MEDIA FORUM: Is OMD's network about to get the leader it needs? - Last week, OMD announced that Colin Gottlieb is to be its European head The management is being streamlined too. Is Omnicom ready to sort out its media product, Alasdair Reid asks.

In a Campaign interview back in December last year, Omnicom's boss, John Wren, stated that only a handful of global media brands were likely to survive in the long term. Fair enough. But then you pondered his list of winners. A number of the biggest and best weren't on his list. And wouldn't you just know it - OMD was.

In a Campaign interview back in December last year, Omnicom's boss, John Wren, stated that only a handful of global media brands were likely to survive in the long term. Fair enough. But then you pondered his list of winners. A number of the biggest and best weren't on his list. And wouldn't you just know it - OMD was.

If you listened carefully, you could just about hear chuckles of laughter spreading across the London media market that Thursday morning as people picked up their copies of Campaign. Yet another example of Omnicom's reality gap where media is concerned?

That's not to suggest that Omnicom's media operations are in any way inferior. Quite the reverse. In London, it owns three world-class media companies - New PHD, Manning Gottlieb Media and the BMP media operation, which has been through several name changes but is now synonymous with the group media brand, OMD.

Is three too many? Actually, that isn't the real question. The question is about the global picture, about the OMD network. Despite boasting individual gems, it has always been considerably weaker than the sum of its parts.

The group lacks a coherent global media product. It has lacked visionary leadership or entrepreneurial focus; and it has lacked the skill-sets that would allow it to pitch big multinational accounts in its own right.

The market has assumed that Omnicom was unlikely to grasp this nettle in the short to medium term. It is the most decentralised of the big advertising holding companies.

Well, perhaps the market needs to think again. Last week, Omnicom announced that Colin Gottlieb will sell all his shares in Manning Gottlieb Media and will take on the role of European chief executive of a reborn OMD.

His job, reporting to a global chief executive, will be to develop the OMD brand as a strong independent entity, capable of competing head-to-head with the likes of MindShare, Carat and Zenith.

Will it work? Is Omnicom serious this time? Many observers are reserving judgment. John Perriss, the chairman of Zenith Media, says it will all depend on how much freedom the managers are given to manage: 'It will depend on whether OMD is constituted as a company. If it isn't given that status, it will lack the coherent focus and structural organisation that clients looking for a European or global solution must have. It's less about the person brought in to sort this out and more about whether the internal structures will make it possible to do the job.'

Omnicom sources insist that it will be a fully fledged company with equal status to the existing agency networks, rather than a poor relation. Although those networks will still have representation on its board, they won't wield the same sort of influence that they have in the past.

Paul Phillips, the managing director of the media division of the AAR, offers advice to major clients reviewing their media arrangements. He says it takes time: 'It is possible to create a network by selling it from the top down - by senior managers saying 'this must happen'. But it really has to happen from the bottom up. The local units have to buy into the proposed network proposition, otherwise it just won't be a credible offering. OMD is behind in media and it will undoubtedly take time - you have to get people together, let them get to know each other. You've got to get them singing off the same song sheet.'

Omnicom will doubtless try to do this in double-quick time. In the past its media deficiencies were not noticeably costing it business but they have been recently. It fell early on in the recent Unilever review, for instance. And Gottlieb saw this at first hand when his Manning Gottlieb Media lost Nike to an international realignment.

The big question, though, will be how easy it will be to persuade Omnicom's creative agencies to relinquish some of their current fiefdoms, particularly in the planning area.

Marcus Vinton, a creative director at Ogilvy, has been through all of this with the establishment of MindShare. He argues that you cannot afford to live in the past any more: 'I'm sure that if you take a broad perspective, some people might regard this whole process as painful. But the WPP philosophy has always been to innovate the whole time and to liberate the talent we have within the group.'

Vinton says that the communications business has entered an unprecedented period of change and innovation - the old definitions and distinctions are being eroded.

Although media operations have never been more separate in management terms, there's never been a greater need for mutual understanding at a strategic level. Vinton states: 'For some, it did feel strange when the MindShare people moved out of the building but in practical and management terms we have to develop in product terms. We've maintained very strong links.'

What do clients think? One person who has just been through an international review process is Nick Shepherd, the vice-president, strategy and business development of Kraft Food International's European Union business. Is he surprised that some big agency groups are far more evolved in media terms that others? 'No, not really,' he reveals. 'Doing this sort of thing takes an enormous amount of resources, both in terms of people and in terms of finance. There's never enough of either in the agency sector. Do we want to see more groups making the investment? Yes. It means more competition and that means better services.'

Is OMD now likely to take off? Shepherd can't comment on that but there are many in the market who think that it now has every chance. As one source puts it: 'I don't know for sure, of course, but I'll bet the thing that helped focus minds at Omnicom was Manning Gottlieb's loss of the Nike account. It worked wonders for Nike in the UK but internationally the OMD network offering just wasn't as good as almost anyone you could think of.

'I'll bet Colin Gottlieb was furious. He had every right to be. I'll bet he went to Omnicom's management and told them in no uncertain terms that they had to sort this out. They probably turned round to him and said, 'Well, if you think it can be done, you go and do it.' And Colin wouldn't take this job if he didn't think it was possible. The one thing you take as read with Colin is that he is incredibly passionate about this. That has to be a great starting point.'



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