As Interpublic celebrates retention of US Army account, has it turned the corner?

According to CEO Michael Roth it has as he told a Wall Street Investors Day last week.

Roth admitted the company was ‘out of control’ when he took over five years ago but said it was looking forward this year to margins of around 13 per cent on its $6bn of billings, matching the performance of WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe.

The company is also celebrating McCann Erickson’s retention of the $200m US Army account, a piece of business that brings in a generous $15-20m a year keeping 300 or so IPG types gainfully occupied. McCann pitched against sibling DraftFCB and WPP’s Grey and Young & Rubicam for the business.

Life isn’t completely rosy though as lead media agency Universal McCann is still absorbing the news that more than half of its $1bn Microsoft media planning and buying account is heading off to Publicis Groupe’s Starcom MediaVest, including the key North America accounts. Universal will handle planning and buying outside the US although not media strategy, which should lead to some interesting conversations between the two agencies.

The media realignment is the last act of Microsoft’s long-serving marketing boss Mich Mathews who is leaving the company after 22 years.

When Marion Harper formed Interpublic 50 years ago (where are the big celebrations?) he turned the agency business on its head by asserting that ad agencies could grow by acquiring other companies as well as accounts, a message that wasn’t lost on the likes of the Saatchi brothers and young shavers Martin Sorrell (WPP) and Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe)

Harper himself was turfed out in 1967 as his ambitions outran Interpublic’s purse and the company itself always struggled to acquire or build businesses on the same scale as mighty agency network McCann.

Roth and Interpublic still have something to do to catch WPP and Omnicom and the rapidly-growing Publicis Groupe which recently overtook it to move into third place. But if Roth really has brought the unruly beast under control a booming US ad market will give him the opportunities he needs.

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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.