CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Publicis ruffles partner again

John Tylee reports on the continuing strife between the agency and True North

John Tylee reports on the continuing strife between the agency and True


Like a married couple locked in mutual loathing but vowing to stay

together for the sake of their child, Publicis and its True North global

partner now seem content to irritate each other.

Last week, Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman, gave True North, the

Foote Cone Belding holding company, another poke in the eye by taking

control of BCP, Canada’s seventh largest agency (Campaign, 13


Technically, there is nothing to stop him doing this. The two parties,

which have a 20 per cent stake in each other, revoked their worldwide

contractual agreement in March. And, as far as acquiring agencies in

each other’s territory is concerned, all bets are off.

But with the Canadian acquisition coming on top of other agency

purchases in Brazil and Mexico, and the likelihood that the group will

soon have representation on the US West Coast, it’s plain that Levy has

given up on a new accommodation with True North.

Much of the bad blood seems to have been caused by Publicis’s

acquisition of the Paris-based FCA network in 1994, which gave Publicis

control of the Bloom agency in New York and Dallas. True North

complained that its partner was reneging on their agreement.

But behind the Bloom row lurks a more fundamental culture clash,

symbolised by the buccaneering Levy, whose declared intent is to build a

global network of his own, and his True North counterpart, the waspish

Bruce Mason. The pair dislike each other intensely.

The ‘child’ forcing them together is their European joint venture,

controlled by Publicis through its 51 per cent shareholding.

Publicis acknowledges it needs its partner to lock in conservative US

clients. At the same time, Europe accounts for 40 per cent of True

North’s annual profits.

In the end, it may be that True North has no choice but to let Publicis

have its way. Failure to resolve the dispute is partly blamed for

dragging down the company’s stock and hampering its ability to make its

own major acquisitions.

Significantly, Mason has now been relieved of his role in managing the

Publicis relationship.


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