Trouble Brewing in the Publicis Omnicom Camp

By Patrick Coffee 


Over the weekend you may have heard of some newfound uncertainty regarding the world’s soon-to-be-biggest agency: the bastard child of Publicis and Omnicom.

Let’s review the reports, shall we?


The Wall Street Journal got the ball rolling on Friday by telling us that “relations have frayed” because…

“The two sides haven’t yet agreed on which company will be the legal acquirer of the other…The companies are also at loggerheads over who will fill senior jobs, particularly the position of finance chief.”

So it’s really about who’s on top, then. And the respective groups can’t seem to sort the messaging out:

“The companies continue to say they expect the deal to be completed. While some executives believe there is too much at stake for the deal to be called off, others aren’t so sure.”

Or, as Martin Sorrel of WPP puts it:

“‘You have one talking Chinese and the other Japanese.'”

There’s more, of course: Ad Age reminds us that, in a curious press release last week, Publicis Groupe told everyone to chill because:

While “…some of the delays, like the wait for a key filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, don’t necessarily spell doom”, the extended merger “is clearly also rattling the nerves of company insiders who say there’s more to the holdup than the regulatory hurdles…”

So it’s personal–especially in relation to the contested CFO spot. While Publicis’ Jean-Michel Etienne is “brilliant, having been closely involved in the holding company’s acquisitions of…Digitas and Razorfish”, Omnicom’s Randall Weisenburger is the American financial world’s favorite. Maurice Levy of Publicis, on the other hand, wants to make sure everyone remembers the merger’s French pedigree–especially since John Wren will be acting CEO.

Ad Week  has a slightly different take on the story, writing that Wren and Levy have “been caught up in a game of verbal ping-pong” and that Omnicom’s decision to focus on “tax domicile issues” serves as the equivalent of an escape hatch:

“I think they’re just laying pipe in case they have to blow it up.”

From another perspective, the latest Reuters report claims that the two sides are trying their damnedest to make nice and that Levy and Wren “are in regular contact to try to settle the CFO choice.”

While we of course don’t know how the spat will be resolved, we take Wren’s refusal to name a closing date as an ominous sign. And we can certainly understand why Sorrel can’t quite seem to contain himself:

“The CEO of rival WPP, Martin Sorrell, said on Friday that most people he was speaking to said there was now a third to a half chance that the deal would not be completed.”

We might like those odds, too.