Having It All

At the height of his American ad empire, Dennis Holt said his goal was to handle every account in the world. Those who didn’t know the founder of Western International Media thought he was kidding. He wasn’t.

Holt knew an empire that stops growing starts to die. Today’s global media empires know the same thing, which is why they aren’t content to wrestle each other for globe-girdling accounts. They are increasingly targeting the small and midsized clients often shared by smaller ad agencies and media shops, too.

“I’m finding that out the hard way,” says the head of one media agency. “You ask yourself, ‘Why are they in this $12 million review?’ “

Because they want it all.

A year ago, when the global networks were still forming in the U.S., their emphasis was finding office space. The huge mega-media reviews of the past 12 months kept the focus on the top tier of the media business.

In fact, partnering with second- and third-tier creative agencies has been an option many smaller media players considered a survival mechanism as well as an opportunity.

Like Serbs in Belgrade during the first week the bombs fell, smaller media shops painted bull’s-eyes on their T-shirts and laughed at the giants in defiance. Now, they sit trembling in the dark, without power or water, while their worlds shake.

Fittingly, the latest testament to the global giants’ imperial imperative came from Western’s successor, Initiative Media North America, last week. IPG’s media network launched a new company, Initiative Partners, to work exclusively with ad agencies—the 60 it already partners with and as many more as it can get.

The idea is for Initiative to handle media business with small and midsized shops as well as directly with advertisers and its big-agency holding company siblings. This, in essence, is what True North has with KSL, what Starcom is up to with Starlink and what the agencies within Omnicom’s second media network, PhD, are doing. It’s very smart.

When Holt started Western, buying clout separated the top guns from the pop guns. Today, it is strategic strength, research and resources that separate the men from the boys. That’s what Initiative Partners is branding on.

And who better?

Western at its apex handled media for hundreds of accounts through agencies of various sizes nationwide.

Although its huge client Disney gave Western a national profile, the core of the media shop’s influence was always rooted in its seemingly endless agency partnerships.

It’s no coincidence that both Initiative Media chairman Lou Schultz and the new entity’s president Bruce Silverman—a veteran of almost two decades of running small and midsized ad agencies—use words like “heritage” and “history” to explain why Initiative Partners was formed and how it will compete.

And Silverman explains that the goal of his new company is “to help our agency partners win.”

The second-tier media agencies may have looked on the burgeoning landscape in the last year and seen a new hope. What they’re finding, however, is that empires strike back.