Team Spirit Marks SMG’s McCann

‘We’d rather win than beat each other up,’ says new Americas CEO

Starcom North America CEO Renetta McCann’s ascension last week to CEO of the Americas at Starcom MediaVest Group underscores SMG’s unique competitive stance among the media networks of the Big Four holding companies.

McCann will oversee media properties including Starcom, MediaVest, GM Planworks and Starlink. And indeed, having its media assets work closely together has helped the Publicis Groupe media holding company win almost $3 billion worth of reviews in less than a year, from Coke’s $350 million consolidation to Procter & Gamble’s $2.5 billion communications-planning review. “We have always understood that we should compete with the best of our collective group,” said Jack Klues, CEO of SMG Worldwide. “Sometimes we’re more direct in how we respond to a brief.”

That strategy is one SMG’s rivals are adopting when they can. SMG sibling group ZenithOptimedia is pitching Nestlé’s $1.5 billion global business with a team that includes both Zenith and Optimedia members. WPP Group’s GroupM brands, MindShare and Mediaedge:cia, have pitched jointly. Interpublic Group’s Initiative and Universal McCann pursue business independently but negotiate jointly under the Magna Global umbrella.

SMG has been aggressive in pitching as one for several reasons—among them, the desires of its shared clients, including Coke and P&G (both of which requested that SMG pitch as one entity). “Playing by today’s rules, we’d rather win than beat each other up,” said McCann.

Conflicts often prevent unified pitching at the other groups. Moreover, without its sibling, MediaVest doesn’t have the global reach it often needs. “It is a single network,” said a rival media-agency executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They took it all the way and have benefited from that.”

But the concept figures to be used by the others as well, as the business continues to transform. “A holding company runs independent agencies to manage conflict,” said the agency executive. “There are very few synergies for creative agencies. But that’s not true in media. It goes way beyond competing together—to research, tools, many other areas.”

Sources have speculated that Klues is being prepped for a larger role at Publicis. But Klues said McCann’s elevation is not related and that “such a move isn’t imminent.”