Futures Group Has None: Interpublic Dismembers Digital Ventures Unit

Bant Breen Interpublic's Futures Marketing Group, the unit formed more than a year ago to oversee the holding company's investments in emerging media, including stakes in companies ranging from Facebook to Spot Runner, appears to be part of Madison Avenue's past. Interpublic has quietly begun reassigning the group's responsibilities to other areas of the corporation, as part of a broader restructuring of its media and digital marketing assets.

As part of the reorganization, digital media wunderkind Bant Breen, has been reassigned from president of the futures group to director of Interpublic's vaunted Emerging Media Lab. Insiders, however, say Breen, who led the company's investments in Facebook, Spot Runner and other promising new media ventures, is poised to take another role within the holding company.

The changes, like others that have become apparent over the past week, are believed to have been orchestrated largely by Nick Brien, who this week was named head of all of Interpublic's media operations, and the person in charge of its new corporate-level media holding company, Mediabrands.

The shifts are the latest installment in an ongoing saga of Interpublic's media operations that began several years ago with the formation and subsequent implosion of the Interpublic Media Group, and the hiring of Brien, a highly regarded Publicis Groupe executive who initially was named CEO of Universal McCann, but which many insiders and outsiders saw as destined to take control of all the company's media operations.

That progression seemed a fait accompli earlier this year when Brien was named to lead an Interpublic media task force to explore how its media units could be reorganized to improve back-end efficiencies, as well as the front-end quality of its media services.

Interpublic executives maintain that Brien's ascension and the formation of Media Brands will not lead to a consolidation of branded media units such as Universal McCann and Initiative, but Brien as wasted little time realigning the pieces on Interpublic's media chess board.

Early this week, it became apparent that Interpublic had quietly reorganized its industry forecasting and analysis operations, moving long-time McCann executive Bob Coen into Magna. On Wednesday, Interpublic announced the formation of Mediabrands, and the recruitment of Matt Seiler, president-CEO of Omnicom's PHD unit, to succeed Brien as CEO of Universal McCann.

While Interpublic has not formally announced the restructuring of The Futures Marketing Group, Online Media Daily has confirmed that most, if not all of its responsibilities have been shifted either to Interpublic's media operating units, or back to its corporate management team.

Breen's reassignment to the Emerging Media Lab, one of the assets that had been overseen by the futures group, is also seen as a transition to something else. Emerging Media Lab director Lori Schwartz, continues to oversee the Los Angeles-based testing facility, which Interpublic has said might also be expanded to other key markets - potentially New York and London.

The futures group also had oversight of both mobile marketing agency Ansible and search marketing shop Reprise Media, both of which are now seen as free-standing operations that can operate autonomously.

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