Media heads lack passion as shops seek out mergers

Ah& my last column before I take maternity leave for a few months, and still the messy Tempus saga that kept us all in column inches through an incredibly quiet summer drags on, writes Claire Beale

Havas' decision to withdraw from the fray last week leaves WPP's 555p per share offer as the sole bid on the table. It gives both WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell and Tempus' Chris Ingram much to cogitate over. Some analysts now reckon that without the bidding war, Tempus' share price would be languishing well below the 200p mark - an interesting nugget for Sorrell to chew.

As for Ingram, he and his team put much effort into their support of the Havas bid and in the process made Sorrell public enemy number one. Money, though, talks and when the Tempus results were announced this week, Ingram signed off with a rather warmer sentiment: "The management of all our companies is committed to working with WPP to successfully integrate our businesses."

Such a volte-face is hardly surprising - make and make do and all that - but it is perhaps symptomatic of an underlying issue that has served to make the media industry so damn bland. All the passion and commitment of its senior exponents seems to have been sucked out in the inescapable drive towards consolidation into ever bigger international corporations. Souls have been sold and there are far too many media chiefs who have cashed in and are now wondering why they don't enjoy their jobs anymore. Tempus' management - if a deal goes ahead - are unlikely to emerge into their new family with the same sort of energy and desire they experienced as entrepreneurs. It is simply a fact of the new media world order.

Against this backdrop, many media agencies have retrenched their ambitions over the past year and this has hardly been from a position of dynamic strategic expansion. Any advertiser looking for a media agency that is doing something different - and doing it with a real love of the job - will have a tough search right now.

Of course, the economic and political climates are hardly conducive to risk-taking, experimentation or real passion but this is no excuse. Instead of moaning about the cost-cutting demanded by their paymasters across the Atlantic, media managers should be looking for new ways to differentiate their businesses. After all, it's not as though this cost-cutting is carving the heart out of many businesses. "I'm having to get rid of so-and-so," one chief confessed the other day, "but to be honest he hasn't been performing for the past couple of years."

Recession is reining in sloppy management and more focused and positive agencies are perhaps waiting to emerge. If that means that some of the disaffected, disillusioned senior management are encouraged to move on, so much the better. See you after the clean-up.