On Saturday, Advertising Age and Adweek reported that Publicis Groupe and Omnicom were indeed merging. Publicis Groupe held a press conference in Paris on Sunday afternoon (8:00 a.m. EDT), where Maurice Lévy and John Wren acted as if they were signing a special amendment to the constitutions of their respective countries. Ad Age later published a cheat sheet on the initial details and responses from assorted network honchos; plus, Adweek chipped in commentary as well. The official statement became available too. Meanwhile, New York Times Advertising Columnist Stuart Elliott didn’t bother to type anything, leaving the task to staff reporter Tanzina Vega. Elliott seemed to make the right choice, opting against wasting his weekend wondering about the event.
The merger makes sense from a marketing perspective. That is, marketing experts opine most categories have a number one brand and a number two brand—and everyone else is a challenger brand. Additionally, the top brands primarily duke it out with each other, while the challenger brands must establish niches. The theory applies to the advertising industry too. Despite the self-promotional hype, Publicis Groupe has fared poorly as a challenger brand, failing to find a distinct and successful niche. As the number two contender, Omnicom hasn’t done very well either, semi-ironically mirroring PepsiCo—a major Omnicom client—in a clumsy, disorganized fashion. To top it off, WPP has been a shitty leader. Regardless, the merger allows Omnicom to leapfrog over WPP and lets Publicis Groupe leave its challenger brand status. How the newlyweds ultimately handle their fresh position will be interesting to watch. Can’t help but think it’s essentially like Larry and Curly overtaking Moe.
What’s missing from all the media coverage—which focuses on egos, money, efficiencies, shareholders and clients—is any meaningful mention of agency workers. This omission points to the merger’s root problem. Wren and Lévy appear oblivious to the 130,000+ human beings poised to operate the enterprise. MultiCultClassics has noted the increased obsession with profits over people. Billable hours trump big ideas. The end result has been a commoditization of the industry—as agencies become interchangeable and generic.
The decreased emphasis on people means things could get worse for diversity. The “efficiencies”—coupled with client defections—will probably ignite downsizing. Fewer jobs equal fewer opportunities. Exclusivity is strengthened when executives are in self-preservation modes. Contrary to the contentions of Chief Diversity Officers and ADCOLOR® enthusiasts, building inclusive workplaces has never been on agencies’ to-do lists. The action item may completely vanish during the invention phase of Publicis Omnicom Groupe. Don’t expect any breakthrough efforts from Pioneer of Diversity Wren.
Multicultural marketing and minority agencies stand to lose too. Crumbs may go from plural to singular as battles for budgets escalate. The BDAs have already admitted to being ignorant when executing cross-cultural initiatives, so there’s no reason to believe enlightenment will suddenly invade the undiscovered country fabricated by this French-American union. Minority agencies within the networks were always small, insignificant fish in a big pond. They’ll now be small, insignificant fish in an ocean. Minority agencies outside the networks will become pond scum.
Finally, recruiting minorities into such a dismal environment won’t be easy. There are not enough minority youth outreach programs and sponsored high schools to attract candidates of color. Hell, the years ahead may actually see a downtick for non-White receptionists, mailroom attendants, security personnel, janitorial crewmembers and Chief Diversity Officers.