Media Perspective: OMD takes the fight to Group M with its capture of Vodafone

It was a titanic battle. WPP against Omnicom for Vodafone's £800 million media account. Eventually, Omnicom's OMD triumphed against WPP's Team Vodafone offering, a cloak for WPP's media networks, which all had conflicts.

This came as a surprise to some. Especially as, according to sources, WPP's senior people, from Sir Martin Sorrell downwards, had helped to convince Vodafone of the merits of holding the pitch. Unsurprising really, given it didn't have a great deal to lose, with OMD holding the business in the bulk of the major European markets and Carat in the UK.

Though it was a messy process, there is at least a clean outcome. Messy because Vodafone was working through a market-by-market review that had seen Carat land the £58 million UK Vodafone account from OMD UK in February. Well, scrap that. The business is now heading back to OMD UK and that's no reflection on either UK agency. As many at network-owned agencies in this market are discovering, they are simply pawns in a bigger game.

The UK volte-face may have provided a slightly farcical element in an otherwise very serious pitch process but the reasons for OMD's appointment don't seem especially controversial - efficiencies for the client, good people at OMD working on its business. The implications, however, are fascinating.

Mainly because the outcome says much about the fighting spirit of OMD at international level. And especially the qualities of Colin Gottlieb, the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group EMEA, who, despite the WPP forces ranged against him, just wouldn't let go. He has personally led successful pitches for Renault and Vodafone in the past year so his stock can never have been higher.

The appointment also raises questions over WPP's "pile it high" vision for media. Group M (the "Intel inside" that was powering the Team Vodafone pitch) has stuttered of late. And there are signs that its empire-building strategy won't always work. It found that to its cost with Kellogg late last year when Carat plucked the business from under its nose. Sources suggest that attempts by Group M to tie up the global Unilever business with Mindshare failed when it spent six months trying to make the required cost targets and failed. This account will now go out to pitch with Omnicom and Aegis again providing stiff competition.

So OMD may hold sway but a month, even a week, in media is a long time. Just ask Aegis Media, which, in its results last week, crowed about record new-business wins only to find on the same day that it had lost the UK Vodafone business.

So, will OMD now go on in a blaze of glory and conclude the year by winning everything in sight? As all the best football managers say: "Ask me at Christmas."

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