How Holding Companies Are Holding Their Own

Ad agency holding companies — Publicis, WPP, Omnicom and IPG — are always being criticized and ridiculed for being outdated in the new world of advertising. BusinessWeek takes an in-depth look at how they’re doing.

All of the big agencies are working on multiple fronts to integrate their technology teams more deeply into every aspect of the creative process. The days of digital silos inside agencies are long gone. In October, McCann Erickson moved Mark Fallows from London to New York to serve as the agency’s director of creative technology. “The mistake that a lot of traditional agencies made in the past was that they just hired some digital people, put them in the corner, and said, ‘When we have the ideas we’ll come to you and you can build some digital,’ ” says Fallows. “That’s not how it works anymore.”
In the darkest moments of 2009, with ad budgets withering away amid the global recession, the age-old despair of the creatives was at fever pitch and the din of the futurists at a near-deafening roar. But as the global ad market continues to thaw, the descendants of Madison Avenue not only are alive but are looking as well positioned as anybody to capitalize on the digital market moving forward.
“We’re getting calls all the time now from clients and new business prospects who have gone and worked with alternative, New Age agencies that are now saying we want to come back and talk to you,” says Ogilvy’s (Chairman John) Seifert. “If you believe our critics and the pundits, you’d say, ‘Well, these big dumb agencies are built on hubris; they’re in Madison Avenue towers; they lack the nimbleness to thrive,’ ” says Thom Gruhler, president of McCann Erickson, New York. “It’s the most ridiculous notion you’ve ever heard in your life.”

It’s a good story, with lots of folks quoted, and even our friend George Parker gets a mention–well, actually his Advertising Week panel guest spot gets a mention. (And I do want to know who Seifert condsiders an “alternative, New Age” agency.)
The story makes clear that the holding companies and their star agencies will not go away anytime soon, or at least they’re not going without a fight. Are they succeeding in making the changes necessary to compete in a digital world? What do you think?



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.