AdForum Worldwide Summit: A surprise visit from John Wren, Omnicom CEO

Montage CEO 2

Day 5 was quite spectacular as our first meeting was a surprise — John Wren, CEO of Omnicom. The AdForum Worldwide Summit Forum has not seen him for a few years but he accepted the invitation to join and give us an update on the Publicis Omnicom merger.

Many reasons

He confirmed that the many reasons for the merger include finding efficiencies in financial and technological areas, and that the focus is on the corporate side of the transaction, not on the individual agency brands. None of the agency brands in both groups will be merged.

The newly merged group (and it will still take about 8-12 months to finalise in all areas) will continue to do acquisitions in order to ensure that it has every discipline in place.

The group will continue to provide clarity to employees and clients regarding Newco, the new company that will ultimately be formed once Publicis and Omnicom finally merge. It will have to yield good results for shareholders.

And, in the interim, the Omnicom group still has its fiduciary duties to its current shareholders, as does Publicis.


Andrew Robertson, worldwide CEO of BBDO, then spent time with us and explained that the world does not need more content as there are already six billion hours of content on YouTube, and it will take us 1700 years to watch it all. He showed us some wonderful case studies from all around the BBDO network including the following brands:

  • La
  • Doritos – Mexican (mariachi) band
  • Smart Fortwo – car
  • Snickers
  • Guinness – ad for the disabled

All of these have already achieved major successes in their respective countries.

Publicis Omnicom merger

We then moved on to the final discussion regarding the Publicis Omnicom merger. This time we heard from Miles Nadal of MDC (Crispin Porter, 72 and Sunny etc) and Maurice Levy, CEO of the Publicis Groupe.

MDC commented that it will continue with its own acquisition trail and does not see any real impact on its group from the POG merger — although there might be opportunities.

Levy provided a very interesting new viewpoint on the merger and, as always, talked about the future and big data, rather than dwelling on the past. Levy proved to us that this merger is very much about being ahead of the curve and being able to meet the needs of a changing world. And the impact of external consulting companies, other than agencies.

Vertic and LinkedIn

Our final stops of the day were at the LinkedIn offices in the Empire State Building and with a digital agency called Vertic.

Vertic showed us two case studies around renewable energy and Office 365. In both cases, groups of LinkedIn members were targeted according to demographics, profiles etc, with astonishing results. It showed us how it can calculate a business case on a global scale through leveraging LinkedIn data; this is the future world. It would love to be paid on ROI but procurement is not ready for this concept just yet.

Regarding LinkedIn itself, it acknowledged that most marketers have not embraced what LinkedIn can do but that awareness campaigns are in play to change this.

Saying goodbye

And so after a final discussion and lunch, another AdForum Summit was over.  Saying goodbye to real friends is not easy as we share many experiences over a short space of time. We all felt that this was probably our best AdForum Summit yet, with lots of content(!) and outputs to think about.

AdForum Worldwide Summit: IPG agencies in Africa doing great — Michael Roth

NEW YORK CITY: Well, by now, the consultants are all becoming slightly weary — after three days of non-stop agency visits and 15 hours of working including late-evening presentations. But we were all up and ready once again early on Thursday morning, 10 October 2013, for another full day of AdForum Worldwide Summit.

adforumGeometry Global

Big excitement was a visit to Geometry Global, the new shopper marketing/precision activation agency formed by Ogilvy from a number of subsidiary agencies that have been in place.

The preparation that the Geometry people demonstrated through their presentation was inspiring for us all, as we looked at case studies from Latin America, Asia, Europe, Africa and North America; these were “live” case studies so we also had the experience. And a delicious breakfast.

The people of Geometry are hard-working and humble — a pleasure to be around and I am delighted that it has also opened up in Johannesburg — I am absolutely certain that it will be highly successful.


We then moved on to Havas at its new offices at 200 Hudson, and learned about its “Change Faster” mantra, along with its commitment to social media and digital, as well as social responsibility and business.

It has put creative, media and digital all in one place, starting in Paris and now in New York; this philosophy will be rolled out everywhere in the Havas world.

As always, it was a highly creative and collaborative experience, with a fascinating lunch preceded by a number of speed dating sessions around the agency. Havas’s open policy really works.


We then met with Michael Roth of IPG. He is always good news in terms of his overview of the industry and his agencies, and believes that, while there is confusion in the market place due to the economic conditions still not being completely recovered, along with the mega-merger of Omnicom and Publicis, there is opportunity for IPG.

He summarised the state of his agency networks very succinctly – commenting on how great two of the IPG agencies in Africa are – along with the various successes in other parts of the world.

Jack Morton

We then met with Jack Morton , a shopper marketing agency owned by IPG since 1998 but started in 1939. This is a very stable agency network which has only had three CEOs since it opened its doors all those years ago.

A very refreshing presentation and an interesting business that would certainly be very welcome in South Africa.


The final agency of the day was iCrossing, which we met last year. A digital agency of 900 people, it identifies itself as moment makers who build connected brands one moment at a time.

We learned a lot today about the consumer purchase decisions and the consumer purchase journey. The consumer data that is now available in this area is making it much easier for agencies to be precise in their communication, and we see this as a growing area of business for all client companies where consumer behaviour measurement is critical.

The iCrossing team showed us case studies for PNC bank (the virtual wallet) and Hampton Inns (a moment that was videoed with a 3.5-minute clip which is now online and is watched – to the end – each time).

And so the day ended with all of the agencies we have met this week joining the AdForum consultants for dinner at a New York restaurant. Very social and lots of fun to have everyone together.

AdForum Worldwide Summit: Lots planned for Africa


NEW YORK CITY: So by Day 3 of the AdForum Worldwide Summit, normally there have been one or two agency presentations that have not lived up to our expectations as consultants but, this year, the standard has been extremely high and very competitive.

In general, the US agencies believe that the economy is improving and that business is picking up — they see this in the quantity of new work that is being commissioned by clients.

Confidential and objective

I think it is also important to add, from the IAS perspective, that we do not share any of the confidential information that we are presented with during this important week. As consultants, we are privy to a great deal of information from both agencies and clients, and our value is being objective and able to assist both parties.

The notes that I am sharing in this daily blog are really a summary of observations or of any important comments made during the course of the day.

Day 3 of the summit always includes an hour or two of rest in the afternoon, which is always very welcome after two consecutive 14-hour days of non-stop meetings until 10pm most nights.

Critical Mass

On Wednesday morning, 9 October 2013, we met with Critical Mass, a digital agency born in Canada and now with 700 employees in US, UK, Hong Kong and South America, as well as Calgary, Canada. Led by a very impressive woman CEO, the agency shared its focus with us, which is delivering cumulative customer experiences for clients.

An excellent presentation, very informative and a great start to our day. Some interesting case studies: Nissan — Usain Bolt; Clorox — Green Works; and the adidas — make it mine campaign at

McCann Group

We moved on to the McCann Group, whose network includes 23 000 staff members across many countries. McCann works hard at making sure that it has a global network of agencies with at least 65% local business; the model is not perfect yet – it is work in progress.

Some magnificent creative work which has won major awards this year at every major competition and for which it is justifiably proud.

A lot is planned for the Africa continent, so watch this space.

Publicis Worldwide

We met briefly with the brand new Publicis Worldwide CEO, Arthur Sadoun, after lunch. He shared with us his early thoughts on the positioning of the Publicis brand in the Publicis/Omnicom Group.

Sapient Nitro

After a two-hour break, we met with Sapient Nitro, which meets with us as consultants each year at AdForum and always has a great deal of news to share.

Now numbering 10 000 people with offices in many parts of the world, we are hoping that South Africa will be next on its list of countries — and certainly, if business warrants it and clients need it, I am told that an office can be opened in a week.

Sapient Nitro talked to us about its culture, philosophy and, most importantly, the drive to attract the greatest talent. From a business growth perspective, it is looking at double-digit growth this year.

Day 2 of the AdForum Worldwide Summit : Publicis Omnicom merger “fatally flawed” — Sorrel

by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell)

Day 2 of the AdForum Worldwide Summit, Tuesday, 9 October 2013, started off with a taped message from Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP in response to key questions we were asking regarding the WPP group, as well as the potential impact of the Publicis Omnicom Group merger. Sir Martin refers to it as POG — which, of course, is funny and interesting at the same time.


WPP sees the need for more scientific skills within the group in order to manage the future and the needs of data and technology. He also commented that business in general is much better than in 2009 but is still tough and will continue to be so for some time to come.

Regarding POG, Sir Martin believes that it is a “fatally flawed” merger, badly handled from a PR and client perspective with little consultation with staff and clients alike. It spells great opportunity for WPP.

Group M

We then moved onto Group M, the media trading group which contains the four WPP media agencies. An excellent overview of the market in general from the CEO, a discussion about “horizontality” ie harnessing group structures for the benefit of clients across countries and disciplines eg Team Detroit within WPP. Lots of discussion and questions around media and where the future lies.


Y&R was next and it has transformed itself in the past three years under the leadership of David Sable and his team, including a move to new premises — the first move in more than 90 years of being in business. A whole new energy, great traditions and experience at the top; lots of new young people.

We were shown some of the newest — and very impressive — work and some interesting new thinking about the duality of brands. One of the trends observed is that more people have access to mobile phones than to toothbrushes or toilets — makes you think!

Y&R in South Africa and Africa is, of course, very strong and the conclusion of the transaction with Native was a feature of the growth in the VML (digital ) Y&R network.

A delicious lunch on the rooftop of the agency premises with a magnificent view of Central Park rounded off that visit.

Agency compensation

A good discussion then, among the consultants only, around agency compensation and why agencies need to articulate their thoughts on what makes marketing spend different from any other spend pool for a marketer. (More on that at our next Subscriber Master Class – 10 key messages.)


We then moved on to MRY, which is a merger between Mr Youth and LBi, now owned by Publicis. With brave and creative social media work on a big scale and competing with R/GA and Razorfish, this full service digital agency believes in creating connected ideas make people’s lives better. It uses data to predict consumer behaviour and then supply the products and campaigns which will meet those new needs.


Finally, our last destination for the day was Wunderman, where we learned about emotional data along with how Wunderman views the future.

An excellent dinner with a very stimulating group of Wunderman people rounded off what was certainly a most stimulating second day of the summit.

NEW YORK CITY: Day 1 of the AdForum Worldwide Summit is always a big day, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is often the only time the consultants have seen each other in a 12-month period and there is always a lot to catch up on. For many of us, we have made real friends as a result of this summit and it always good to see friends.

Secondly, on Day 1, we have a lot of energy and spirits are high. This year is no exception, especially as we are meeting with or hearing from all five of the marketing-communications holding companies.


But Monday, 7 October 2013, it first was to MediaCom, which impressed us with its business focus and “a shared belief that everything is connected” with three excellent case studies:

  • Gillette and body grooming in Latin America
  • Nerf, a toy gun in Germany, and
  • Coca-Cola content development.

The big question with media agencies is where do they start and end, as increasingly our observation is that they are more and more involved in content. MediaCom commented that it wants to continue to collaborate and assist with content development but that the role belongs to the creative agencies. We will see.


Second up was Grey, which has experienced a remarkable renaissance under the stewardship of Jim Heekin in the past three years. A veteran of the industry, Heekin pulls no punches and has surrounded himself with a brilliant team.

It has focused on its internal culture — a long neglected area within advertising agencies traditionally — and the positive results are proving to be very worthwhile regarding client business, creative effectiveness and profitability.

We wait for Grey to re-open in Johannesburg and are assured that it will not be long before this happens. Meantime, it is chalking up successes in other areas and countries and breaking new ground from a virtual perspective.

Shopper marketing

Shopper marketing was the subject for the afternoon and we met — three speed dates — with three separate companies. The content of the presentations was rich and varied, and proved to me that we need to focus on helping our clients find suitable companies, not only agencies, which will assist them with this vital part of the marketing spectrum. Lots more to talk about here.


We met with Maxus, a media agency and part of Group M, in the late afternoon. It is a relative newcomer in the media space and the fastest-growing media agency with significant global business, taking pride in the fact that it is part of a global network of local agencies.

It had a refreshing and uncomplicated approach to media and the courage to have two global clients, S C Johnson and Barclays, attend the session and describe what it is like to work with Maxus. It would be great to have it open up in South Africa — plans are afoot.


Finally we met with Huge, a creative digital agency born in Brooklyn and now with offices in London and Shanghai, as well as six offices in the US alone. With significant clients and part of IPG, it is an agency to watch.

And, so, to bed before another full day tomorrow. Agenda below — we cannot be late for Sir Martin.

by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) 

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