Is Adland In Epic Fail Mode?

It’s been a hyper-busy week for Interpublic’s MullenLowe Group. It announced the purchase of PR firm—make that strategic communications agency—Salt, on Thursday. Salt is being rebranded MullenLow Salt and will become part of the agency’s so-called “hyperbundled” offering of services, primarily affecting the UK and Asia regions. 

The Salt deal followed the agency’s announcement earlier in the week that it had created a new entity to service the Japan market called (appropriately enough) MullenLowe Group Japan with an integrated creative, digital and media offering. Presumably, MLG Salt will now also be accessible to clients in the Japan market.

Both moves are intended to give the agency network a needed boost.

There’s been a lot of speculation recently about the future prospects of the agency business, given fragmentation issues, competition from big consultants and skeptical clients pressing agencies and holding companies hard about exactly what they’re getting for all the money they’re spending with them.



Well-regarded advertising analyst Brian Wieser downgraded the advertising sector this week, citing a whole host of issues he believes the industry faces.  

And there seems to be mounting pressure on MullenLowe Globlal CEO Alex Leikikh to make things happen at the agency network. IPG merged Mullen and Lowe (long a problem child at the holding company) about two years ago.

MullenLowe was the subject of a recent Campaign article entitled “Can MullenLowe Leave The Last-Chance Saloon?” Despite the saloon metaphor, the piece was a pretty sober assessment of the challenges that confront the agency. “Few doubt that Lowe is drinking in the last-chance saloon and that IPG, its patience almost exhausted, will merge it into another of its operating groups should the Mullen link-up fail,” the article concluded.

That seems to be a developing trend among the holding companies--consolidating assets. WPP recently announced several consolidation moves including merging Maxus into MEC and POSSIBLE into Wunderman. Publicis merged Mediavest and Spark last year and recently rebranded the entity Spark Foundry.

All well and good, I guess. Consolidation will probably help reduce expenses. WPP Chief Martin Sorrell believes it will also help foster a more collaborative environment that will benefit clients.

But it’s all a big juggling act. Holding companies are consolidating assets but at the same time continue to acquire new ones with M&A programs that cost hundreds of millions annually—a reflection of the need to import new capabilities as the marketing ecosystem becomes increasingly complex.

Yeah, it’s a complicated business. Enough to make your head spin. I think I need a drink to ponder it a bit more. Where’s the nearest saloon?

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