Media Perspective: Omnicom's global PHD plan has been a long timecoming

Omnicom announced last week that it is to back the global expansion of PHD. Given that it has made such noises before, you could be forgiven for reacting with a lofty arch of an eyebrow and a heavy sigh.

But it seems John Wren's lot are serious. Plans are afoot to create PHD offices in European and Asian markets to build on its presence in the UK, US and Canada.

Over in the US, Omnicom agencies, including PentaCom and Advanswers, were rebranded PHD in 2002 and now have billings of more than $4 billion.

David Pattison, the chief executive of PHD Worldwide, was over in New York for a couple of years overseeing this expansion but returned last year when the job was done.

A move into other markets seems to have come more slowly than was once expected. Omnicom, wrestling with the investment involved in turning the basket case that was OMD into a world-class operation, seemed to lose interest in PHD. But the holding company clearly needs a second network for conflict reasons and to provide a point of difference for clients.

The approach is very typically Omnicom in that it will attempt to build PHD across Europe and Asia on existing foundations - by taking staff and other resources out of the OMD network. Sources say that this makes sense because, in some European markets, there are multiple OMD offices that can be rebadged. The challenge culturally is to recreate what originally made PHD such a strong UK offering - a task that will fall to Pattison.

However, local markets in Europe and the managing director of PHD Europe, Hilary Jeffrey, will report to Colin Gottlieb, the former chief executive of OMD Europe and now the chief executive of Omnicom Media Group. Gottlieb and his counterpart in Asia, Mike Cooper, will hope that a successful PHD media proposition will provide power to the overall group media offering.

Those who know Pattison say he is happy with his role - especially given his commitments as IPA president. He may relish having slightly fewer board meetings and long flights, though he'll still spend some time in the US.

Last week, Omnicom was tipped by many pundits as a contender in the bidding war for Aegis. Then, almost immediately, it announced plans to roll out its very own PHD as a second global media network.

Omnicom sources say that the timing is coincidental and they've been working on plans for a PHD global launch for several months. The PHD announcement does not necessarily mean that Omnicom won't bid for Aegis, which it went in for last autumn, but the roll-out of PHD gives it an alternative at a much reduced cost. A Gallic takeover of Aegis now seems that little bit more likely.