The merger of PPL and Portland will lead to further consolidation

WPP’s merger of PPL and Portland provides it with a truly global platform for outdoor. But what does this mean for the industry? asks Nicole Guerretta

The announcement that PPL and Portland are about to merge has far-reaching implications for outdoor media in the UK – and not just for specialist poster-buying agencies. There are ramifications for outdoor media owners and indeed media buying agencies. In particular, for those agency groups that have yet to put in place a global, or at least a pan-European, outdoor planning and buying network to serve their clients.

In merging its existing subsidiary Portland with PPL, WPP Group has now joined Aegis, owner of Posterscope, in providing just such a service. But other outdoor players such as IPG, Omnicom Communications and Publicis Groupe have yet to address this issue. Perhaps WPP’s move will be the catalyst for change.

Certainly the picture is confusing, with some media owners using many specialists. Publicis Groupe uses three specialists: PPL handles Starcom MediaVest; Concord handles some of Zenith Optimedia’s outdoor business with Meridian (which is a joint venture with Posterscope handling the rest).

Omnicom too uses more than one specialist; OMD’s business goes through Posterscope and PHD has a joint venture, Outdoor Connection, with PPL. Whether this multiple use of specialists will persist remains to be seen, particularly as some are owned by rival media agencies.

As outdoor accounts for an ever-increasing share of media spend, this issue is bound to be pushed up their agenda.

For the outdoor media owners, which themselves have consolidated to just five main UK players (CCI, Decaux, Maiden, Primesight and Viacom), and which continue to acquire (CCI has just taken over Media Icon’s BT phone-box franchise and some of Mega Profile’s banner business), another big buying group like PPL/Portland is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it may bring some balance to a market where Posterscope has until recently been the biggest player, but on the other hand, another powerful buying shop will be looking to exercise its clout.

The PPL/Portland merger will have implications for other specialists as their relative positions in the market’s pecking order are affected. For IPM (owned by IPG); Outdoor Connection (joint venture between PPL and PHD) and Concord – the last remaining independent in the market – it will be a time for reassessment.

For some, WPP’s move could well bring opportunities to build business. In merging with Portland, PPL has obviously decided that being part of an agency group like WPP has greater benefits, such as guaranteed business from MindShare and Mediaedge:CIA.

This latest development will produce something of a challenge: there is a significant role for an independent and well-resourced specialist in a market about to be dominated by Aegis and WPP.

Nicole Guerretta is managing director of Concord


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