When cutting-edge means just plain cutting

Ive seen the future, improbably enough through a rather turgid press release from Publicis Groupe that floated across my desk this week.

I’ve seen the future, improbably enough through a rather turgid press release from Publicis Groupe that floated across my desk this week.

I must say it makes pretty grim reading, this future. It’s about the comprehensive restructure of Publicis’ principal network, Leo Burnett, and it’s full of unpromising phraseology such as “open architectural model” “right time solutions”, “cutting edge” and “ideation”.

But persist a little and you will be rewarded. In between the lines is an insight into not only  the agency of the future, but why – not altogether evident at the time – Bruce Haines, group chairman and chief executive of the London branch of Burnett, might have felt he wanted no part of it.

Lumbering full-service behemoths like Burnett have long suffered from some increasingly crippling disadvantages. They may be global, they may be the bellwether brand in the network, but they no longer offer, by any stretch of the imagination, the full service they pretend to. Looking back, the worst strategic mistake they made was to allow themselves to become semi-detached from media buying and planning. Signs of stress, brought about by the  dissociation of creativity and media planning, were already apparent in the pre-internet world ruled by terrestrial television. But these were not in themselves enough to bring about a change in the mould (which was essentially formed 60 years ago in the USA). It is digital that has done for the traditional agency network model. The action, and the money, have moved elsewhere, leaving the networks floundering. As a result, their global establishments are becoming increasingly difficult to justify financially.

And so to the new Burnett ‘open architecture’ model with its cutting-edge right-time solutions.

Old wine in new bottles?
The aim is to reinvent a central services organisation, where resources are appropriately deployed rather than merely accumulated in separate silos. Barriers between Burnett, Starcom MediaVest and Digitas are to be broken down. Burnett will be at the centre of this collaborative model, operating as a kind of ‘insight factory,’ aided by its ‘marketing arm’ Arc (separate in name, if nothing else, but for how much longer?).

It’s a bold declaration of intent and the initiative even has its own management board, led by chairman and chief executive of Leo Burnett Worldwide Tom Bernardin, to ensure the intent becomes action. But will it?

We’ve heard this kind of stuff about integration before, though admittedly not on this scale. I’m in no doubt of the genuinely felt need for a radical overhaul of the agency model. What I rather suspect, though, is that this shake-up will actually turn out to be a shake-down: it will inspire a number of long-overdue organisational cost cuts. In a sense, Bruce Haines has already become one of the collateral casualties.

Cuts by another name
Despite all the high falutin’ talk of a new model this is retrenchment by another name. An attempt, sensible enough in the circumstances, to resize the agency coat according to its reduced cloth.

We can look forward to a lot more of this sort of thing in all the major ‘full service’ networks. There are indications of it in the recent Draft/FCB merger and it seems likely that Interpublic Group will soon be applying similar ‘global vision’ to the problem of Lowe.

Something of the sort, admittedly at a local London level, is already happening at Publicis sibling network Saatchi & Saatchi. Gone, or almost gone, are some of the extravagant excrescences of the Lee Daley era, such as the brand entertainment division Gum. Expect more cuts, and a stripped-down structure, in the near future.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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