News that well known media agency personality, Gordon Patterson, had resigned from his position as VivaKi chairman and group managing director of the Starcom MediaVest Group in November last year sent the media rumour mill into overdrive. And the industry waited to hear what Patterson would do next.
He put paid to all the rumours last week with the news that he was joining Omnicom as its new business director as of this month. Patterson said the decision to resign was “difficult” and that it was made even harder by the fact that he founded Starcom in South Africa. But, he says, “it had to be done”.
“You will know that I have a reputation in the local and international market as being a leader, being fairly outspoken and inflexible on business and staff related principles. While the Publicis Groupe approach is without question successful I nevertheless felt that we were no longer aligned in our approach and thus it would be mutually beneficial if I resigned,” he said.
Patterson wasn’t the only high level agency executive to leave. Celia Collins and Eve Pennington have also resigned from the group. “In terms of the subsequent senior departures I naturally cannot comment other than to say that we shared similar values so a degree of change was unavoidable,” Patterson told The Media Online.
The big media news last year in July was the proposed $35 billion merger between global giants Omnicom and Publicis. Photographs of Publicis’ Maurice Lévy and John Wren of the Omnicom Group celebrating the marriage with champagne, Arc de Triomphe in the background, featured prominently in the global business media. Between them, these two ad conglomerates owned hundreds of agencies around the world.
But earlier this month, the companies announced the deal was off. “The challenges that still remained to be overcome, in addition to the slow pace of progress, created a level of uncertainty detrimental to the interests of both groups and their employees, clients and shareholders,” said Lévy and Wren said in a joint press release. Of course, there is still much speculation as to the real reasons, and rumours that a hostile takeover of Omnicom by Publicis could be on the cards.
All the goings-on abroad had an impact on internationally owned agencies back in South Africa. “Shortly after the announcement of the Publicis/Omnicom merger I reached out to Omnicom group to understand how they saw the merger… and to share my vision. Timing wise this goes back to August / September 2013,” Patterson explained.
Clearly, Patterson’s vision struck a chord with the Omnicom Media Group (OMG), and Patterson found a new home for his experience and talents. Meanwhile, back home, the Publicis-owned Starcom MediaVest Group was also on an acquisition drive, buying digital agency Lighthouse. It’s CEO Aaron van Schaik is now at the helm of the rebranded SMG Lighthouse.
Patterson is keenly anticipating his new position at Omnicom. “Given that it’s a new position I guess that opportunity and my contribution, energy and enthusiasm will ultimately define my role. That said I do have specific responsibilities on the Standard Bank business so I have a great platform to get involved and add value on a key account,” he says. “Is it different? Hell yes. OMG have been a key competitor of mine (three times bigger) forever and now I have an opportunity to learn from a local peer set that I never had access to. So I think learning real stuff will be new for me.”
Patterson says that unlike more established markets, the quality of leadership in South Africa “has a significant contribution to the business success”.
“As the local agencies either lose their founders/strong leaders we’ll see the true impact of globalisation. My guess will be that managers will be put in leadership positions and that this approach will not sustain given the volatility in our market. With change comes opportunity so it will come down again to talent and the ability to move quickly. As Charles Darwin said, it’s not the size nor the ferocity that determines the success of a species but its ability to change quickly,” he says.
Patterson isn’t planning on poaching previous employees at Starcom MediaVest as this would “be unfair and contrary to my ethics and principles”.
But, he says, the teams he’s met at OMG “are equally talented and I really look forward to assisting each person in realising their full potential”.
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