Interpublic CEO Michael Roth Is Convinced This Latest Lowe Merger Can Work

Behind His Newest Agency Setup and The Popularity of 'Team' New Business Pitches

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News this week that Interpublic will once again rejigger the operations of Lowe, its global micronetwork, and make Detroit shop Campbell Ewald its U.S. hub has been met with some skepticism in adland.

After all, London-based Lowe's attempts at having a U.S. market presence haven't been successful in the past and it's been through lots of mergers in its past. It's not even the first time the shop has been aligned with Campbell Ewald. According to the Ad Age DataCenter, CE in the 1980s and 1990s was part of Interpublic's Lintas worldwide network, a predecessor to the Lowe network. CE joined the Lintas network in October 1987, operating as Lintas:Campbell-Ewald. The agency changed its name back to Campbell Ewald in May 1995, though for a period the agency continued to be part of the Lintas network. In 1999, Lintas (operating as Ammirati Puris Lintas) merged with Lowe, forming Lowe Lintas; Lowe Lintas shortened its name to Lowe in 2001.

Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth
Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth

Few in the industry recall that partnership. Chairman-CEO Michael Roth -- who's been very hands on, participating in the Cadillac pitch and handpicking shops that work together -- claims this time, Lowe Campbell Ewald will go down in the books as a success story. Here, his plans for the newly-combined shop, as well as his thoughts on pitching clients using agency "teams" and the role of the holding company in 2013.

Lowe is the product of so many various acquisitions and alignments over its history, not to mention its name is of a founder who's long gone. What does that mean for the shop's identity globally and its reputation with clients?

Its reputation with clients is terrific. I meet with their clients. They are performing well. The issue for Lowe has always been cracking the U.S. market. They had some wins with Deutsch and now they've done it with Campbell Ewald. This is an important step for building Lowe's reputation in the U.S. With the types of clients they have, like Unilever, this is a good addition for them.

But why are you optimistic that this alignment with Campbell-Ewald will work when the one with Deutsch didn't quite pan out as planned? Will the cultures be harmonious, given Lowe's history and Campbell Ewald's history as a car agency and its long history with General Motors?

Lowe has a history with General Motors as well. Lowe used to do GMC trucks, in fact, and 'professional grade' was their work and tagline. Lowe and Campbell Ewald have already worked together, not the least of all was the Cadillac pitch. That's an awful good indication. This is as much about Campbell Ewald as it is about Lowe; Campbell Ewald has potential global clients and by hooking up with Lowe it can expand business. The personalities and people get along very well and they've proven they've can win business together and work on business together.

Will the new Lowe Campbell Ewald need to open a New York office?

Right now Campbell Ewald has an office in California, one in Texas and one in Detroit. They are just getting started and where they go next will be a function of the client basis of the organization.

You won the Cadillac account with a team approach -- pitching with Campell Ewald, Lowe and Hill Holliday. Why is this the new business tactic du jour?

It's what I've been saying frankly since I got into this business. Clients should be getting the best offerings for a situation from a holding company. When GM, and particularly Bob Ferguson, called me and asked me to participate in the pitch, he wanted to make sure we were giving GM the best offerings and people to meet his objectives. I was at the pitch, and I saw them in action and you didn't know one was from Hill Holliday, or one was from Lowe or one was from Campbell-Ewald. Historically the reason you didn't always have [clients getting] the best of a particular holding company was that conflicts prohibited it. It's one of the reasons you have all these different agencies, so they can handle different companies in similar industries.

WPP has been very successful with these teams, and it's no secret they have been using this tactic for new business. Will Interpublic need to pitch this way more to remain competitive?

This isn't the first time we've done it. We have a very big IPG offering with Johnson & Johnson with what we call WX. The J&J one has been up and running for a number of years. We have other similar offerings. The recent Zurich win we had had multiple IPG offerings in it as well. It's an imporatnt offering where clients where appropriate like to see it. The point is being able to meet the needs of the client. If they need a holding company approach, we're capable of doing that, but if they're looking for a lead agency we're able to do that too. Clients are looking to the holding companies to provide the best solutions for what their needs are. It just so happens recently, between Zurich and Caddy and Sabic in Saudi Arabia, those were three offerings that had multiple IPG agencies within the pitch.

Is it tough getting disparate agency brands to collaborate? Do they want to or would they rather get all the credit to themselves instead of sharing it?

Human nature is where you want to have all of it yourself. That's where the holding company comes in and makes sure all the various resources are being offered. Clients shouldn't have to worry about that. That's what the holding company's responsibility is. Where it gets allocated isn't clients' problem, and shouldn't be.

Contributing: Bradley Johnson

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