The consolidation of the £650m Renault/Nissan media planning and buying into OMD across Europe, the Middle East and Africa not only ended Carat’s eight-year relationship with the Renault brand, but also brought the Aegis-owned network’s international winning streak in the past few years to an abrupt halt.
Observers point out that Carat’s £400m pan-European General Motors account will be another huge challenge for the network. Sources suggest the carmaker is struggling to cope with its rapidly deteriorating finances and has already put a freeze on all media spend. Carat won the GM business two years ago.
Aegis Media chief executive Jerry Buhlmann says the Renault loss “must be put into perspective” and that the business accounted for less than 1% of the group’s total revenue.
Buhlmann adds that Renault was the one unsuccessful international pitch in the last two years, after seven consecutive international pitch wins including Adidas/Reebok, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel and the retention of Disney’s European account.
“The Aegis Media turnover for the first six months of the year is up by 21% and an organic growth of 8.8% has been recorded in the first three quarters,” he adds.
However, the loss of Renault has not gone unnoticed by those who say that Carat lacks consistency and goes through “periods of brilliance followed by periods of slipping down the agency billings league”.
One rival network chief says: “The loss of Renault and the potential pain that GM will cause will lead to some soul-searching within Carat, which has been desperately trying to reinvent itself away from its traditional focus on buying by investing heavily in digital.”
Critics say that though the digital strategy has been aggressive, with the creation of Isobar and the acquisition of digital businesses across the world, there needs to be greater structural clarity if Aegis is to champion its digital expertise.
“Diffiniti is a very procurement-driven agency and therefore does not sit with Aegis’ new ‘creative’ mantra,” says one source. Diffiniti, first established in 1996, evolved from Carat Interactive in 2004 as a standalone digital agency.
However, Buhlmann responds by pointing out that 30% of Aegis’ revenue is driven by digital alone.
AAR managing director Paul Phillips says although Aegis has led with digital investment, the “right digital structure” still appears to be a challenge for it, and Buhlmann concedes that he could still review the structure to “fully drive integration”.
Buhlmann, formerly chief of Aegis Media for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is credited with growing the region’s revenues by 50% in the past three years. He was promoted in May to replace Aegis Media chief executive Mainardo de Nardis, following his sudden departure earlier this year, and is responsible for integrating Aegis’ wide range of products, services and brands.
“With the number of brands including Vizeum, Carat and all the digital assets there is a greater need for integration, and Jerry is the man to do it,” says another source.
However, question marks have been raised over the low-profile of Nigel Sharrocks, former Aegis Media UK and Ireland chief executive who now leads Northern Europe, and Carat’s UK team, led by managing director Neil Jones. Critics suggest both men have the ability to “marshal their troops” but lack the “flamboyance needed to be ringmasters at a top media agency”.
But Buhlmann suggests businesses are judged not only on their external profile but “on their organic growth”. He adds: “We are only ten years old and have proved we can create a strong and vibrant network.”