MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Have Starcom and MediaVest missed the merger point?

They’ve both been around a bit, put it about, done their share of playing the field. Now they’re in love. Forget Geri and Ginger, the coupling of last week was Leo Burnett and MacManus.

They’ve both been around a bit, put it about, done their share of

playing the field. Now they’re in love. Forget Geri and Ginger, the

coupling of last week was Leo Burnett and MacManus.



But as the two consummated their relationship, there was very little

official word about a media marriage, despite the fact that it was media

which initially stirred the passions early last year.



Then the plan was to merge MediaVest and Starcom to form one of the

world’s biggest media companies; last week things were a lot less clear

Fair enough, it’s early days. But questioning revealed some worryingly

mixed messages. The MacManus camp was reluctant to be specific before

holding proper talks with Starcom but could see the wisdom of

establishing a coherent global media network. Burnett, on the other

hand, was adamant: there will be no merger of media in the UK or US.



This seems to me to be dangerously definitive. I can just about see the

rationale for maintaining separate brands in the US, where MediaVest and

Starcom are very serious players indeed, with billings of around dollars

3billion apiece. Even so, with MindShare poised for its US debut and

Optimum Media Direction still to make a real play on the North American

market, aren’t Starcom and MediaVest being a little short-sighted not to

go for the big one when there is only limited client conflict and so

much to gain from being the market leader?



In the UK, a decision to keep the brands separate seems like a decision

made by people unfamiliar with either the market or the two agencies in

question. To merge the two in the UK would create a new giant to rival

Zenith Media, would bring together a decent line-up of top talent and

would provide the new network with a unified office in one of its most

important markets.



You’ve only got to look at what OMD means in the UK (very little, still,

because it maintains separate brands) to understand the downside of not

merging. What’s more, while OMD has a strong case for not merging, given

the individual strengths of MGM, New PHD and BMP OMD, neither Starcom

nor MediaVest have powerful brand values worth preserving.



Starcom is up and running here but has yet to claim the true

independence, size or acumen which mark out some of its established

rivals. As for MediaVest, the business has stagnated - partly because of

the distractions of last year’s negotiations with Burnett and partly

because mergers such as MindShare and MediaCom TMB have knocked it

further down the league table when its reputation is still very much

based on clout.



One chief of a rival (much bigger) agency told me he was quaking at the

thought that Starcom and MediaVest would merge in the UK. Can Burnett

and MacManus really afford to baulk at such a fantastic opportunity?





claire.beale@haynet.com



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