Wren’s Focus: ‘People, Product, Profits’

NEW YORK “Advertising is still the core” of the media communications landscape, even though marketing services are attracting increased client attention and dollars, according to Omnicom Group CEO John Wren.

Wren sat for a rare question-answer session at the Minskoff Theater in Times Square on Monday as part of Advertising Week.

Disney Theatricals president Tom Schumacher conducted the wide-ranging interview.

Wren, 54, summed up the core values of Omnicom and its agencies in three words: “people, product, profits.”

Having the right people in significant positions who are “ruthless about the creative product” will ultimately yield income and results, Wren said.

Schumacher asked why the image of the “ad guy” has changed from earlier decades in which such practitioners were viewed as “a little bit slimy.” Wren said the industry in the 1960s and ’70s operated “in a different world. You didn’t have to work very hard then. There were three networks,” and ad executives probably knew just about everybody at each one.

These days, agencies are part of public companies that are beholden to the needs of multinational clients and the rigorous scrutiny of Wall Street, and senior management must act accordingly.

By keeping its focus on its people, its product and the profits that follow, “we’re able to give Wall Street what it expects,” Wren said.

Wren touched on everything from his Irish-Catholic upbringing in Brooklyn as the oldest of six children, his pursuit of a philosophy degree before majoring in business, his 30-year marriage (to his college sweetheart) and the career path that led to his installment atop the world’s largest advertising holding company.

The exec spent six years at accounting firm Arthur Andersen before joining New York ad shop Needham Harper in 1984, two years prior to Omnicom’s formation.

Wren soon was faced with a choice: become second in command at DDB (which absorbed Needham Harper), or lead Omnicom’s fledgling Diversified Agency Services division, an aggregate of companies that specialized in below-the-line communications.

Wren chose DAS, and by way of explanation, made reference to Milton: “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

Although direct marketing was not held in such high esteem at the time, the move proved prescient. Wren became fluent in the disciplines that now account for 57 percent of Omnicom’s revenue, compared to 27 percent in 1993. (The holding company’s diverse units and divisions handle accounts including Apple Computer, Bank of America, DaimlerChrysler and PepsiCo. Its lead agency brands are BBDO, DDB and TBWA.)