VIEWPOINT: OUTDOOR ON THE WATCH LIST: ROLE REVERSAL

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The recent mergers and acquisitions remaking the radio industry have brought U.S. Justice Department anti-trust scrutiny in their wake. Now it's the outdoor medium's turn.

Until now, the buying and selling of outdoor companies hasn't deserved much notice from Washington or advertisers because buyers were either smaller outdoor companies trying to move up or companies from outside the outdoor business. Outdoor Systems' $1 billion move this month to grab 3M's National Advertising Co.-combining the No. 1 and No. 3 operators in the country-is much different. It could mean local ownership concentration of up to 50% in some markets, according to Outdoor Systems.

Empire-building outdoor executives, like their radio counterparts, argue the government should measure their deals against the total "advertising pie," meaning outdoor's 1% to 2% share of all advertising or radio's 7%. But Justice Department antitrusters say the deals must be judged on the impact they have within the outdoor or radio industries alone, and then on their impact on competition within local advertising markets.

Ownership consolidation has two effects: It can make media buying easier while at the same time raising concerns about price gouging. Although ad prices have not yet been found to go up in any market as a result of such deals, the combined Outdoor Systems and 3M operation could control more than 40% of outdoor revenues in major markets.

Outdoor does compete for ad dollars with other media. But that is not a replacement for outdoor companies competing with other outdoor companies to offer the best service and pricing. The Justice Department should treat concentration in the outdoor industry with the same concern that it has shown for radio.

From time to time, there's been more than one client who thought he could do a better job running an agency than those in charge of the asylum. Not many broke in to give it a try, however. Kevin Roberts, the 47-year-old incoming CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, is one client that has. (Mr. Roberts' boss at Saatchi, Cordiant Chairman Bob Seelert, is another.)

Arriving by way of Auckland, New Zealand, where he currently oversees his restaurant business, Mr. Roberts in another life worked the client side at New Zealand brewer Lion Nathan, Procter & Gamble Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co., creating some colorful snippets of history if not quite the stuff legends are made of.

His task now is to put his imprimatur on Saatchi-an agency he has never worked at, in a business he has never worked in, based in a country where he has never really lived-at a time of major transition for the agency as it gets ready to peel off from parent Cordiant.

Mr. Roberts is a quintessential outsider. So, too, was Saatchi President-Chief Operating Officer John Fitzgerald, who left his job last August because of clashes with Saatchi culture and personnel just eight months after signing on from McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Never again, Saatchi leadership whispered, would an outsider be admitted to the inner circle.

Mr. Roberts may just have been recruited to do the kinds of things an insider might find difficult; a transitory role in a time of transition. Or he may succeed in showing how a former client can take-and hold-command at one of the world's top agencies and lead it to glory over the long haul. Now what a story

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