MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: US MEDIA AGENCIES - Optimedia’s US debut throws a spotlight on in-house media. The formation of Optimedia is a telling development for US media. By Alasdair Reid

Senior Publicis staffers were in a bullish mood last week after buying one of New York’s strongly rated media specialists, DeWitt Media.

Senior Publicis staffers were in a bullish mood last week after

buying one of New York’s strongly rated media specialists, DeWitt

Media.



The move is the second acquisition in two months, coming hot on the

heels of Publicis’ purchase of the respected creative hotshop Fallon

McElligott. Not so long ago, the relationship between Publicis and True

North, its then US-based global partner, was a nightmare. Now, it seems,

the American dream is alive again.



The plan is to take the Publicis full service agency media department

(clients include Nestle and British Airways) and merge it with DeWitt

(billings of around dollars 400 million with clients including BMW and

Bacardi) to create a consolidated Optimedia US operation with total

billings of dollars 1.25 billion. Fallon clients will not be involved in

the consolidation at this stage.



Optimedia US will be just outside the top ten US media operations by

volume. But size isn’t the issue. According to Publicis, the big news is

all about structure - it claims it will be the first to offer the full

’soup to nuts’ integrated communications advice. The European model of

the communication specialist has come to town.



Sources at the Media Edge and Starcom, both of which are proud of the

recent advances they have made in joined-up media thinking in the US,

were reportedly mildly amused at the statement last week.



Both operations come pretty close to offering what we on this side of

the Atlantic would regard as the ’full monty’. Nor is the theory of a

total communications specialist exactly new (or regarded as totally

foreign) to the US operations of Carat, MindShare or Zenith.



But theory is the word. Optimedia’s US ebullience serves yet again to

highlight how sensitive and troublesome the strategic planning issue

continues to be in the States. As one source puts it: ’There was a

defining moment recently when Unilever had to rethink its US media

review. The intention was to move everything - planning and buying -

into one media agency of record and MindShare and Interpublic-owned

Botway were supposedly up for that.



’But the senior people at the WPP and Interpublic creative agencies

started saying ’over my dead body’. Unilever is now very confused and

you could argue that MindShare is now acting directly contrary to its

mission statement, which is all about integration.



’It’s no surprise, though. The US advertising business is driven by

creative agency account directors with incredibly powerful fiefdoms.

They, more than anyone, own the client and hell will freeze over before

they give up that power.’



But there have been successes, notably where everything comes under

common ownership and they can shunt everything across into a single

operation.



The Media Edge has got there quickly, as has Starcom which has had

another fantastic year. It is possible if you are single-minded.



Simon Lloyd, the worldwide chairman of Optimedia International, says

he’s more than ready for that sort of challenge. He says: ’It is still

sacrilege in the US to talk about offering yourself as a strategic media

company advising clients on all forms of media communications. I’m

convinced that there is an enormous opportunity here as the US market

begins to evolve - and all the signs are that it is beginning to

change.



’I’d argue that no-one is thinking the way we are yet. We are convinced

that the European model is the way to go - and once people see it

working they will be in no doubt about that. The problem with the big US

groups is that the people charged with creating their media operations

don’t know anything but the way things have been done in the past in the

US.’



Lloyd is happy to respond to those who imply that the new initiative is

of limited relevance because Optimedia isn’t a major player. If it is

successful, he implies, it will grow.



’We have no desire to be the biggest. We are about the smartest use of

volume rather than value per se. What we bring is a knowledge that it

will work our way and a determination to do it,’ Lloyd says.



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