PERSPECTIVE: It is now the biggest but does True North make IPG the best?

Not so long ago, True North could have named its own price for

selling out to one of the leviathans of international advertising. But

the loss of DaimlerChrysler last autumn to BBDO means that Interpublic

has been able to strike a flash deal on several counts.

It is good for IPG's chief executive, John Dooner, who has flexed his

muscles as a corporate jockey by beating Havas to True North, and after

only three months in the job. It makes IPG the biggest player of the big

three in a world where big is beautiful: with three global ad agencies

instead of two, Interpublic's chances of being invited on to the

pitchlists for worthwhile global accounts automatically rise by 50 per

cent. The deal brings a greater ability to handle client conflicts and

more clout with media suppliers.

The good news does not stop there. True North brings several respected

managers to Interpublic's board - in particular, its chief executive,

David Bell, and the chief executive of FCB Worldwide, Brendan Ryan. So

why are observers talking in rather lukewarm terms? Why has

Interpublic's share price not gone through the roof?

It is partly because True North is fairly dependent on traditional

advertising - while other elements of the marketing mix are growing

faster - and on North America, where the economy is slowing down. And

then there is the timing issue. IPG has its plate full trying to speed

up the turnaround at Lowe Lintas, particularly in New York, not to

mention bedding down its other recent purchase, Deutsch. There is a

sense that Dooner is only just starting to feel his way around the

non-McCann parts of IPG's empire. Now he will have to spread himself

even more thinly.

True North's haste to do the deal with IPG is, however, easily

explained. The continuing consolidation of global advertising means that

for mid-sized holding companies such as True North, Cordiant and Grey,

selling out was inevitable. Had Bell and his board waited any longer,

Havas - which is believed to have offered as much as dollars 45 a share

- might have been the buyer.

WPP buys Y&R, Publicis buys Saatchis, Havas buys Snyder ... these are

the kind of deals that have Campaign reporters examining each side's

client lists with the whiff of a review in our nostrils. This case

throws up its own juicy leads: Tropicana (FCB) versus Coke (McCann,

Lowe); Compaq (FCB) versus Hewlett Packard (McCann); AT&T (now under

review at FCB) versus HSBC (Lowe) and Deutsche Bank (McCann). But the

fact is that conflicts are, of necessity, becoming less of an issue

It's tempting to suggest that within a few years most clients will be

happy to have their direct competitors serviced by the same holding

company. And, of course, for every conflict IPG now has an opportunity.

FCB has gaps for clients in several categories, notably cars. Will

Dooner use his standing at General Motors to steer some non-IPG GM

business FCB's way? You'd better believe it.