There's no workable French translation for "downturn" - that most awkward of Anglo-Saxon business euphemisms. Not in advertising, at any rate. Publicis, which clearly revels in being the odd one out when it comes to the major advertising power blocs, revealed last week that its net earnings had grown by an astonishing 50 per cent in the first half of the year, thanks partly to a red-hot winning streak in new-business pitches.
The highlight was Starcom's capture in May of General Motors' $3.2 billion US media buying account (it already handled planning) from Interpublic's bespoke division, GM Mediaworks.
ZenithOptimedia hasn't done badly either. Three weeks ago, it won L'Oreal on a pan-European basis and last week it scooped the £70 million European media account for the luxury goods conglomerate Richemont.
Media has been the driver of Publicis Groupe's recent revenue growth and it is a strong and apparently growing contributor to the bottom line.
Whichever way you look at it, the two Publicis-owned media networks are very strong.
This, despite the fact that, compared with its rivals, Publicis has apparently being doing less to coordinate the activities of its media networks. WPP's Group M, Omnicom's OPera and IPG's Magna, all exist to provide a central resource and to conduct extra levels of negotiation with media owners.
Publicis, in contrast, has Publicis Groupe Media, a comparatively informal executive committee.
On the other hand, according to insiders, perhaps Publicis is success ful because individual media operations may have more room to manoeuvre and greater clarity.
As one Publicis source puts it: "We are committed to running two media brands and that is a huge competitive advantage for Publicis as a group because none of our rivals is close to having two strong, worldwide media networks. In recent pitches, the existence of the likes of Group M just hasn't been a factor.
When we have gone head-to-head with MindShare, we have not just beaten it, we have beaten it comfortably - and we certainly wouldn't want to do a me-too of something so one-dimensional."
1. Publicis owns three major creative agency networks: Publicis, Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi. It also has two media networks: Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia.
2. Both media networks are strong in the markets that matter but some formal issues remain. Those who value simplicity and tidiness in business structures will argue the biggest anomaly in the Starcom network is the fact it maintains a sub-brand, MediaVest, in some markets, especially in the US, where Starcom and MediaVest are powerful brands. In the UK, Starcom and Starcom Mediavest still maintain separate offices.
3. Publicis Groupe Media is an executive committee that ensures its media networks work optimally on an individual basis and, where it is relevant, collectively. It was set up last September under the chairmanship of Roger Haupt, the then president and chief operating officer of Publicis Groupe. He stepped down in December and handed over media duties to Jack Klues, the Starcom MediaVest Group chief executive, shortly after.
4. Klues is, therefore, the chairman of Publicis Groupe Media, and also a member of the full directoire (or management board) of Publicis Groupe. The directoire's chairman is Maurice Levy. Its other members include Kevin Roberts, the worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, Claudine Bienaime, the Publicis Groupe general secretary, and Bertrand Siguier, the executive vice-president of Publicis.
5. When it launched, the widespread assumption was that Publicis Groupe Media's main task was to pave the way for a group buying structure in every market where this was possible. This, however, has not been on the agenda to date.
6. Publicis Groupe Media's members include senior regional managers and the bosses of important national operations, notably the US. Two Brits have had an important presence - Steve King, the worldwide chief executive of ZenithOptimedia, and Mark Cranmer, the chief executive of Starcom Mediavest EMEA. Cranmer's departure next year will leave King as the dominant European on the committee.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
MEDIA AGENCY CONSOLIDATION
- Consolidation in the media market has looked unstoppable, as the likes of OPera, Magna and Group M were formed by the global media owner monsters.
- Publicis seemed to be lagging behind and comparatively fragmented in its approach. But events this year have vindicated its positioning - in particular, its insistence that you don't need group deals to prosper in the marketplace.
- Publicis finds itself very well placed, particularly in light of events at Interpublic's media buying networks, which have been struggling lately.
- The relatively straightforward nature of ZenithOptimedia's or Starcom's proposition is obviously to the liking of many advertisers - many of whom are beginning to ask increasingly penetrating questions about the rationale behind group trading arrangements and agency deals.