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The business of marketing is none of your business

Following the union of Publicis and Omnicom’s, Jon Silk, head of European digital strategy at Bite, shares five top tips to merger success

When Publicis and Omnicom’s proposed merger hit the headlines, it made me reflect on the last six month at Next 15 – the holding company that owns Bite, Text 100, Lexis, Beyond, and a number of others. You see, just over six months ago we merged with Bourne, a Glasgow-based digital marketing agency, to create a new-look Bite. (Because I’m a good columnist I am going to refrain from plugging my own employer right now.)

This new-look Bite only emerged with just over 300 people, so it wasn’t quite on the scale of their 130,000-employee deal. But we still had some challenges that we learnt from and used to plan for the coming year. And now, because I’m positive the head honchos at Publicis and Omnicom read B2B Marketing from back to front (in that order), I’m going to share those learnings here. You never know, John and Maurice, it might be of some help.

1. What you’re about to do will not be easy
Merging the operations of two companies the size of Bourne and Bite was really hard. Your merger will be far, far harder. Please do not think that the announcement and fancy new logo is the end of the story. You have years of pain and head scratching ahead of you. Just make sure you have one single vision, and you stick to it no matter how many people are shouting at you.

2. Redouble your focus on clients
The only thing they care about is the work you’re doing for them. Your internal politics, financial model, real-estate consolidation and senior management changes are of no interest to them. If they say they’re interested, they are lying just to make you feel better about it. If you get distracted by your own business and forget theirs, you’re in deep trouble. The business model will follow if you keep your clients.

3. Mix stuff up quickly
The natural gravitational pull of a merger is for the companies to remain the same, doing what they were doing before. Shake things up quickly with some office moves, quick decisions on who does what, speedy external comms, and a massive pissup where you get as many people together as possible. If you’re concerned about the bar bill I know a few decent pubs in Hammersmith that’ll give you a discount on a booking for over 100,000 people.

4. Don’t believe your own hype
Everyone might be calling you the ‘world’s biggest ad agency’ or using the word ‘behemoth’ a lot, but that doesn’t mean you’ve won. In fact, we all know that the biggest clients can sometimes be the slowest and toughest ones, while the startups have all the fun. Do your best to keep the startup mentality alive and well in your sub-brands. Make sure people are still enjoying themselves and feel that they’re part of a movement, rather than a machine.

5. Visit every office in the first year of the merger
Speak to every single person. I don’t care if you have lots of important meetings, lunches or interviews to have in the wake of this news. You have a family of 130,000 now, and you’re the parents. They need leadership, and that leadership must be person-to-person. Go and look people in the eyes and tell them how things are going to be. That will go a long way. Then take them to Hammersmith for that beer.