Jacob must steer through the media muddle at Publicis

You'd be hard-pressed to understand the recent machinations at Publicis Groupe but, like Tony Blair in the House of Commons, the French powerhouse is starting to leave the distinct impression that it's not entirely in control of things.

First it withdraws its bid for the media and research independent Aegis Media, an acquisition that would have boosted its media operations, especially in Europe. The share price was just too high for Publicis after meddling from the Havas chairman, Vincent Bollore.

Then Publicis announces a new role for Jack Klues, the chief executive of Starcom MediaVest Group, as the chairman of its Publicis Media Group.

This group has existed for some time now to explore ways that Publicis' two networks, Starcom MediaVest and ZenithOptimedia, could work together more closely. Yet reported comments from Klues that Publicis may explore joint buying operations in some markets have confused observers. Its previous position of "never the twain shall meet" was odd but at least gave a clear market position against Omnicom and WPP. Now, it seems to me, there is an inevitability about Publicis' two networks coming together in some key markets.

To add to the confusion, last week we learned that Iain Jacob, the managing director of Starcom's group operations in the UK, would replace Mark Cranmer, the chief executive of Starcom Media-Vest Group across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The news leaked out messily, leaving Starcom to clarify reports in the days that followed. Surely it would have been better to time the announcement of Jacob's promotion with that of Klues to give at least an impression of coherence.

That aside, Jacob was the obvious internal candidate for Cranmer's job.

But Cranmer will be a tough act to follow and Starcom MediaVest still has much to do in Europe, where, key markets such as the UK aside, it languishes behind the likes of Carat, OMD Europe and even its rebuilt sister ZenithOptimedia.

Jacob, a likeable man and swift thinker, has been handed some advantages.

At last, Starcom will have a more developed EMEA team, with Jacob empowered to make senior hirings to work with him at a regional level.

His first pressing task is to appoint a UK successor, no easy task considering the problems rival agencies have had in recent times in appointing senior management. An internal promotion therefore looks most likely.

Then the focus will be on Europe. One thing in Starcom MediaVest's favour is the consistency and quality of its work and positioning for clients (at least in the UK). Jacob will have to hope he finds a way to communicate this while surrounded by Publicis' wider media muddle.

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