Omnicom/Publicis Groupe merger is a win for the Americans claims David Jones of French rival Havas

images-6Havas CEO David Jones has been chatting to the Daily Telegraph in London and, inter alia, has claimed that the impending $35bn Omnicom/Publicis merger means that “Publicis has been sold to the Americans but nobody has worked it out yet.”

“It was orchestrated and happened in Paris.” he goes on, “so it looked like the French had the upper hand, but in two years the power will all be in New York.”

Presumably he’s referring to Publicis boss Maurice Levy stepping down as joint CEO with Omnicom’s John Wren, leaving an American as sole CEO of a business half-owed by the French. Jones could be being mischievous, of coure, trying to wind up Levy.

It’s not that long ago that Havas, controlled by the French Bollore family although it’s a quoted company, and Publicis Groupe were roughly the same size. But Levy’s PG embarked on a bold acquisition programme, picking up Leo Burnett and Saatchi along the way and the likes of Digitas and Razorfish in digital. The company was also much more aggressive than Havas in entering new markets.

Havas chairman Vincent Bollore’s grand scheme was to merge with media buyer Aegis (built on the venerable French media buying network Carat) but that was confounded as Aegis under Brit Jerry Buhlmann surged ahead to a point where it became too expensive for Bollore, despite his near 30 per cent stake. Aegis was sold to Japan’s Dentsu for £3.2bn last year.

Havas, meanwhile, is, according to Jones, intent on:” digitising our business globally. That is number one because it is very easy to grow in digital and slow [down] in traditional advertising.

“But we need to be able to change faster. When I joined Havas a little over a decade ago, the only phone anyone had was a Nokia, the computer company people were writing books about was Dell and the only internet brand that really mattered to us was Yahoo!.

“My whole focus is to get us to act like a smaller, more entrepreneurial, more dynamic, more agile business, not a bigger one.”

And good luck to him. There’s still a possibility that Havas will be snapped up by either WPP or Dentsu, should Bollore decide to concentrate on his other multifarious business interests which include a stake in French comms giant Vivendi. Most industry watchers think a bid by either for Interpublic is more likely.

Interestingly this week WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell said that he was not going to bid for sports marketing group IMG (although he acknowledged that it would be a good fit) because, at $2.5bn or thereabouts, it would be too expensive. Maybe he’s saving his pennies for a different deal.

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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.