Omnicom sets out on big pre-merger media reshuffle as US boss Cohen starts Giant Spoon

Rightly or wrongly there’s been a perception that Omnicom has been a touch sleepy in the media stakes, certainly in comparison to its hyperactive rivals WPP and, in digital media anyway, Publicis Groupe.

Now, of course, Publicis Groupe is trying to tie the knot with Omnicom to form the world’s biggest marcoms group and media player.

So you might have expected the unveiling of some grand media plan along the lines of WPP’s GroupM structure (a holding company for all its media agencies and the central price negotiator in most instances).

Instead we have Omnicom going its own way (for now) with a reshuffle at the top of both its big media networks – OMD and PHD – and the formation of a new media outfit that goes by the less than winning name of Giant Spoon.

The last is the new venture from former OMD US CEO Alan Cohen (left) and it’s being backed by Omnicom with a minority stake. Cohen is also taking three OMD staffers with him: OMD chief innovation officer Jonathan Haber, OMD’s Ignition Factory East’s director Trevor Guthrie and Ignition Factory West’s director, Marc Simons. Which rather suggests that Giant Spoon is a replacement for Ignition Factory, which is supposed to be a ‘media innovation’ company.

Such companies tend to have rather short life in terms of their appeal to clients: Naked is probably the best known and that failed to take over the world despite a brave attempt.

Cohen is being replaced by Monica Karo, the US chief of PHD, and she is being replaced at PHD by Robert Habeck from Omnicom Media Group, its umbrella media agency company.

All of which might not mean very much, just that industry veteran Cohen wants to try something new.

It certainly begs the question of what will happen at PubliCom, should it come into being, which will have a WPP-sized gaggle of media agencies including OMD, PHD, Starcom MediaVest, ZenithOptimedia and PG’s Vivaki digital line-up that includes Razorfish and Digitas. Sorting this lot out into something that looks coherent and sensible is a major job and one might have thought Cohen would be better employed trying to do that.

But the biggest potential obstacle to the PubliCom merger going through is its huge holding in certain media markets, particularly in parts of the US where it exceeds 40 per cent.

Omnicom boss John Wren and PG supremo Maurice Levy clearly don’t want to do anything that will remind regulators of this (although representatives of WPP and other rivals will no doubt be doing that anyway). It’s likely that PubliCom will have to make some disposals in some markets.

The above moves will just be the start of major reshaping of PubliCom’s media interests, one that may well lead to markedly fewer jobs as the combined company tries to achieve its promised $500m cost savings.

Cohen’s decision to hitch his fortunes to a Giant Spoon may be both timely and sensible.

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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.
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