Direct marketing in the ascendancy atInterpublic

It could become a defining moment for the direct marketing industry.

Yes, the reports that Interpublic is considering bringing Draft and FCB together, with Draft on top, are important.

The story, which broke in the US press last week and is still unconfirmed, indicates a hitherto unheard-of status for direct marketing within a holding company. In the US, FCB was until relatively recently the biggest and one of the most famous advertising brands. However, things have soured, so now it's the eighth-biggest, but nevertheless, we're still talking about more than $200 million in US revenues.

The trouble is, so is Draft. According to AdAge estimates, its US revenues increased in 2005 by 12 per cent to $224 million.

Status and financial success are usually linked and while that of Draft is on the up, FCB's has hit a downward curve.

Around the world, the direct marketing industry has proven its ability to chug forward, irrespective of ever-more cautious marketing budgets. Indeed, while the recent downturn has spread insecurity among advertising agencies, it has exposed the resilience of direct. This proposed merger is testimony to that shift in emphasis.

I call it a merger, but it's unlikely that's what it will be. First, IPG has a clumsy history of mergers: look at Lowe and Lintas. They were brought together and then fell off a cliff. It is more likely that the two groups will become much more closely aligned, perhaps both reporting to the same boss.

That boss will most likely be Howard Draft. He's a colourful, old-school character. His personality and business acumen have built the network into the direct marketing giant that it is - something that has helped him to become a significant shareholder in IPG. Clearly, he has ambitions to increase his sway within that organisation.

Some of you will have heard the rumours at the end of last year about Lowe and Draft coming together. With news in March that Lowe is to be downsized into a micro-network, this no longer appears to be something IPG is considering. However, the rumour does expose a strong desire to merge Draft with something.

Satisfying Howard Draft is only a small part of the story, however. Much more significant to IPG as it weighs up its options will be an attempt at replicating the success of the McCann Erickson powerhouse. At McCann, the closely aligned advertising and direct networks work well together, offering clients a compelling integrated option. A similar alliance between FCB and Draft could well improve the offering of each network.

Since he joined Marks & Spencer as the chief executive two years ago, Stuart Rose has overseen a dramatic recovery at the retailer. He has cut the prices of its clothing lines, while moving them away from their frumpy heritage. Meanwhile, the quality of the retailer's food offer means it is benefiting from the increasing health-consciousness of the British consumer.

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R's advertising campaign has received a lot of attention in the press and is widely recognised as having made a major contribution to the stores' turnaround. But the ad agency and Rose now face a shared problem: how do they keep the momentum going?

Rose, for his part, is trialling a one-store rebrand to "Your M&S" in a bid to attract younger shoppers. The chain is also planning to roll out cafes. Both initiatives whiff of experimentation rather than serious long-term strategic thinking.

Rainey Kelly, meanwhile, must know that the clock is ticking on its "this isn't just food, this is M&S food" campaign. The food and fashion campaigns both used simplicity to great effect, but finding successors before the formula gets tired must be the most challenging brief around since Tesco dropped Dotty.

- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.

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