Looking back at 2011, none of the big marcoms bosses came close to being our Person of the Year

At the fag end of 2010 we awarded our Person of the Year gong to Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft.

You might not like her much but she gets things done (like buying Cadbury) and in 2011 was also probably the most significant person in advertising and marketing by announcing that Kraft was to be split into two bits ( North American food and global choccies), launching lots of new products and hiring lots of new agencies to try to put a bit of fizz and vim into Kraft’s flagging brands.

But, to her great disappointment, we’re not going to award her twice in succession. She’ll doubtless get over it.

It really should have been a shoe-in for one of the bosses of the big marcoms networks as they’ve all had a pretty good year. But, somehow or other, they haven’t quite cut the mustard.

Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP certainly rose to even greater prominence on the world stage, offering his opinions on this, that and everything else and declining to move WPP’s taxable earnings back to London from Dublin, to the great annoyance of UK chancellor George Osborne.

But Sorrell, the great dealmaker, was rather hamstrung in 2011 because his shareholders, not usually a very independently-minded bunch, are determined not to allow him to go out and spend on a really big one because they still want to see some benefits from the £1.1bn acquisition of market researcher TNS in 2008.

His great rival Maurice Levy of Publicis did go out buying with his usual brio but ended up the year facing the loss of significant General Motors business and other bad news from the US with Saatchi losing JC Penney. The management succession at Publicis is also no clearer – Will it be Jean-Yves Naouri or Arthur Sadoun or somebody else entirely? This makes Levy look either indecisive or not in charge of things. Publicis heiress Elizabeth Badinter seems to be calling the shots.

Meanwhile Omnicom sails serenely on, thanks largely to Andrew Robertson’s BBDO though.

Interpublic’s Michael Roth has done a great job in turning the rambling and cash-strapped conglomerate around but he’s got big problems with his two main agency networks. DraftFCB, which lost £1bn plus SC Johnson last year, looks more than ever like a horse designed by a committee (a camel) while McCann Worldgroup boss Nick Brien only needs another disaster before he’s on his way.

Dentsu did well thanks to inspired US purchase Mcgarrybowen while media buyer Aegis performed strongly, CEO Jerry Buhlmann managing to dispose of research outfit Synovate to Ipsos for £578m in the deal of the year (for Aegis).

If Carat wins General Motors’ $3bn global media buying account (as we still expect it to, it was a done deal weeks ago but politics seem to be getting in the way of an announcement) then Buhlmann would actually be the person of 2011. The London media crowd scratch their heads at this, saying that he’s no great shakes and that his media agency, BBJ, which Aegis/Carat bought years ago, was only a minnow. Well, we’ll see.

And then, of course, there’s the Tigger-like David Jones at Havas who has certainly grabbed more than his share of attention after taking over as CEO from owner Vincent Bollore. Books, speeches, an energetic digital programme, positioning Arnold as a credible number two network to Euro RSCG and plans to make Paris-based BETC a third agency network point to an interesting work in progress. But at the moment it’s still that.

Outside this group there were lots of good things, which we’ve covered elsewhere, most notably from Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London and Wieden+Kennedy across its ever-more powerful mini-network. But there were no ads that changed the marketing world, like Fallon’s ‘Gorilla’ for Cadbury and Sony Bravia in 2008 and W+K’s Old Spice in 2010.

So what does this look back tell us about what we should be looking forward to?

I guess it’s another round in the battle between the marcoms mob’s desire to own everything and the natural tendency of talented people to challenge this by doing it themselves. As ever, it’s partly a matter of money. But there’s a chance that some big Silicon Valley-type money might start backing up-and-coming agency contenders as the divisions between agencies, technology companies and media players narrow.

And the marcoms companies themselves might come under pressure from shareholders to do a Kraft, split off the fast-growing bits from the other stuff.

Well, we’ll see.

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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.