Media Perspective: Mediabrands will labour to turn myth into Euro success

As an expression of humiliation and futility, I prefer the myth of the fifth Labour of Hercules, about the big man cleaning out the Augean stables, to the Sisyphus myth.

Sure, the task of rolling a large stone up a hill for eternity sounds infinitely more frustrating than shovelling the shit of immortal horses for just one day, but then Hercules' work seems to offer greater resonance, even hope, for today.

His behaviour resembles modern man's taste for cleaning out a space, however disgusting, in which to park the deckchair, dartboard, magazine collection and mini-fridge. In short, the sort of behaviour that led to the invention of the shed.

Yet, either myth would serve as a good comparison to the task of running Interpublic's Mediabrands unit in Europe. It was sad that its president, Graham Duff, last week stepped down after almost two years running the Initiative and Universal McCann networks, but real flesh and blood can only take so much.

Duff admitted to a difference of opinion with Nick Brien, the global president and chief executive of Mediabrands. Duff wanted to continue in the role. Brien felt this was a bad idea. But the outcome could be the best move for all concerned.

Duff has been charging around the region with an energy that has surprised even his friends but there's a limit to how much he could achieve, at least in Brien's eyes. For his part, Brien felt that Duff's nuts-and-bolts approach was no longer enough and wants to bring in a big hitter, probably not from a media agency background, to focus on "model reinvention".

As a result, Mediabrands could be embarking on a fundamental change of its business in Europe by replacing commodity-driven media processes with a more advanced model based around upstream consultancy and technology. This is already reaping rewards in the US, where Brien has brought in characters from backgrounds including online media owners and magazine publishers to drive change.

This is brave, especially as you have to question whether IPG is really the go-to guy for all this upstream stuff. Then again, outside the US, it can't really compete in terms of scale with the Group Ms and Omnicom Media Groups of this world, so it has to be the correct move.

Brien's next task is to find a leader for Europe who can perform somersaults, not just headstands. Someone who can work with Jim Hytner, the recently appointed leader of Universal McCann in the region, on moving through the gears, overtaking its rivals, and changing the commoditised, pitch for anything at any price, nature of the media business as it goes. This isn't quite a task of Herculean proportions, but it's not far off.


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