Awkward timing: Just as Omnicom CEO John Wren was doing damage control after the breakdown of a $35 billion mega-merger with Publicis, the International Advertising Association gave him an achievement prize.
The IAA, meeting in Beijing, gave two people its top honor: Wren and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. Neither attended the IAA World Congress, and their awards were collected by members of their teams.
The conference in Beijing opened Friday, hours after the two ad giants announced their plans for a "merger of equals" had fallen apart, despite more than nine months of work. Executives blamed differences over leadership positions and cultural differences. The merger was also held up by a delay getting clearance from Chinese regulators.
The IAA award honors "outstanding services" in advertising and marketing, the IAA said in a statement Saturday (the prize was actually awarded Friday when many delegates were still at lunch, and it attracted little attention.) The IAA usually gives the award every two years; no prize was awarded in 2012, so this year two people were named. Maurice Levy, Publicis Groupe's chairman and CEO, won the award in 2006.
Omnicom Group was one of five platinum sponsors – the highest level of sponsorship – at the IAA World Congress. Since the Beijing municipal government and the State Administration for Industry & Commerce hosted the event, the holding company might have been hoping to raise its profile in China while awaiting clearance from regulators here (clearance that, in the end, didn't matter.)
The Publicis-Omnicom breakup was the talk of the conference. WPP CEO Martin Sorrell was one of the first speakers, and he tried not to gloat as he said his rivals' failed plans had no "basic and strategic logic and underpinning." Despite the demise of Publicis-Omnicom, Mr. Sorrell predicted more consolidation ahead in the industry.