will get one hell of a mauling.

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