Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Walker Media becoming part of Publicis Groupe? You couldn't make it up

Much has been written already about Publicis Groupe's acquisition of Walker Media this week but, as is so often the way, many of those first drafts will require a rewrite.

Consensus seems to be building among the Charlotte Street chatterati that Publicis’ controlling stake is about providing a ballast for the troubled ZenithOptimedia. In fact, some suggest, surely it would make sense to cut to the chase and make Walker’s chairman, Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of ZenithOptimedia straight away.

Others point to the ongoing $23 billion Publicis Omnicom Group "merger of equals" and, in particular, the pressure the French group is now under to strengthen its media assets.

Such speculation is understandable after the untimely exit of Tim Hipperson and the emerging beast that is POG. However, it remains deeply flawed.

I’ve learnt that the lawyers of Publicis Groupe (Lewis Silkin) and Walker’s owner M&C Saatchi (Olswang) began mapping out what a potential deal might look like back in March. That’s a month before Hipperson even joined ZenithOptimedia and a full quarter before Maurice Lévy and John Wren gave each other that awkward man hug outside the Arc de Triomphe.

'Georgiadis will stay with Walker, but it will be done out of his passion for the business, not for any earn-out'

Georgiadis will stay with the agency as it looks to grow beyond the UK, but it will be done out of his passion for the business, not for any earn-out. In this respect at least, nothing much will change for the chairman, who, contrary to popular opinion, actually completely cashed in during 2007 and netted himself almost £10 million in the process.

Since then, he has worked as any other employee on the payroll, with no stake in the business. It makes his renowned drive all the more staggering. The fact is M&C Saatchi has owned the company lock, stock for six years and always intended to maximise its investment.

But Walker’s entire ethos has been built around the principles of media neutrality and client-by-client trading. As a co-founder of the agency launched in 1998, Georgiadis has been pivotal to Walker’s success servicing the likes of Marks & Spencer, Sony Entertainment and Weetabix. Together with chief executive, Simon Davis, he has made hay by stressing the potentially blurred media buying interests of those operating within a group structure. Where do they go from here?

Jenny Biggam, the leader of now the UK’s biggest independent media shop, the7stars, is adamant her agency is not for sale. She believes some clients will always value its transparency and Walker being swallowed will only boost its standing. The shop has grown 20 per cent in billings to nearly £100 million this year – suggesting she might be right.