WPP’s Sorrell forecasts an Omnicom/Publicis Groupe brain drain when merger closes

Omnicom Chief Executive Wren and Publicis Group Chairman and CEO Levy smile after announcing agreement on their merger on floor of New York Stock ExchangeThe great and good (and maybe not so good) of the technology, media and telecoms world are gathered once again in Barcelona at the annual Morgan Stanley talk-fest, with John Wren and Maurice Levy (left) of the about-to-be-merged Omnicom/Publicis Groupe (they hope) defending their corner against predators led by WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell.

Inter alia, Sorrell has been suggesting that the POG merger is really about Publicis escaping from France and the merged companies enjoying a more relaxed tax regime in Amsterdam, its designated official home. He says he’s not planning to buy Interpublic or Havas (which, no doubt, comes as a relief to fellow guests Michael Roth and David Jones)  but is prepared to spend up to £600m buying other stuff – if he can find anything that’s worth it.

He has also changed the focus (how come we always end up writing about him?) from disaffected clients of POG  (although he obviously hopes there’ll be some) to disaffected talent, some of which is knocking on WPP’s door already, he implied.

This may seem like ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ to some but there are bound to be some disaffected toppish dogs at POG when, and possibly before, the post-merger ‘synergies’ are announced. This looks likely to be some time away as Levy admitted in Barcelona that the deal was unlikely to be concluded until the second quarter of next year, which is mildly worrying from his point of view.

So which POG bigwigs does Sorrell have his eye on? BBDO’s Andrew Robertson always comes into the frame in these discussions. He’s had a fantastic run as CEO of BBDO since abandoning the UK for the US but BBDO has taken a few hits in the past year; most notably from WPP’s Ogilvy which has pinched its crown as most awarded big agency network after an astonishing performance at Cannes where it won over a hundred Lions of various kinds.

And, with Wren set to take over as sole boss of POG when Levy eventually retires, Robertson’s path to the top job (which was always likely to go to an American anyway) looks well and truly blocked.

Might WPP be on his radar? Sorrell, 68, can’t go on for ever although he would no doubt point to his old pal Rupert Murdoch, currently in a fine old bate about Tony Blair’s sleepovers in California we read, as an example of someone who can run a massive company in his ninth decade. But the next boss of WPP is more likely to be a media number-cruncher, maybe even a Chinese one.

What we’re bound to see is a wave of current POG executives deciding, belatedly, to do their own thing as their prospects diminish and, in some cases, their jobs disappear. Much better to start your own agency and sell it on for a few million down the line than take your chances with another holding company.  It can be done: look at Mcgarrybowen.


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