Between the Lines: Omnicom shows its strength

Yet again, the word from the world's big marketing services holding companies is that tangible, sustainable growth is not coming from above-the-line businesses, but from more targeted, accountable areas of the communications mix.

Omnicom's 12 per cent rise in fourth-quarter profits, announced this week (page 4), is buoyed by a sharp rise in revenue from non-traditional advertising activity. The chief executive, John Wren, says he is "very pleased",but there has been a detectable switch away from TV campaigns towards direct marketing and customer-relationship solutions.

So far so predictable, and the trend is as good a justification for a diversified holding company structure as you'll find.

But where Omnicom seems to be ahead of its rivals is when it comes to organic growth. The group's organic growth topped 6 per cent, compared to 4 per cent at Publicis and 2 per cent at Havas. At a time when growth by acquisition is elusive, an ability to grow with new accounts and bigger budgets from existing clients is what analysts want to see.

Omnicom has managed to combine its diversified group structure with a (relatively) laissez-faire culture. The result has been a spirit of entrepreneurialism and stronger local cultures. Many Omnicom managers still feel almost like they're working for themselves and that's as priceless as it is unique.