The seeds of agency-altering ideas-such as merging a direct agency and an ad shop to create a one-stop shop-usually fall on the barren ground of fear: fear that a large client won't like the restructure or will spot a conflict that it creates; fear that some account baron will get upset and end up departing; or just plain and simple fear of change.
Interpublic's own failure to properly address Lowe's issues over the last few years has been a case in point. In that case, it's likely a fear of losing key clients such as J&J and Unilever that has prevented the closure of costly offices and has left Lowe in the no man's land of being not quite a large agency network, but not really a nimble, low-overhead creative player either. Recently, Interpublic has finally started moving to address the problem-but some would argue it's taken too long and cost Lowe dearly.
In the case of Draft FCB, however, Interpublic acted quickly, saw past the fear and focused on the bigger picture.
The holding company even had the guts to put the direct-marketing-man-made-good Howard Draft in charge of the combined operation. That's an inspired choice in a business that still suffers from a tendency to think TV ads first and should ensure that the ROI-first approach of the direct-marketing agency survives the merger with the fuzzier discipline of advertising.
It's also a bold choice given that Interpublic originally invested a lot more in FCB, which was at the center of the True North purchase for $1.63 billion in Interpublic stock, than it did in Draft, which it bought in 1996 for $87 million in stock .
Of course, it could fail. Mergers that involve a weak agency-and FCB certainly has its issues-often do. But let's hope it succeeds, because the industry needs bold movers, not executives who live in fear of change.