Yes, Universal has been in rebuild mode, but it's got just the guy to do it: Nick Brien. And he's got a solid team to work with. While there have been some key defections--most notably within its communications planning team--Universal has been quietly staffing up and is poised to once again emerge as the leader it has historically been. And IPG's new media org structure simply formalized what already has been a well-integrated media and brand agency alignment. It's no accident that of all the major media shops, Universal is the only one that still has a name tied to its progenitor, McCann.
There are good reasons for that. McCann-Erickson was innovating media long before media services were unbundled. McCann's media department was one of the first to truly invest in so-called Media Futures, long before that was a popular thing to do. It was a sponsor of MIT's fabled Media Lab back in the 1980s, when the ivy media leaguer was just getting on bases with big marketers and technology companies. In some ways, McCann was ahead of its times.
But we should confess that we have a soft spot for McCann. In fact, we consider ourselves alum. And we've got a certificate to prove it. Back in the days when we were cub media reporters, we enrolled in the agency's media training program. We did it at the behest of then McCann media chief Gordon Link, who thought it might be a good idea to give some trade journalists grounding in what media departments actually do. So we learned it from the ground up from former McCann media director Vince Rafti, who taught us the basics of media math, the philosophy behind media planning, and, perhaps most importantly, an appreciation for the fact that media is part art, part science and is always a craft. While there were no caps or gowns when we graduated, we felt like we had joined an esprit de corps, and we looked on McCann's motto--"The Truth Well Told"--with pride; it's not a bad role model for trade journalists, to boot.
While we never worked inside Initiative, we've always had a high regard for that media brand as well. It's taken us a while to figure it out, because it has evolved from what is perhaps the most disparate mixture of media services in the business: two parts Western International Media, combined with one part each of Lintas, Bozell, FCB and a few other media brands that are escaping our memory, Initiative has perhaps the richest and most diverse history of any modern media services brand. Another plus was the fact that it was headed by Alec Gerster, a life-long Grey Advertising media guy, before he made the leap to IPG.
It's taken Initiative a while to establish some identity, and to distance itself from the residual legacy of Dennis Holt's Western International Media, but we think it's finally coming into its own. There are still issues for the shop, such as its legacy for overstating its billings, but even that has gradually come into balance. More importantly, Initiative is now being seen as a place for breakthrough ideas, such as the "pod puncher" campaign it created for AOL last year that took the liability of DVRs and turned it into an asset.
In fact, the strategic thinking within Initiative has been so strong that it couldn't even contain itself, spawning a separate Consumer Experience Practice earlier this year, that itself is now part of IPG's new Marketing Futures unit.
The most intriguing part of the new IPG, is the part that's taking root within Draft FCB, which will now fuse with Initiative. It's high time that the science of direct marketing became integrated with the art of brand marketing. And all that needs to be articulated and executed via a team that understands the roles of, and relationships among, traditional media, new media platforms, and, of course, the consumer.
The new IPG has surely got some big, ongoing issues, but we don't think media is one of them.