He Said/She Said: When Holding Companies Collide – Publicis Meets Omnicom

Bernie: We’d be remiss if we didn’t throw out a few thoughts on the recent union of Chicago agencies Leo Burnett, BBDO, DDB & Digitas as the international holding companies of  Omnicom and Publicis that joined forces to become ….what?

Conflicts? Chaos? Mass conformity? What does it all mean?


Flora: Nothing good, in my opinion.

I just had lunch with a colleague who is looking for work because of more consolidation within the networks, and the politics that went on before it all happened sounded awful.

And it’s gonna mean a lack of choices for clients. A brand may fire one agency to go with another, only to find themselves back with the same agency (or at least that same team) they fired after a game of musical chairs within these giant networks.

And imagining the politics of navigating those waters internally makes my stomach hurt. It’s sad because creatives will worry more about steering clear of politics and keeping their paycheck, than the actual work they do.

On a positive note, it’s a huge opportunity for independent, free-thinking, nimble and small agencies like OURS!


Bernie: Pretty troubling when these guys are the poster children for the state of advertising. Pretty sure “Glad Men” will not be as intriguing as it predecessor.

Sadly, I’m not surprised. For much of the 80s, holding companies kept swallowing the little agencies I worked at, and the creative product never came close to what had been created during our independence.

When Leo and Needham finally succumbed, the writing that had been on the wall became etched in stone and process won over product. Size bested substance.

So now what?

Like you said, I do think this is the time for the small independents to shine. Our nimbleness is still our greatest asset; our lack of layers gives us an edge.

As long as we don’t adopt the procedures of our bloated big brothers, we might just see a renaissance. I actually think the internet has leveled the playing field and the only thing the “megas” can do better is buy media. I think creatives at the megas will hunker down in their cubicles and create advertising that will keep them employed, but not move the masses. Keep your head down and don’t make waves. Leo’s famous “Reach for the Stars” sentiment has long ago been replaced by “Reach for Retirement.”

So even though this seems to be a dark but inevitable day for the industry, it is totally irrelevant to a vast amount of clients. So let’s target those guys. They’re more fun anyway.

Flora: Well, Bernie. It was your turn to pick the topic this week, and you picked something we pretty much are on the same page about. It’s more fun when we disagree! But there’s no way I am in support of this hot mess.

It was a dark day for our industry, for sure. Actually, The Onion added some much needed levity to the whole debacle. But once you get past the chuckling, I think most of us are shaking our heads in sad disbelief. I know you say you saw it coming, but I just can’t see how this is good for competition and the free market. Where are competing brands supposed to go if it all just becomes one giant agency?

I was going to get on my soapbox regarding the lack of competition in business these days (internet, cell phones, health insurance, banks) and how I thought monopolies were illegal…but I’ll stay on point.

Seriously, there is a lot of talent within these companies, but good luck trying to ferret it out, nurture it, grow it or get anything truly creative and innovative out of them with the layers of politics on what is now the PUBLICOM barge.

I have always preached that there are some creativity killers out there. They are cultural and psychological things that hinder creative souls and their process. When that happens, the process is stunted and difficult, and the work is dull and safe. I list these killers as habit, noise and fray, negativity and fear. I wrote an article on DM News about this.

I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that this new bottom line barge will make people afraid, and fear is the worst thing for a creative culture. I have a feeling that the good talent will jump barge, as well they should.

It’ll be fun being part of the “smaller is better for bigger ideas” renaissance.


Bernie: Well I was certainly hoping we’d see eye to eye on this one. Actually if we hadn’t, I would have sensed that long ago and, well…ask Lazare about my MO.

Anyways, it was just too topical to pass up and seeing that your thoughts on the merger are all over the web, we certainly don’t have to spend more time on this subject for our lonely little blog.

In the end, the head clowns in the clown car will now be richer than they were a week ago; the worker ants will scurry to the beat of survival instead of the beat of their hearts, and the advertising biz as we all knew it will change once again.

Down the road there will be a day when the advertising biz changes for the better. Just not today.



At Jacobs Agency we like to keep it simple.
We’re more objective-based than knee-jerk based. We deliver results not rhetoric.
Our clients seem to like that better. Results seem to spend better.
Yeah, it’s a pretty tangled marketing web out there. And we’re just the guys to untangle it.


  1. Come on, guys. The best position you can take is that tired horse of “small and nimble v. huge and bureaucratic?” It’s been ridden to death. I was expecting more from you on this one.

    This merger means nothing in the real world except on Wall St and we all know that is largely a fictitious place. The big got bigger. So what? Much like GM, IBM or any other industry giant, they grow until they explode (or implode)into something that is a reshaped version of what their bloated state was. But they don’t surrender much ground to the little guys.

    Great work has never been about the size of the firm producing it, big or small. If your personality can’t withstand the politics of big business, you wouldn’t be happy at PubOmniAd Whatever Inc. But I must say, some of the most creative minds and most brilliant thinkers I know in the industry still walk the halls of giant firms while equally talented folks are miserable at smaller firms where they feel they are wasting their time on stifling assignments or working for management that lacks the ability to achieve greatness on any order.

    Bernie, you’ve proven you can do the same caliber of work regardless of the size of the fish tank. The fact that you are more comfortable swimming in a smaller tank does not have any bearing on your ability to deliver the goods.

    The whole concept of “work with us because we are smaller and will give you more attention, passion, innovation, etc.” is fairly disingenuous. Admit it, like a typical 12-year old, the thing most small agencies want is to be sixteen. Every sixteen year-old wants to be 21. If that weren’t true, why do firms get so ecstatic when they take down a big piece of business and then keep chasing bigger business? Because, if you aren’t growing, you’re dying.

    While some smaller shops want to believe this merger is a great opportunity for them to differentiate themselves because the big boys have put even more distance between them, I don’t see it that way. As Ray Kroc was fond of saying, “McDonald’s sells billions and billions of hamburgers – one at a time.”

    The entire Ad Industry is built on personal relationships and trust. I trust Bernie Pitzel wherever he chooses to work. Awards, size of billings, client rosters, numbers of employees, etc., don’t mean a hill of beans without one-to-one trust. If you want to work on better assignments, gain the personal trust of someone responsible for assigning the work. Like people themselves, trust can be found in firms of all different sizes.

    • James, Were you always so thoughtful and insightful when we worked together? I liked working with you but that’s just because I thought you were cute.

      I couldn’t agree more with you. And I don’t want to brag but I am living proof of your trust point. I have clients that have me followed me agency after agency, my own biz after my own biz. Big or small.

      The relationship we forged didn’t matter if I was at FCB or B A Romani or out on my own. They counted on me. And apparently my work showed my appreciation of their loyalty.

      Relationships have always been key.

      So I’ll give you that one.


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