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
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?
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