Commentary by Scott Donaton


The Sure-Thing Talk of Cannes That Didn't Come True

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Impossible is nothing.

That advertising theme was created for Adidas by TBWA Worldwide. Last week, Omnicom Big Man John Wren proved the truth of the tagline when he pulled off the impossible, persuading Jean-Marie Dru to stay put at

Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

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the helm of TBWA rather than take over (insert adjective of choice here: beleaguered, troubled, embattled, hopeless) Havas.

Well, you’re thinking to yourself, if Havas really is (adjective here), it would be a pretty easy task to convince Dru not to go, right? Especially since TBWA is one of the most rewarded and respected agency networks in the world.

Au contraire.

A done deal
At least to the 8,000 of us gathered in Cannes for the International Wish-It-Were-the-Film Festival, it was a done deal, a sure thing, that Mr. Disruption was Paris-bound. It was just a matter of waiting for the official announcement. Which, um, isn’t coming.

It’s not that our brains were dulled by the Mediterranean sun and unfathomable quantities of Domaine Ott. I mean, they were, but that had nothing to do why we had convinced ourselves Jean-Marie was out the door.

Often when industry speculation swirls, there are countless theories and countertheories regarding the outcome of whatever is in question. But in this case, all 8,000 of us looked at it the same way. Which went something like this:

A hero in France
Jean-Marie would take this job because the TBWA post, while a big deal in the ad business, does not give him the legendary status in his home country that he craves and that charging in to fix Havas would. Jean-Marie, in the twilight of his career,

Photo: Pat Denton
John Wren, president-CEO of Omnicom Group, in Cannes.
would get the chance to be a hero in France, get the credit for polishing up the Euro network (by applying his Disruption theory under a different name) and eventually get rich breaking up Havas. Then he’d retire.

“We’re not talking American, few-million-dollars rich,” one agency exec whispered in my ear on the Carlton pier one afternoon. “These Europeans want legacy money that their great-great-grandchildren can live off of.”

Rumsfeld should have such a clear exit strategy. But it’s not happening that way.

Other side of the glass
My friend Charlotte Kelly Veal once described being a journalist as akin to being outside a house looking in the window, reporting on the activities you can see and guessing at what you can’t. Still, I was surprised to find myself literally in such a position in Cannes while lunching with some JWT execs at the Martinez. We were at an inside window table and on the other side of the glass sat Dru and Wren. Jean-Marie did most of the talking, grim-faced and expressive, while Wren (whose back was to me) smoked and listened, smoked and listened.

This was the day after word first leaked that Dru might jump ship, and it was the talk of Cannes. Forget “Grrr” or the debate over the Titanium Lions. This was real drama, playing out before our eyes. It was clear Omnicom didn’t want him to go, but we all thought we knew the ending. (Anyone who claims now to have known all along that Dru would stay is less believable than the three dozen people who tell you BMW Films was their idea.)

Don't bet against Wren
Wren’s not someone I’d normally bet against (and won’t again). But like everyone else, I mostly focused on whom he might pick to succeed Dru -- Paul Bainsfair? Tim Love?

In the end, it wasn’t our thinking that was off-base. Dru proved how important his rep in France is by granting his first post-decision interview to Le Monde. He also said he will spend more time in Paris, where his wife and kids remained after he moved to New York.

Nope, in the end, Dru (to quote him from Le Monde) chose the disruptive course. Which is all you need to know about why Wren wanted to keep him.

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