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If you doubted there's more change ahead in the media buying business, ask Interpublic Group of Cos. It's just bought itself an insurance policy: Western International Media, the biggest of the independent media buying services. And Western, likewise, is seeking the same safety under the Interpublic umbrella.

Safety from what?

Independents such as Western have successfully stormed the ramparts of the media buying business in the U.S., forcing the agency world to give ground. Why now for this marriage of Hatfields and McCoys?

On Western's part, it's the need of the big to get bigger and strike first against the day Saatchi & Saatchi's Zenith or some other new competitor gets off the ground in the U.S.

It would seem that Interpublic's dollars can help Western expand its still-small presence outside the U.S., and that can make a big difference in keeping some important accounts. Ask Western's fellow media independent, DeWitt Media, which watched its Reebok media buying assignment move to Leo Burnett Co. last week because Burnett could offer global resources.

There are risks, of course, and some of those directly affect advertisers.

Can Interpublic meld an "independent" Western into its holding company fabric without changing the "take-on-the-agencies" business culture that helped fuel Western's growth and provide competition that drove down media buying costs?

Can it harmonize the competing Interpublic media operations' ambitions? For example, who gets scarce dollars for expansion?

Of course, Interpublic long ago showed it could harness competing ad agencies into a business powerhouse. And it has been astute in buying up companies that keep it moving in the same direction as advertisers. It has a firm foothold in infomercial-making, for example.

Handled right, Western will be just another reason advertisers can find for doing business at Interpublic, and we can all look for countermoves as other agency holding companies opt for deals involving media independents here and abroad.

But Interpublic will have been first to pull it off in the United States.


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