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