The stormy global marriage between Europe’s Publicis and True North
in the US is ending in gradual divorce, with the two sides ready to
offer clients the choice of aligning over a period of time with one or
other of the operations.
The result will be a gradual diminution of the alliance between Publicis
and the True North-owned Foote Cone Belding in Europe.
Optimedia, the Publicis-FCB joint media buying operation, is understood
not to be under immediate threat. Senior managers say it would be in
nobody’s interest to dismantle it.
The fate of the alliance was sealed when it was revealed that True North
was about to acquire Wilkens International, the former Ayer Europe
network (Campaign, 24 January).
The deal provoked speculation that True North was creating an insurance
policy in the event of its link with Publicis breaking apart.
It also marks a watershed in the plans of Maurice Levy, the chairman of
Publicis, to build his operation into the most important global network
with a European base. A senior Publicis manager said: ’Levy wants to
take over where the Saatchi brothers left off.’
The final split reflects a recognition on both sides that the joint
venture is a turn-off for many large clients, who fear that control over
their accounts is diluted by the arrangement. A key influence in the
split is understood to be Nestle, one of Publicis’s most important
Levy recently bought agencies in Canada, Mexico, Singapore and the
Philippines and is poised to make inroads into the US, using his
Coca-Cola and British Airways business as a lure for potential
However, True North executives claim Levy is still well short of
establishing a credible global network. They also say FCB can sustain a
significant presence in Europe without the help of Publicis.
One said: ’It’s not like it was 25 years ago. The communications
revolution means multinational clients don’t need full capabilities