"Few blockbuster deals remain, and this is a positive for the big holding companies," says David McMurry, an advertising analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "This means that the oligopoly is already set."
Apart from their sheer size-WPP Group, Omnicom Group and Interpublic Group of Cos. accounted for 42.1% of the industry's $40 billion gross income generated in 2000-the superagencies manage client relationships from the holding company level in a way that separates them further from smaller rivals Bcom3 Group, Publicis Groupe and Havas Advertising.
"Don't forget that the main reason holding companies were created was to manage conflict," says John Farrell, president-CEO of Bcom3's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. "Clients need to have security that the holding company is a firm wall between agencies that serve competing clients."
Maurice Levy, chairman-CEO of Publicis, says he is dubious about superagencies and the conflict issues they pose.
"How can you say to a company selling a shampoo that you work for a competitor, if at the same time you [have to] explain that you're managing at the holding level a single client?" he says. "We don't have this kind of objective today."
In 2001, the biggest winners of multicountry accounts were Omnicom, with $1.8 billion in new global and pan-regional business; Interpublic at $1 billion; and WPP at $965 million, according to Ad Age Global.
Bcom3's multicountry wins look impressive at $1 billion, but more than half that total-$554 million-came from Starcom MediaVest Group's media wins. At the other top six holding companies, Publicis won $648 million in new global and pan-regional billings and Havas just $319 million.
"I don't think it will all be consolidated into holding companies," says Linda Wolf, chairman-CEO of Bcom3's Leo Burnett Worldwide. "Clients are really most interested in who's going to steward their brand. Certainly there are clients Roger [Haupt, Bcom3's CEO] has always been engaged with and involved with. The other thing is, we've been a holding company for only two years."
contributing: kate macarthur, lisa sanders