Cultural differences still define OmniPub deal

The dust is beginning to settle on the OmniPub global agency mega-merger and the deal, which if it goes through will create the largest marketing services holding company, looks set to be completed on schedule.

The dust is beginning to settle on the OmniPub global agency mega-merger and the deal, which if it goes through will create the largest marketing services holding company, looks set to be completed on schedule in early 2014.

So far, at least, worries about regulation – especially in the media buying arena – have proved unfounded, and the merger passed the scrutiny of US anti-trust authorities at the start of this month.

As predicted exclusively in PRWeek's initial coverage of the deal, a joint management meeting was held in Miami from October 17-21 to “give Publicis Groupe and Omnicom executives the opportunity to get to know each other both socially and professionally, and to begin to learn more about their respective networks and agencies.”

A joint release from the OmniPub folks revealed that 74 network agency heads, chief creative officers, and other senior executives from the respective groups attended the meeting.

But the difference in cultures of the networks was in evidence even in their respective approaches to the get-together. My understanding is that MSLGroup's CEO Oliver Fleurot was in attendance with other MSL execs, but none of the Omnicom Group PR agency CEOs made the trip down to Florida. Omnicom Group's COO for public relations within the holding company's Diversified Agency Services unit (DAS), Stephen Dnistrian, was not in Miami either.

I understand Omnicom's PR interests were represented by a team including – but not restricted to – Dale Adams, chairman and CEO of DAS; Sally Williams, global president, business development and client relations at DAS; and, interestingly, Ray Kotcher, former CEO and now chairman of Omnicom's second-largest PR shop Ketchum.

The impression is of one party – MSL – being super-excited by the opportunities ahead of working with their new “brothers and sisters”, as Fleurot dubbed them when we spoke at the time of the merger announcement, and the other – Omnicom – treading much more carefully and circumspectly, as you would expect of the accounting background from which many of the key execs involved come.

It will also not fill the Omnicom people with excitement that their "brothers and sisters" at MSLGroup and, by extension, Publicis are embroiled in an ongoing and high-profile gender-discrimination lawsuit that has so far shown no signs of going away. It is hard to imagine that the merger will go ahead with this suit unresolved, but such a resolution would probably have to involve an embarrassing climbdown by MSL.

The meeting in Miami confirmed the creation of an “integration planning committee” that is “working to define the work processes, as well as the mission for the combined company.” Co-chaired by Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy and Omnicom Group CEO John Wren, the committee will also identify “future enterprise-wide opportunities, synergies, centers of excellence, and specific integration teams to ensure an efficient and value-add future organization on ‘Day One'.”

At least this Publicis-produced press release didn't contain any spelling mistakes, unlike the sloppy press pack that accompanied the original deal announcement (remember Fleischman Hilliard and Keskst?)

At the time of the announcement, WPP head honcho Martin Sorrell immediately identified a hit list of Omnicom and Publicis clients that might be less than thrilled by the impending super-merger, and galvanized his troops to aggressively pursue opportunities.

In this context, it was significant that, at the start of October, Nissan signed a new multiyear agreement with Omnicom Group to create a multidisciplinary agency team known as Nissan United to service the Japanese automaker's business.

Renault-Nissan director of marketing communications Simon Sproule told PRWeek he believes the alliance will be the largest combined client of the newly constituted OmniPub group, so presumably he took the opportunity to improve the auto giant's terms, especially on media buying, in exchange for extending the terms of its agreement and safeguarding the account for Omnicom.

Of course, the clients are one of the crucial elements that sometimes seem to be forgotten in the excitement surrounding this mega-deal. They will need lots of loving care and attention as the machinations of the deal grind through if they are not to vote with their feet and succumb to the advances of other eager predators in the agency shark tank.

Back in Miami, apparently “the spirit of the meeting was all about bonding and future collaboration,” which sounds a lovely way to while away a few days in the sunshine by the southeastern Atlantic Ocean. But you can almost sense the reticence, or maybe just indifference, from the more buttoned-down – some might say business-savvy – Omnicom folks as they come to terms with the reality of a deal that, on the surface, doesn't create much of an upside for them, especially in the PR realm.

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