Nick Brien was "surprised and angry when he was told yesterday that his tenure was ending immediately" as CEO of McCann, according to Adweek, which perhaps explains why Interpublic Group CEO Michael Roth's decision to fire him was the right one. If Adweek's unnamed source is telling the truth, then Brien was the only person on Madison Avenue not aware that he was in the process of losing his job.
You can't have that level of denial atop a major ad agency.
The move — in which Brien is replaced by Harris Diamond, CEO of IPG's Constituency Management Group, as boss of IPG's biggest agency brand — does two things:
- It means that four of Interpublic's biggest agency brands are now being run by CEOs without a traditional advertising background.
- It makes Interpublic itself a more vulnerable target for a takeover.
Diamond, the new CEO of McCann, is a PR guy. Nothing wrong with that, of course. The PR business has a strong resemblance to the ad business, and they often walk hand in hand. But this is becoming a pattern at IPG. Consider:
- IPG CEO Roth is a former banker. Even though he has been IPG's chief for years he is still not regarded as an "ad guy" within his own company. Sources tell us he takes a minimal role with clients and pitches, in contrast to the CEOs of Omnicom and WPP.
- McCann's new CEO is a PR guy.
- DraftFCB is led by Laurence Boschetto, whose history is in the below-the-line direct marketing business at the former Draft Direct agency.
- R/GA is led by Bob Greenberg. It's a digital agency, and Greenberg is proud of the fact that at no stage in his career has he ever run a traditional ad shop that specializes in TV and print ads.
Only Deutsch/Lowe, IPG's other big brand, is led by a born-in ad exec — CEO Linda Sawyer.
You can scoff all you want at admen and women. The rap in the business is that they're dinosaurs — still squeezing money from print and TV when the real dollars are moving into digital.
That's true, but ad agency types are also survivors and they have a more fully rounded view of media, and how brands behave across platforms. Plus, they can deal with a wider range of marketing's various internal constituencies, including creative types, media buyers and social media monitors. Only at a generalist shop will a CEO get the experience of dealing with all of that, all at once, all the time.
I'm not saying that Roth, Diamond, Boschetto and Greenberg are unqualified to run agencies. That's ridiculous. They've all reached the peak of their fields. They're all capable.
But there's also luck. You make your own in the ad business. Partly, it's about knowing what mistakes not to make. It's intangible, but I also suspect it is not an amazing coincidence that Sawyer's Deutsch is the only one of these companies that does not have some sort of image / succession / new business / revenue problem (the exception being R/GA). And, Sawyer solved the Lowe Worldwide collapse / merger problem a couple of years ago.
Pointedly, Roth failed to do the same with McCann.
With those big brands in flux, that leaves IPG vulnerable to either client poaching or an outright takeover by someone like Publicis Groupe. On the Brien exit, the stock didn't move at $9.75. It once traded at nearly $12 this year, and hit an all-time high of $57.69 in 2000. IPG has never been bigger — or cheaper.
In a note to investors, Deutsche Bank analyst Matt Chesler agreed (partially) with me. He said:
One would have had to have been living in the North Pole this past year to not have known that Nick Brien’s job was at risk, particularly after the WSJ article a week ago Sunday. There hasn’t been much success at McCann since Brien took over in early 2010; he didn’t land notable key accounts, there were multiple large losses that far outpaced the wins, and even the good things seemed to come partially undone. Brien did amazing work fixing IPG’s two media assets, but in the end it seems he was the wrong guy for McCann.
... The pushback is that he’s another McCann head that isn’t an “ad guy”, and that not going outside of McCann suggests an inability to land big-name talent. We actually think that Diamond might be just the right person for the job, even if he’s arguably the safe bet and internal. What’s needed now at McCann, a mini holding company itself, is a stabilizer. And, Diamond’s sweet spot is collaboration, which will be well put to use integrating resources at the Worldgroup.
... The next step for IPG is to address leadership issues at DraftFCB.
One way to address those issue might be to appoint Sawyer the successor to Roth. Why not? She could clean house, and her reputation might be more of a magnet for the talent that McCann and DraftFCB need to install.
Absent that or some other dramatic move, I'd be drooling over IPG's injured body right now if I was the CEO of Publicis Groupe or perhaps even a foreign upstart like Cheil Worldwide. My only choice would be: pick off the clients or the talent or devour the beast whole?
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