A Brief (sort of) History of Agencies

Big deals, big ideas and an 'odious little shit'

Ad Age in April 2019 published its 75th annual Agency Report. We dug through the archives to see just how the agency business has (and has not) changed.

The result is a timeline capturing agency highlights from 1945, when we published the first Agency Report, to 2019.

The timeline shows the rocket growth of television from 1948, when just 0.4 percent of U.S. households had a TV set, to 1954, when TVs were in 55 percent of U.S. homes and TV ad revenue moved ahead of magazines and radio.

We track the rise of digital from 1987, when pioneering interactive agency Modem Media opened up shop, to 2017, when digital work for the first time accounted for more than half of revenue for U.S. agencies.

We also explore the deals and dealmakers, from Marion Harper Jr.’s creation of Interpublic in 1960 to Martin Sorrell’s takeover of Ogilvy in 1989. David Ogilvy called WPP’s Sorrell an “odious little shit,” but the two eventually reached detente.

—Bradley Johnson
April 29, 2019

Source: Ad Age archives, Ad Age Datacenter, Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising and additional research. © Copyright 2019 Crain Communications Inc.

1940s

  • Ad Age publishes its first Agency Report, ranking agencies based on “Advertising Age estimates from data obtained in interviews with chairmen, presidents, new business vice-presidents, treasurers and other high executives of these firms.”

    J. Walter Thompson Co. tops the ranking with 1944 worldwide billings of $72 million ($1 billion in 2019 dollars). That translates to about $11 million in revenue ($154 million in 2019 dollars) assuming a then-common 15 percent commission.

    Ad Age’s rankings include 25 agencies with 1944 billings of $10 million or more. Just six agency names are still in use: J. Walter Thompson (now WPP’s Wunderman Thompson); Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (now Omnicom’s BBDO Worldwide); Campbell-Ewald Co. (now Interpublic’s Campbell Ewald); Foote, Cone & Belding (now Interpublic’s FCB); McCann-Erickson (now Interpublic’s McCann); and Young & Rubicam (now WPP’s VMLY&R).

    The Wunderman Thompson network’s estimated 2018 worldwide net revenue: $2.8 billion.

  • Tatham-Laird opens in Chicago. The agency evolves into what today is the Chicago office of Havas.

  • Dentsu appoints Hideo Yoshida as president. Yoshida becomes the company’s fourth president since its founding in 1901 as Japan Advertising Ltd. and Telegraphic Service Co. Dentsu’s influential post-war leader serves until 1963.

    J. Walter Thompson becomes the first agency to surpass $100 million in billings.

  • Just 0.4 percent of U.S. households have a TV set, but there are early signs of agencies turning on TV: “Variety of services which agencies render advertisers continues to grow. ... In new services, such as TV, agencies are risking … own money.”

    An Old Television
  • William Bernbach and Ned Doyle leave Grey Advertising and open Doyle Dane Bernbach with Maxwell Dane.

    Ad Age publishes a 38-page report on “Television—Infant Advertising Medium—Where It Stands Today.”

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1950s

  • Emerson Foote leaves Foote, Cone & Belding, which he had founded with partners Fairfax Cone and Don Belding in 1943 as successor agency to the venerable Lord & Thomas. After departing FCB, Foote spent years at McCann-Erickson and then his own agency, Emerson Foote Inc.

  • Young & Rubicam is top agency in TV billings as new medium takes hold.

  • Rosser Reeves, developer of the “Unique Selling Proposition” at Ted Bates, creates “Eisenhower Answers America” TV campaign for Dwight Eisenhower’s winning presidential campaign. This is the first time a presidential candidate buys TV airtime for brief spots rather than lengthy speeches.

  • Research and media coverage in the early 1950s draw a connection between smoking and cancer, so the tobacco industry hires Hill & Knowlton to create a public relations smokescreen. John Hill, the PR agency’s founder, works with ad agency Fuller & Smith & Ross on a newspaper ad disputing “a theory that cigaret smoking is in some way linked with lung cancer.” Hill & Knowlton continued on the tobacco industry’s payroll for years to come. The agency today operates as WPP's Hill&Knowlton Strategies.

  • McCann-Erickson buys Marschalk & Pratt, giving it two agency brands. In an editorial (“A New Type of Super Agency?”), Ad Age writes: “If the experiment works, the advertising field can look for the further development of ‘satellite’ agencies which would actively solicit accounts which other satellites—or the parent agency—can’t touch because of conflicts.”

    TV ad revenue moves ahead of magazines and radio. TV household penetration passes the halfway point, with TVs in 55 percent of U.S. homes.

    Agency Report now ranks agencies by domestic billing and international billing. J. Walter Thompson holds a commanding lead overall and internationally; BBDO is the biggest U.S. agency.

  • Philip Morris relaunches Marlboro with creative and strategy from Leo Burnett. Philip Morris has sold Marlboro since 1924 as, Leo himself writes, a nonfilter “fancy smoke for dudes and women.” The new Marlboro will be a filter cigarette for the masses.

    To counter filter cigarettes' "slightly effeminate" image, Marlboro ads showed cowboys and "regular guys." Marlboro in 1962 settled on the cowboy as its exclusive image. The brand went on to be the world's No. 1-selling cigarette.

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  • The American Association of Advertising Agencies and five media trade organizations signed consent decrees with the Justice Department prohibiting the trade groups from encouraging or requiring members to stick to 15 percent commission on advertisers’ media buys. The decrees, still in effect, helped pave the way for fee-based compensation, negotiated commissions and alternative approaches to compensation.

    BBDO opens its first non-U.S. office, in Toronto.

  • New York’s Ruthrauff & Ryan merges with Chicago’s Erwin, Wasey & Co. in “biggest merger in history of advertising business so far.” Interpublic bought Erwin Wasey, Ruthrauff & Ryan in 1963 and later shortened the name to Erwin Wasey. Interpublic folded Erwin Wasey into other agencies in the 1970s.

  • For first time, Agency Report ranks agencies based outside the United States. Japan’s Dentsu is biggest non-U.S. agency.

    Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline opens. Young & Rubicam bought the agency in 1973. It now operates as WPP’s Wunderman Thompson. Lester Wunderman, often called the father of direct marketing, died in 2019 at age 98.

  • Carl Spielvogel joins McCann-Erickson from his post as advertising news columnist at The New York Times. Spielvogel in 1979 co-founded Backer & Spielvogel, which evolved into Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide. The agency shortened its name to Bates Worldwide in 1994. WPP divided up Bates among other WPP agencies in 2003.

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1960s

  • McCann-Erickson President Marion Harper Jr. creates the first major agency holding company. “McCann-Erickson has reorganized again,” Ad Age says, “with the establishment”—on Dec. 27, 1960—“of a new parent company, Interpublic Inc.” The company has operated under the Interpublic name since January 1961.

    Interpublic adopted its current name—“The Interpublic Group of Companies”—in January 1964, and other holding companies followed.

    Harper died in 1989 at the age of 73. He was named posthumously to the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1998. Ad Age in 1999 called Harper “arguably the agency world’s most innovative empire builder of the 20th century.”

  • McCann-Erickson joins with Hakuhodo in Tokyo, first U.S. agency joint venture in Japan. Interpublic bought Hakuhodo’s 49 percent stake in 1993. Ad Age Datacenter ranked Hakuhodo DY Holdings as the world’s 12th largest agency company as of 2019.

  • J. Walter Thompson leads Ad Age’s first ranking of the world’s biggest agencies (based on 1962 billings), followed by McCann-Erickson; Young & Rubicam; Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn; and Dentsu. As of 2019, Ad Age Datacenter ranked Dentsu as the world’s biggest ad agency.

  • FCB goes public. Others would join the Madison Avenue rush to go public, including DDB (1964), Grey (1965), J. Walter Thompson (1969) and Interpublic (1971).

  • David Ogilvy merges his New York agency with its London partner to form a single operating company, Ogilvy & Mather.

  • Chicago’s Needham, Louis & Brorby merges with New York’s Doherty, Clifford, Steers & Shenfield, forming Needham, Harper & Steers.

  • Wells, Rich, Greene opens its doors, led by its high-profile chairman, Mary Wells, and her two partners, Richard Rich and Stewart Greene. Its Alka-Seltzer ads are part of advertising lore: “Plop plop, fizz fizz,” “Try it, you’ll like it” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

  • Agencies cut U.S. staff amid a sluggish ad market. From the Agency Report: “McCann-Erickson, an Interpublic unit, let go 976 people. Benton & Bowles dropped 255 persons.”

  • Jay Chiat & Associates and Faust/Day Advertising merge, forming iconic Los Angeles agency Chiat/Day (now part of Omnicom's TBWA Worldwide).

  • Leo Burnett buys London Press Exchange’s international agency network, with 24 offices in 19 countries, in “biggest deal in agency history.”

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1970s

  • In its tally of “Ten Who Made Advertising News in the ‘60s,” Ad Age in January 1970 lists eight men, one woman (Wells, Rich, Greene’s Mary Wells Lawrence)—and “The Computer.” Ad Age writes: “Today, computers are everywhere on the marketing scene: In media research, go-no-go advertising decisions, credit cards, easy credit operations, payrolls—and on and on.”

    Unilever sells 49 percent of its in-house agency network, Lintas (Lever International Advertising Services), to SSC&B (Sullivan, Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles), which had been its U.S. partner since 1962.

    The top 60 U.S. agencies reduce payrolls by 1,561 people, an average of 26 employees per agency, as nation slumps into recession.

    Publicis lists on the Paris stock exchange.

  • DDB buys chain of department stores as agencies begin to diversify holdings.

    Interpublic goes public.

  • Interpublic buys Campbell-Ewald Co., long-time Chevrolet agency.

  • Cheil Communications opens its doors as the first agency in South Korea. Lee Byung Chul, the pioneering Korean entrepreneur who founded Samsung Group, established Cheil as Samsung’s in-house agency. Samsung as of year-end 2018 owned a 25 percent stake in Cheil.

  • Ad Age names Cunningham & Walsh as first Agency of the Year. Cunningham & Walsh was acquired in 1982 by Mickelberry, a former meatpacking company that had sold the meats business and moved into advertising. Cunningham & Walsh was later bought by N.W. Ayer and shut down in 1987. Ayer closed in 2002. Mickelberry’s, meanwhile, lives on today as a brand of ham owned by a U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp.

  • Martin Sorrell joins Saatchi & Saatchi. Sorrell stepped down as group finance director in 1984 after nine years with the agency.

  • Agency Report moves agency rankings to gross income—a measure of revenue—from billings because “most agencies recognize gross income as a more meaningful yardstick of performance.”

  • Maurice Levy, who joined Publicis in 1971 as IT director, is named CEO of Publicis Conseil, the company’s main French business. Levy became CEO of Publicis Groupe in 1987, a job he held for 30 years until being named chairman of the company’s supervisory board in 2017.

  • Kobs & Brady opens in Chicago. The agency starts with about a dozen people, including Howard Draft. Under his leadership, the shop evolved into DraftWorldwide and then Draft. Interpublic bought the agency in 1996 and merged it with FCB in 2006 to form DraftFCB, bringing together advertising and marketing services. The agency in 2014 took the name “FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding).”

  • Interpublic buys SSC&B, including its 49 percent ownership of Lintas, in the largest agency deal to date. Interpublic bought Unilever’s 51 percent Lintas stake in 1982. Lintas evolved into what today is MullenLowe.

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1980s

  • J. Walter Thompson, long ranked among the biggest ad agencies, buys Hill & Knowlton, the biggest PR agency.

  • Dentsu and Young & Rubicam form joint venture to build an Asian agency network. Dentsu and WPP, which acquired Y&R in 2000, ended the venture in 2018.

  • London’s Saatchi & Saatchi buys New York’s Compton Advertising, which later would be folded into the Saatchi & Saatchi agency.

    Ted Bates vaults into No. 2 worldwide and U.S. ad agency slot after its 1981 acquisition of William Esty Co.

    Wieden & Kennedy opens in Portland, Oregon, with Nike as its first client.

  • Jeff Goodby, Andy Berlin and Rich Silverstein open Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein in San Francisco. Omnicom bought the agency in 1992. The shop took the name Goodby, Silverstein & Partners after Berlin left the agency in 1992 to work at Omnicom’s DDB in New York.

  • New York’s Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample sells ownership in 13 European agencies to Dorland Advertising, a unit of Saatchi & Saatchi.

  • Martin Sorrell takes a controlling stake in Wire & Plastic Products, a publicly traded U.K. maker of wire baskets and teapots that he will use as a platform to acquire marketing-services ventures. WPP as of 2019 still owned this manufacturer of what WPP calls “top quality domestic kitchen wireware products in stainless steel, chrome, nylon and plastic coating.

    WPP’s Delfinware

    D’Arcy MacManus Masius merges with Benton & Bowles, becoming the No. 8 U.S. agency. D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles closed in 2002.

  • Doyle Dane Bernbach of New York and Needham Harper Worldwide of Chicago merge into DDB Needham (now DDB) and simultaneously join with BBDO to form Omnicom Group, which opens with some of the most prized creative agencies in the business.

    Saatchi & Saatchi Co. counters the Omnicom rollup by acquiring Ted Bates Worldwide. This comes on the heels of the Saatchi brothers’ early 1986 acquisitions of U.S. agencies Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample (which would become part of the Saatchi & Saatchi agency) and Backer & Spielvogel (which merged with Ted Bates). Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide shortened its name to Bates Worldwide in 1994.

    Saatchi & Saatchi Co. changed its name to Cordiant in 1995. Cordiant in 1997 split into two companies, Saatchi & Saatchi and Cordiant Communications Group (parent of Bates). Publicis bought Saatchi & Saatchi in 2000. WPP acquired Cordiant in 2003 and divided up Bates among other WPP agencies.

  • Upstart WPP (1986 revenue: $38 million) turns the agency business on its head with the first-ever unsolicited takeover, scooping up J. Walter Thompson (1986 revenue: $641 million). WPP pays $566 million in a deal that includes venerable ad agency J. Walter Thompson, PR firm Hill & Knowlton and a market-research business.

    Modem Media sets up shop. The pioneering interactive agency’s first big assignment: building the GEnie online mall for General Electric. Modem Media’s early digital work includes CD-ROMs, fax on demand and interactive voice response. Digitas bought Modem Media in 2004.

  • FCB and France’s Publicis form European agency network alliance.

  • WPP buys Ogilvy Group for $864 million. David Ogilvy emerges from retirement to oppose the takeover. He calls WPP’s Martin Sorrell an “odious little shit,” but eventually comes around.

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1990s

  • WPP, led by Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson, topples Saatchi & Saatchi as the world’s biggest agency company. But the hefty price tag for Ogilvy led WPP to borrow heavily just as the economy and agency business sank into recession. In 1990, a profit warning causes shares to plummet 66 percent in just four days. WPP’s stock plunges 96 percent from a 1989 peak to its 1992 low ($2.50). The outside auditor in 1991 casts doubt about WPP’s ability to remain a going concern. WPP in 1992 restructures its $1 billion in debt.

  • Creative Artists Agency rocks the agency world when Coca-Cola Co. hires the Beverly Hills talent agency as “worldwide media and communications consultant.”

  • Valentine-McCormick-Ligibel opens in Kansas City, Missouri. WPP bought VML in 2001. At the time, VML had about 100 employees and $16 million in annual revenue. WPP in 2018 merged VML with Young & Rubicam, founded in 1923, to form VMLY&R.

  • Publicis, run by Maurice Levy, buys FCA, combining France’s No. 2 and No. 4 agency groups.

  • Ad Age calls it “the year of the internet.” The first banner ad runs—an AT&T ad placed by Modem Media on HotWired, a website sibling of Wired magazine.

    The web gets the buzz, but Agency Report notes traditional media still rule: “The three big mediums for agency billings—network TV, spot TV and magazines—rose 9.2 percent, 15.2 percent and 11.5 percent" in the U.S. in 1994.

  • Omnicom buys Chiat/Day, merging it into TBWA.

    Saatchi & Saatchi ousts founders Maurice and Charles Saatchi. The brothers set up a new shop, M&C Saatchi.

    Ally & Gargano shuts down. The one-time Agency of the Year was known for its iconic work for FedEx.

  • Omnicom buys minority shares in six interactive marketing agencies including Agency.com, Organic Online and Razorfish. The company in 2010 divvied up Agency.com into other Omnicom agencies. Organic continues today as an Omnicom digital agency. Razorfish is now folded into Publicis-owned Publicis Sapient.

    Euro RSCG Worldwide, France’s biggest agency group, changes its name to Havas Advertising, adopting the name of the French agency that had served as the nucleus of Euro RSCG. Havas continued to use the name Euro RSCG as an agency network name until rebranding the network as Havas in 2012.

    Where did the name Euro RSCG come from? Euro RSCG was formed in 1991 when France's Eurocom, a unit of French media firm Havas, bought French agency network Roux Seguela Cayzac Godard.

  • “The internet has nurtured a wealth of new media shops,” led by CKS Group (which later became part of MarchFirst), Eagle River Interactive (bought by Omnicom) and True North’s TN Technologies. Established agencies also are pushing into new media: Among the nation's 500 biggest agencies, 162 say they are doing interactive work.

    After bitter negotiations, Publicis and FCB dissolve their 1988 alliance. The partnership had foundered in the 1990s, Ad Age wrote, “in a power struggle when both parties started making separate international moves rather than pursuing a common global vision.”

  • Agency companies went on a shopping splurge this year, buying more than 150 U.S. ad agencies, marketing services companies, PR agencies and media agencies. “The big are getting bigger for good reason,” Agency Report says. “Business is booming.”

    Among the acquired: Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos and PR agencies Shandwick and Golin/Harris (Interpublic); Hal Riney & Partners (Publicis).

    MDC Communications (now MDC Partners) enters the ranking of the world's 50 biggest agency companies after a series of acquisitions including Minneapolis shop Colle & McVoy.

    Wells BDDP—formerly Wells, Rich, Greene, a defining agency of the 1960s “creative revolution”—closes after account and staff defections.

  • Agency Report notes: “There is a lot less volume left to buy in any specialty, leaving ad organizations”—agency companies—“to look at each other as possible targets. There’s much evidence they are doing just that.”

    Agency Report breaks out its first ranking of media agencies. This comes as more ad agencies unbundle media from creative. Biggest worldwide media agencies: McCann-Erickson/Universal McCann (owned by Interpublic; now UM), Optimum Media Direction (owned by Omnicom; now OMD), Media Edge (owned by Y&R; now WPP's Wavemaker), MindShare (owned by WPP; now Mindshare) and Carat (owned by Aegis; now Dentsu Inc.'s Carat).

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2000s

  • WPP buys Young & Rubicam in all-stock transaction worth $4.4 billion based on the value of WPP stock at the deal's closing, the biggest agency acquisition to date. Y&R at the time was hardly the industry’s hottest agency, but the deal included other valued properties such as Wunderman.

    Publicis buys Saatchi & Saatchi.

    Leo Group (Leo Burnett) and MacManus Group merge to form Bcom3 Group with backing from Dentsu.

    “At last count, more than 300 U.S. agencies have been consumed since the turn (start) of 1999,” Agency Report notes in April 2000. “Omnicom … gained more than 20 agencies during this period; Interpublic … consumed more than 30.”

    MarchFirst (launched as an agency rollup on March 1, 2000), Digitas, iXL, Grey Interactive and Sapient rank as the biggest U.S. interactive agencies as dot-com boom goes bust.

  • Dentsu Inc. celebrates its 100th anniversary on July 1, 2001. Dentsu on Nov. 30, 2001, becomes a publicly traded company through an initial public offering, debuting on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

    Interpublic buys True North Communications, the parent of FCB, for $1.6 billion.

    MarchFirst, which once had a valuation of $7.2 billion, enters Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in April 2001.

  • Bcom3 closes N.W. Ayer, a once-mighty agency founded in 1869. Later in the year, Publicis completes acquisition of Bcom3, including Leo Burnett and Starcom MediaVest.

    Interpublic reveals problems with its internal accounting, setting the stage for a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry, a series of financial restatements and a wrenching period of change in management and the organization. Standard & Poor’s in 2003 downgraded Interpublic’s corporate debt to speculative or junk status. Interpublic in 2007 completed a plan to fix “material weaknesses” in financial controls, and the company in 2008 reached a settlement with the SEC. Interpublic didn’t climb back to an S&P investment-grade rating until 2015.

    (View Article)

  • Bulked up by earlier acquisitions, the big four agency companies—Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic, Publicis—account for more than half (50.9 percent) of 2003 U.S. agency revenue (advertising, media, marketing services).

  • “Advertising and marketing services in 2004 regained a vigor not seen since the dot-coms bellied up in 2000,” says Agency Report. “A rebound in interactive helped prove what goes around comes around.”

    Revenue for U.S. interactive agencies surges 20.2 percent.

  • WPP buys Grey, Madison Avenue's last remaining big independent, for a package of $1.75 billion in cash and WPP stock worth $1,154 a share. That's 118 times Grey’s split-adjusted 1965 initial public offering price.

    For the first time in Agency Report, U.S. agency revenue from marketing services in 2005 passed revenue from traditional advertising and media. Marketing services captured 51.5 percent of U.S. agency revenue in 2005. That grew to 53.6 percent in 2006.

    “What’s behind the change? No surprise: the internet. U.S. interactive-agency revenue rocketed 23.1 percent (in 2006), driving the increase in marketing services. But digital is more than interactive shops; it’s an integral part of marketing services from direct to promotion.”

    (View Article)

  • Agency Report breaks out its first ranking of consolidated agency networks based on 2006 worldwide revenue. Japan’s Dentsu tops the charts, followed by McCann Erickson Worldgroup.

  • Publicis pays $1.3 billion for Digitas, a digital agency that began in 1980 as a direct-marketing shop, Bronner Schlosberg Humphrey.

    Ad Age estimates the big four agency companies—Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic, Publicis—in 2007 generated 12.3 percent of worldwide revenue from digital services.

    WPP spends $649 million to buy 24/7 Real Media, a digital outfit with a storied past. Merrill Lynch took 24/7 public in 1998 at $70 a share; shares soared to $348. Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget recommended the stock in 2000 even as he privately referred to a key 24/7 product in an internal email as "a pos.” (The SEC helpfully translated that as "piece of shit" in a court filing against Blodget.) After the net bubble burst, shares plunged in 2001 to 45 cents. 24/7 lost money in 12 of 13 years through 2006, but WPP sees opportunities in adding 24/7 to its digital arsenal. WPP’s broker on this deal? Merrill Lynch.

  • “It’s clear that digital services have become a way of life (or a way to avoid death) for agencies of all disciplines. … Of the more than 860 agencies that participated in the 2008 Agency Report, 60 percent broke out digital revenue.”

    IBM Corp.’s IBM Interactive becomes the first consultancy to appear in Agency Report.

    WPP edges past Omnicom to rank as the world’s biggest agency company based on 2008 revenue. WPP snared the top spot with revenue from Taylor Nelson Sofres, a market-research firm it bought in late 2008. WPP has held the No. 1 spot since then.

  • The 2007-2009 Great Recession was the worst downturn since the Great Depression. U.S. agency revenue tumbled 7.5 percent in 2009, “the sharpest revenue decline in the 66 years Ad Age has produced the Agency Report.” U.S. ad agencies cut one out of six jobs from the start of recession to employment nadir, reducing staffing by 27,200, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. U.S. ad spending fell 12.8 percent in 2009, according to Publicis Groupe’s Zenith Media; worldwide spending dropped 9.6 percent.

    Publicis acquires Razorfish from Microsoft and edges out Interpublic to become the world’s third-largest agency company, behind WPP and Omnicom. Razorfish is now folded into Publicis-owned Publicis Sapient.

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2010s

  • “The agency business has come back to life, with U.S. revenue jumping 7.7 percent as the domestic market led a 2010 worldwide rebound in advertising and marketing services. The standout performer: digital marketing, which accounted for 28 percent of U.S. agency revenue.”

    Omnicom CEO John Wren tells analysts: “Fundamentally, I believe that anything that’s not digital will soon be digital or soon be very, very unimportant.”

  • Omnicom undertakes an extended global review of operations with the goal to reorganize or dispose of “non-core, low-growth, low-margin businesses.”

    The cleanup continues into 2013, when Wren tells analysts: “There’s one company that hangs on that eventually we’ll rid ourselves of, but it’s not big enough for any of you to care about.” Omnicom declines to reveal the name of the unit on Wren’s hit list.

  • WPP’s Wunderman tops Agency Report’s first worldwide ranking of digital networks.

  • Publicis and Omnicom in July announce “a merger of equals” to create the world’s biggest agency company, Publicis Omnicom Group. The press release quotes Publicis CEO Maurice Levy and Omnicom’s John Wren in unison: “We look forward to co-leading the combined company and are excited about what our people can achieve together for our clients and our shareholders.”

    Dentsu Inc. buys Aegis Group for a record $4.9 billion, vaulting Japan’s biggest agency firm into a multi-region powerhouse. “Forget about adland’s big four,” Agency Report says. “It’s now the big five”—WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and Dentsu.

  • Levy and Wren call off their wedding. The press release quotes the duo: “The challenges that still remained to be overcome, in addition to the slow pace of progress, created a level of uncertainty detrimental to the interests of both groups and their employees, clients and shareholders. We have thus jointly decided to proceed along our independent paths. We, of course, remain competitors, but maintain a great respect for one another.”

    BlueFocus Communication Group makes its Agency Report debut as the world’s No. 17 agency company in the April 2014 report. It’s the first China-based agency venture to appear in the ranking.

  • Publicis buys Sapient, a global marketing and technology services company, for $3.7 billion.

    Accenture’s Accenture Interactive ranks as the world’s biggest digital agency network based on 2015 revenue.

    WPP in 2015 pours about $1 billion into acquisitions and investments, completing 52 transactions—equal to a deal a week.

  • Dentsu makes 45 acquisitions and investments in 2016, the largest number in its history, as it continues to build out Dentsu Aegis Network, its network outside Japan.

  • For the first time, digital work in 2017 accounts for more than half of all revenue for U.S. agencies from all disciplines.

    GroupM (WPP) and Dentsu top Agency Report’s first ranking of the world’s five biggest media agency groups.

    Vivendi, a French entertainment and media group, acquires Havas. Vivendi and Havas already had been connected through France’s Bollore family and its web of shareholdings.

  • Martin Sorrell resigns as WPP’s CEO following a board investigation into an allegation of personal misconduct. Sorrell denies the allegation. He jumps back into the ad business with a new venture, S4Capital, that by year end had completed two acquisitions. “The objective,” Sorrell tells Ad Age, “is to get to a base of around $300 million of revenue in a fairly short period of time.” WPP’s 2018 revenue? $20.8 billion.

    Consultancies, led by Accenture Interactive, for the first time account for five of the world’s 10 biggest agency companies in Ad Age Agency Report 2018.

  • Accenture’s Accenture Interactive buys high-profile independent agency Droga5, stepping up its creative game.

    Publicis signs $4.4 billion deal to buy data firm Epsilon, following Interpublic’s 2018 acquisition of rival Acxiom for $2.3 billion.

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