Feature

Media Perspective: Omnicom can't risk taking its eye off the media playing field

It's hard to fault Omnicom's performance over the past few years. A strong management, share price, creative networks and, eventually, a media network, in the shape of OMD, has given it much to shout about.

Omnicom has been the star stock of the agency holding companies, but has recently lost some of its most senior media people. Joe Uva and David Pattison, the global heads of OMD and PHD respectively, were followed out of the door by local UK talent such as the OMD chief executive, Nick Manning, and the PHD president, Jonathan Durden. Even the departure of Martin Brooks, the chief executive of Omnicom's Zulu operation, could be said to have a possible impact on its media operations, as he was instrumental in launching OPera Digital, its online negotiations arm.

Of course, this is a process of natural progression for most of those departing. They are moving on to new challenges at the right time, and Omnicom is the sort of powerhouse operation that seems just to shrug its shoulders and bring in new talent to replace them.

Both OMD and PHD at UK level have, for instance, promoted relatively seamlessly from within. However, this tide of natural change is prompting some to question the direction in which Omnicom's very profitable media operations are heading.

OMD has come from nowhere to become a serious global player, with its enviable positioning as a "creative" media network (grounded in reality by its strong performance at Cannes and in the annual Gunn Report). However, some are beginning to question whether Omnicom is committing sufficient resource to its media networks. The roll-out of PHD has gone relatively well - the capture of key business such as Unilever in Central and Eastern Europe came as an early shot in the arm - but there remains a suspicion that the creation of the network has come at a cultural cost. Much of the resource for the launch has come out of OMD's local markets, arguably stretching a very successful operation to its limits.

On a broader level, critics are asking where the big media acquisitions are? They cite WPP's recent purchase of 24/7 Real Media and Publicis' Digitas deal as examples of holding companies strengthening in digital media, and wonder when, or even if, the large Omnicom play will happen.

Large, risky acquisitions just haven't been its style, as the chief executive, John Wren, grinds out the revenues based on strong advertising industry brands and delivers value to shareholders. Omnicom deserves credit for some interesting media initiatives - the global roll-out of TBWA's Media Arts concept will be watched closely - but it will be fascinating to see if Omnicom follows WPP's example in making more radical, and expensive, media acquisitions to evolve its offering. This seems unlikely in the short term.

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