Pulling the pieces together: How Ron Berger is doing it

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Writing about Interpublic Group of Cos. last week, Ad Age's Scott Donaton took a swipe at the mega-merged marketing-services giants. "What they really did," he charged, "was limit marketers' options, and damp the ambitions of entrepreneurs who could no longer compete."

Perhaps, but the accusation begs an important question: Assume client and media consolidation, globalization, financial-market demands, competition and technological change made marketing-services combinations necessary. How, then, can management today unleash the missing entrepreneurial spirit and improve these behemoths' effectiveness for clients? Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners is showing how you begin-by adopting a "best practice" approach to breaking down internal barriers to collaboration and to sharing knowledge across the corporate cocoons.

The change program began a few years ago when parent company Euro RSCG Worldwide, part of the French marketing-services company Havas, recognized that a multiyear acquisition binge had given it skills-as well as management teams incentivized by earn-outs to grow their individual businesses. "That was a barrier to being strategic," Ron Berger, MVBMS' CEO, said in a recent conversation. "We needed to get people to buy into the fact that there was a larger idea that was better for everyone."

The larger idea, of course, is integrating marketing services for clients ("still a pipe dream for many," as Ad Age noted in a headline last week). So last year Euro RSCG streamlined into a handful of multi-disciplinary networks, of which one is MVBMS. Each was given a single CEO and a single P&L, the first step, many leaders say, in crafting collaborative marketing solutions for clients.

Mr. Berger acknowledges that clients remain wary of being force-fed unnecessary services or second-rate providers. "But they also are explicit about needing ideas that will drive their business," he said. "And they're not routinely getting them from agencies because while agencies talk ideas, they act in silos."

MVBMS offers integrated ideas via a process it calls "marketing architecture planning," which attempts to define for clients customized approaches covering awareness, consideration, acquisition, retention and loyalty, and extension. Some client successes have emerged from the process; an e-mail marketing campaign for Volvo's new XC-90 SUV, an idea that might have had difficulty surfacing in a fragmented agency environment, pre-sold the car in the U.S. before the first commercial aired.

Still, I wondered whether CEO Berger was concerned (as many agency heads are) about steering clients away from media advertising toward lower-margin services. "Yes, if you put all this together, you might be giving up some of your high-margin advertising revenue," he answered. "But if you do this right, you're also finding efficiencies in lower margin businesses and creating new opportunities for driving top-line revenue."

Teaching collaboration internally is an even higher priority than selling integration. MVBMS has started to put managers in two-day "creative worklabs" in which 40 or 50 people at a time study cases and share ideas.

The steps are admittedly small and, in themselves, won't change the fortunes of parent Havas, whose shares have lagged behind its competitors this year. But they are an important start. "It's better to reinvent yourself than get caught up in the hurricane," Ron Berger said.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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