The value of investments - as those irritating ’wealth warnings’ on
financial ads constantly remind us - can go up as well as down. So,
after extricating itself from its ill-starred global alliance with
Publicis, there was little realistic chance of True North clawing back
the pounds 68 million that it alleges to have been short-changed by.
What prompted the US group to file a claim with the London Court of
International Arbitration when the odds against success were so
The answer defies logical explanation but provides a grim warning of the
consequences of allowing ego and emotion to overshadow common sense.
Let us hope that the court’s ruling against True North puts an end to
what has been a debilitating, expensive and distracting confrontation
for both sides.
With hindsight, it’s easy to see that the seeds of destruction had been
sown from the start and that the alliance between Publicis and True
North’s FCB subsidiary was an ill-conceived, badly thought-out
What’s more, it paid little heed to the huge cultural differences
separating an inward-looking US operation and a highly ambitious French
group with a big US credibility problem to overcome if it wanted to
evolve into a truly global player.
Little wonder that the ink was barely dry when each partner was accusing
the other of deceit and duplicity. Or that Bruce Mason, True North’s
former chief executive, was later to admit that the partnership was
fundamentally flawed because neither side had majority control.
For Maurice Levy, the chief executive officer of Publicis, the question
is whether, as someone who has undoubtedly enlivened the global
advertising scene, he can become a dominant player in it.
Often cast as a Napoleon who failed to defeat the heavy cannon of True
North and its powerful clients, Levy must prove to the US market that he
understands its ways and has drawn strength from his experience.
Perhaps the most positive signal he can give is to make the Publicis
name better known across the Atlantic. While his US stable boasts the
likes of Fallon McElligott and Hal Riney, they will do little to pull in
the US-based multinational clients vital to the agency’s global growth.