Editorial: Interpublic must find a way to re-engage staff

Almost as alarming as Interpublic's collective plight (see feature, page 28) is how savagely derogatory many of the group's own senior people have become about it.

Far from seeking refuge behind the corporate barrier, senior managers within the IPG operating companies are growing ever more ready to voice their disquiet. It ranges from criticism of the group's failure to reconfigure the board that presided over its decline, to questioning whether the chairman, Michael Roth, really has his heart in the job.

Roth has been scornful of the dissent, arguing that most of it is voiced anonymously by those with their own agendas. This may be true up to a point. But the fact is, the respect and loyalty IPG needs from its top executives is draining away. So much so, that it has become largely immaterial to them whether the Stars and Stripes, the French Tricolore or the Union Flag flies above their offices.

How all this must be affecting the group's ability to retain senior staff is anybody's guess. Rupert Howell, the European chief of IPG's McCann Erickson, declines to rule himself out of contention for the ITV chief executive job. And it seems inconceivable that Amanda Walsh, Lowe London's new chief, will not have negotiated undertakings in the event of Lowe's IPG parent being broken up or sold.

IPG has become a victim of its own history. Its roots lie in the ad money machine that is McCann and it has never managed to integrate its disparate empire effectively. One former leader of an IPG network operation complains that the group has no soul. And it is easy to see why.

Far from adding value to its networks as its rivals have done, IPG has become a liability. There is no charismatic figure such as Maurice Levy or Sir Martin Sorrell to exploit high-level contacts to pull in business; there is no IPG search engine scouring the world for talent. IPG could yet calm the impatience of its shareholders. But it needs to get its new-business machine rolling first. And it will not do that unless it can get its people believing in it again.