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