The big get bigger – but will they get any better?

Publicis Omnicom

In the words of the IPA ‘this really did come as a surprise’. Announced on a Sunday and celebrated with a rather uncomfortable man-hug, the shock mega-merger between Omnicom and Publicis has changed the marketing and communications world for good.

Agencies around the world have been mulling the move and asking two questions – why has this happened? And what does this mean for creativity?

The reason for the merger appears to be quite simple: because size matters. Aside from the satisfaction of knocking rival network WPP back into second place, the move to create a new marketing giant will result in huge economies of scale.

Publicis Omnicom Group (to give it its new name) claims the merger will generate efficiencies of £325 million, as well as giving it a huge advantage in buying media and delivering cost-effectiveness to clients.

Maybe in this context, potential client conflict issues – can the same network really serve both Pepsi and Coca-Cola? – pale into insignificance. So do the inevitable jokes about Lotus Notes being imposed on the group’s agencies…

So to move to our second question – what does this mean for creativity? Well the signs don’t look that good to be honest.

While no-one in their right mind would argue that independent consultancies are automatically more creative than networked groups – and if you really do think that go and look at the work of WPP’s The Partners or Omnicom’s Wolff Olins – the growth of networks isn’t a good sign.

As we’ve seen, the key reasons for this merger seem to be to deliver better efficiency to clients (and, notably, shareholders). While both Maurice Lévy and John Wren – new joint chief executives of Publicis Omnicom Group – paid lip service to creativity in their announcement, this was overshadowed somewhat by references to ‘Big Data’ and ‘setting a new standard for supporting clients’.

The consolidation of the industry will also have negative knock-on effects for independent consultancies. If the bigger clients are increasingly drawn to the economies of scale networks can offer, what sort of pickings will this leave for groups outside this charmed circle?

And as it appears the mergers and acquisitions market is firmly back on, after a few years in slumber, will independent consultancies increasingly have one eye on selling up? Will they start to prioritise reducing headcount and increasing efficiencies over creating great work?

In an increasingly consolidated world, is there still room for innovation, bravery and creativity? To be honest the signs don’t look good. But maybe Publicis Omnicom Group, WPP, Interpublic, Havas and the rest will surprise us…?

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