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WPP to merge Maxus and MEC as client backlash bites

Have the big holding company media agencies reached their high water mark?

Not so long ago they were ruling the marketing and media roost; grabbing strategy from their creative rivals and pushing media owners around.

Then last year the US Association of National Advertisers released its controversial report into “transparency” – with which the big media agencies refused to co-operate – and they were holed below the waterline.

In essence the client consensus, led by P&G’s Marc Pritchard, rapidly became: they’re screwing us rotten over programmatic media buying and, probably, lots of other things besides.

Now we learn that WPP is merging Maxus, its newest media agency, with MEC which used to be Chris Ingram’s old media business CIA. Group M’s new boss Kelly Clark (left) has done the dirty deed.

That the market is contracting is undeniable although Maxus doesn’t seem to have done much wrong. MEC in the US lost the giant AT&T client to Omnicom’s Hearts & Science, which is usually a hanging offence. MEC people seem to be on top in the merger although Maxus boss Lindsay Pattison has been appointed GroupM’s “chief transformation officer,” whatever that means.

It’s surely only a matter of time before WPP’s media agencies become officially, as well as in reality, GroupM, which handles all the heavy lifting in terms of media negotiations anyway. This merger is supposed to be about promoting a digital media company called Essence, which WPP bought in 2015, to the heart of things although that doesn’t look very convincing.

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So is it goodbye big media agencies busily playing both ends against the middle?

Looks like it. GroupM boss Dominic Proctor retired last year, showing a gift for timing at least.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Spot on analysis. Having run an MEC regional agency, I can fully concur. After being taken over by WPP in 2002 and merged with MEC, I was astonished to being reprimanded for spreading 80% our media placements on 30+ media channels, per optimisation. I was instructed to narrow the list to no more than 12, in order to maximise the agencies volume discount (undisclosed to the clients and totally against their interests).

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