EDITORIAL: Publicis learns that the global path is not easy

Bruce Mason, True North’s chairman, could afford a small consoling gesture towards Maurice Levy, his Publicis counterpart, after his shareholders had decisively seen off the Frenchman’s audacious attempt at US empire building. In a note to his one-time global partner, Mason assured him he bore no grudges. It was, after all, just business and offered his best wishes for a happy new year.

Bruce Mason, True North’s chairman, could afford a small consoling

gesture towards Maurice Levy, his Publicis counterpart, after his

shareholders had decisively seen off the Frenchman’s audacious attempt

at US empire building. In a note to his one-time global partner, Mason

assured him he bore no grudges. It was, after all, just business and

offered his best wishes for a happy new year.



At the moment, though, 1998 looks a more enticing prospect viewed from

Chicago than from Paris. While True North can look forward to a

sustained presence in world advertising, the future for Publicis as a

global player is more problematic.



Levy’s immediate reaction has been to look for scapegoats within the US

legal system. ’You don’t have to stick to the truth in US courts to be

believed,’ be proclaims bitterly.



Time perhaps will allow him to make a cooler appraisal. For the roots of

this dispute go deep and provide salutary reminders of what can happen

when European and North American advertising cultures collide.



Certainly, blame for what happened has to be spread. True North, too

long preoccupied with its domestic business to appreciate the dynamics

of the global market, has been left to rue its haste in aligning with

Publicis. Levy, meanwhile, has yet to show he understands how to handle

a conservative US advertising establishment.



Mason cites a couple of lessons to be learned: that global alliances

don’t work unless one side has sufficient incentive to invest in it

through a controlling majority, and that any such partnership is doomed

to failure unless the parties have shared beliefs. Events have proved

him right.



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