Why IPG can't afford to emasculate mediaagain

Once you have read our piece on the new Draft FCB on page 15, check out the Howard Draft video on YouTube. If you don't already know the tough-talking Chicagoan who has made it multimillionaire big in the world of direct marketing, this is a good introduction.

After the merger of Draft and FCB (or should that be takeover ... the jury is still out on that one), Draft recorded a little welcome speech for employees, which turned out to be a chilling reminder that while ad agencies can be pretty good at selling their clients' brands, they're often abysmal at selling themselves.

Anyway, Howard Draft's empire just got bigger with last week's news that Interpublic Group is shifting Initiative Media closer to the Draft FCB creative agency he now runs.

Media fans will recall that fewer than 18 months ago, Initiative and its fellow IPG media network Universal McCann were triumphantly pulled under a new umbrella media unit, IPG Media. The idea was to drive co-operation between the two companies, but in fact IPG Media turned out to be another layer of bureaucracy, cost and mismanagement that the troubled IPG could ill afford. The loss of the £400 million General Motors media business, shared in Europe between Universal and Initiative, to their rival Carat was the final nail in the coffin.

No surprise then that IPG Media has now been abandoned and the hitherto fiercely independent Initiative and freshly uncoupled Universal McCann are being driven closer to their creative siblings.

There is a certain logic to the move. Integration is definitely a communications Holy Grail and many creative agencies are scrambling to bring media thinking back in-house. Now the fledgling Draft FCB can begin to claim some real media credentials. And Initiative has lost pace in the media marketplace and needs a fillip. Nevertheless, this media U-turn also makes IPG look grossly indecisive, flailing around as it tries to shore up its portfolio of businesses.

But the danger is that this new interdependence between creative and media will again relegate the media function to a bit-part player at the creative agency party. Yes, clients do want integrated thinking, but they also want strong and cost-effective media brands that can work seamlessly with a range of creative agencies, while investing fully in the best media people and tools. This is much harder to pull off unless the media agency is in charge of its own destiny (or as much as that is possible within a holding company structure).

Like it or not, media independence is an irreversible reality. IPG simply cannot afford to emasculate media again and it will serve neither Universal nor Initiative, nor their clients, to allow this to happen.

Shaun McIlrath is probably not a familiar name to most creative agencies outside the direct marketing arena. So the news that The Red Brick Road and Hurrell and Dawson have been vying for his services might come as something of a surprise.

It shouldn't, though. McIlrath has had quite a quiet couple of years, but nevertheless he's one of the more respected DM creative chiefs. And - given the debate above about integration - it's clear why two non-DM agencies might want to bring in his sort of experience.

For The Red Brick Road - still deeply traditional in its structure (despite the presence of Tony Regan as its head of media strategy), a DM sensibility is much needed; no new agency with its sights set on the future can afford to be lacking in this area.

And for Hurrell and Dawson, whose whole premise is to create a future-compliant agency, to hire a traditional above-the-line creative director as their first appointment would be to utterly undermine that attractive positioning. Expect a media thinker to be next on their shopping list.

claire.beale@haynet.com.

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