3 PR Tips When Your Company is Part of Huge Merger

Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy (left) and John Wren, head of Omnicom Group, have announced plan to merge. Image: Courtesy of USA Today.

Madison Avenue is getting a makeover. Publicis Groupe and Omnicom Groupe are merging to form the world’s largest advertising holding company, with annual revenue of about $23 billion. But where was PR?

The deal trims the former “Big Four” agency holding companies to three, and must pass regulatory muster in both the U.S. and Europe, where it might trigger skeptical scrutiny. The combined company will be called Publicis Omnicom Group and be jointly led by Omnicom CEO John Wren and Publicis CEO Maurice Levy as co-chief executives.

The deal may likely spark a new M&A wave in the media markets, as both ad agencies and PR shops look to gain more scale and compete head-on with digital-based companies, such as Amazon and Apple, and social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter. (This morning it was announced Padilla Spear Beardsley is acquiring CRT/tanaka in a deal that will reportedly make the two PR agencies one of the top independent PR companies in the U.S.)

Not mentioned in most media reports was the fact that Omnicom Group Inc., based in New York, owns the public-relations agencies Fleishman-Hillard, Ketchum and Porter Novelli, in addition to ad giants BBDO Worldwide and DDB Worldwide Communications Group, among other ad agencies. Paris-based Publicis Groupe SA owns PR shops MSLGroup and Kekst and Company, as well as its namesake agency, Burnett Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi and DigitasLBi.

That could be significant for PR professionals, noted Peppercomm co-founder (and PR News Advistory Board member) Steve Cody in a blog post this morning.

“PR wasn’t even an afterthought,” Cody said. “So, note to my peers at such legendary PR firms as MSL, FH, Ketchum and their various conflict brands: not only do you need to start thinking about your career paths, you should also start wondering about the importance of PR within your new, super-duper holding company.”

With that and more in mind, here are a few lessons for PR managers and director to consider upon merging, compliments of Tim Reeves, a principal at a&g, whose previous agency Neiman, was acquired earlier this year by a&g.  

Act With Sincerity: Both parties need to have a genuine desire to merge and appreciate the differences between the two practices.

Educate the New Team: PR and advertising are different crafts that need to be explained in a way “that’s not paternalistic and is accepting of the fact that there needs to be two-way learning,” Reeves said.

Acknowledge the Changes: After a merger, be sure and tell clients and prospects about the new offering (whether it’s advertising or PR), but don’t upsell. “One of the best ways to inject a poison into your relationship with a client is to do a deal and then make them feel like your whole life work is now to have them buy the extra services you now offer,” Reeves said.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1


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