- Ongoing rough financial and industry waters for agency holding companies WPP and Publicis puts their future as independent businesses in jeopardy, said Jerome Bodin, an analyst at Nexis, in a research report analyzed by Campaign.
- Bodin said a merger is one possibility, similar to what Omnicom and Publicis attempted in 2014. But a more likely scenario is acquisitions by a consulting or IT services company like Accenture or Capgemini. That option is more likely than a buy from a big tech company like Google or Oracle, according to Bodin.
- Bodin's report said all of the big five agency holding groups — WPP, Publicis Groupe, Omnicom, Interpublic and Dentsu — are acquisition targets, with Accenture a "credible buyer" for any of them. Publicis and WPP are trading at all-time lows on the stock market, and the value gap between Accenture and ad holding companies has never been larger, giving the consultancy the necessary financial clout to make an acquisition.
Consultancies have, in recent years, been making serious inroads into the marketing services space traditionally dominated by the large holding companies as agencies have struggled to achieve digital transformation and also have been bogged down in transparency issues. Accenture, in particular, has led this competitive charge with its acquisition strategy, snapping up more than a dozen companies with specialties ranging from creative and design, data services, analytics, e-commerce and more.
But Accenture potentially buying one of the major ad holding companies — Publicis is one of the largest and WPP is the largest in the world — would signal the end of an era in advertising. Consultancies, while valued for their technological expertise in areas like data, are often viewed as not having the creative finesse of ad agencies, which sometimes have decades of experience crafting attention-grabbing, emotionally resonant campaigns. An acquisition of a WPP or a Publicis would round out Accenture's — or any consultancy's — skillset in these critical areas, on top of bringing on board some major brand clients.
What exactly an acquisition would look like and when it would happen is unclear, and a measured perspective is key considering that all of this stems from one analyst's read on the pulse of the industry. But as WPP, Publicis and their kin continue to struggle with growth, more strategic plays are a possibility that's now on the table.