It's taking more than a couple of quick meetings and the liberal
use of a rubber stamp for WPP to accommodate its new Tempus
Understandable, perhaps. But if you believed everything you'd read,
you'd be labouring under the misapprehension that this was
straightforward stuff - the main Tempus media brand, CIA, is merging
with WPP's The Media Edge to create a second world-class media network
for WPP called Media Edge CIA.
The Media Edge people would pick up a couple of decent jobs, but CIA's
superior operational culture would be dominant in relevant markets.
Ditto the Tempus digital properties, most notably Outrider, which would
basically implement a reverse takeover of the relatively weak culture of
The Digital Edge. Other bits of Tempus (such as Added Value) would
retain operational independence within a larger WPP family that already
owns a host of diverse marketing services operations.
It isn't quite working out that way, at least where the digital
properties are concerned. Not so far at least. And it doesn't take a
rocket scientist (or a nethead) to work out that if WPP gets this wrong,
it will lose assets (also known as the talented people) it spent so much
money acquiring in the first place. It has, after all, been talking for
more than a month.
Of course, WPP sources don't exactly agree that there's cause for
concern at this stage. Eric Salama, the chief executive of WPP.com,
cautions against impatience. He states: "There are good capabilities and
people in Outrider and we have a good working relationship with the
people there. We will look to see how best to deal with everything. We
will make the right decision and we will make those decisions as early
as we can."
But the danger is two-fold. First, according to some sources, digital
has been bumped way down the agenda. Discussions have focused (as often
happens post takeover) on who sits exactly where at The Media Edge's
reconstituted top table and how many chairs there will be there. And the
agenda is focused on conventional media.
Second, the merger came at a delicate time for Outrider. Way before the
whole WPP business began, Outrider evolved beyond its early role as a
UK-focused online planning and buying agency. It had not only become the
hub of an evolving international digital network but it was the umbrella
company for a handful of other digital brands, such as the Good
Technology web design business; and Incline, the game development and
digital creative agency; and Planet Interactive.
But before the WPP takeover, Outrider's planning and buying operation
was proving so successful as a grown-up business that moves were already
underway to integrate it into the mainstream CIA media planning and
buying business. Which, of course, are now about to be integrated into
The Media Edge. Could Outrider's core values be lost in the mix?
Absolutely not, Rob Norman, Outrider's chief executive, insists.
"Outrider has a good team and some really good clients and we're now
looking to play on the biggest stage we can," he says. "There is
certainly an opportunity to do that within WPP. It has a network of
assets that we can leverage for our clients. We have a lot of time for
the people at mdigital (a division of MindShare) and we know some of
them very well. I'm sure there will also be things that can come
together at a group level. Our primary concern, after all, is to deliver
at the sharp edge of digital."
The possibility of cross-group co-operation is something that Jed
Glanville, a managing partner in mdigital, also points to. "Nothing is
decided but I don't think it's any secret that the issue is how CIA
works with Media Edge and how the various organisations that are part of
the Tempus-Media Edge group work together. MindShare is the lead media
agency within WPP and mdigital is very much a part of its offer," he
But this also raises another issue. Doesn't WPP have too many digital
brands? WPP has always been a diverse family but in such a young market,
shouldn't it now focus its efforts? A source at a rival agency group
comments: "I don't think Outrider ever really got the credit it deserved
in the past - but now that the WPP deal has gone through, people are
assessing the value of the various bits of Tempus and I think they're
realising what a little gem it is. It's probably down to the vision of
Rob Norman, who realised that while the market remains relatively
fragmented, it makes sense for a digital media specialist to offer
creative. Many clients obviously want a specialist in this area but they
don't want to have to appoint two specialists - digital media and
digital creative. Managing that becomes a nightmare. So Outrider got it
The source adds: "On the other hand, mdigital is really only about
servicing MindShare's existing clients. It's a completely different
culture. But if they structure it properly, the two units can complement
each other effectively. I can't see any reason for the two operations to
think about merging for the foreseeable future."
But at internal meetings, WPP's group chief executive, Sir Martin
Sorrell, is believed to have floated the idea of co-ordinating the whole
portfolio to create an integrated digital offering. Norman, according to
inside sources, would be the man most likely to lead this.
One observer at a rival agency says he hopes WPP won't even contemplate
this sort of a move. The market, he suggests, will always be more
comfortable with a WPP digital offering that is barely the sum of its
The conclusion is that WPP has backed loads of horses in the expectation
that it will find a couple of winners. At some stage this offering will
have to be rationalised.