New style agency hiring

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A small but growing number of major marketers--from DaimlerChrysler AG to Coca-Cola Co.--are changing the way they buy the advertising and marketing services they need, leapfrogging individual agencies and striking arrangements with big holding companies such as Interpublic Group of Cos., WPP Group or Omnicom Group. It's a smart move for both sides.

Real-world experience will show if there are real benefits from these broad link-ups. Ultimately, marketers will decide-not the holding companies or their advocates.

It's no surprise marketers with operations around the globe are receptive to dealing at the Omnicom or Interpublic or WPP group level rather than hiring individual parts of their empires. Anything that promises economies or efficiencies-to say nothing of better and smarter service-has to get close scrutiny from cost-sensitive marketing executives.

And if holding company executives are adroit in acquiring and maintaining agencies and marketing services units that 1) offer a variety of top-flight services and 2) are adept at working with one another, marketers can shop without ever leaving the holding company confines. Burger King, at the end of the road with Lowe Lintas & Partners, can find its next partner elsewhere inside Interpublic Group of Cos. with McCann-Erickson Worldwide (and perhaps other IPG units). Is Ford Motor Co. now a WPP Group client, rather than a J. Walter Thompson Co. or Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide client? That's certainly how it looks.

If the recent handful of alliances is sweet vindication for the architects of the current holding companies, it hardly means it's inevitable they will rule the earth. There is the little matter of delivering on their promised benefits. But the marketing world, for now, is moving in their direction.

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