Media Q & A

John Dooner knows clout. He delivered it to McCann-Erickson when he served as CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.’ largest agency network from 1994 until March 2000. Under his watch, McCann tripled its billings. In 1997, Dooner formed McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, a “marketing communications” management company with $20 billion in worldwide billings.

New Year’s Day will mark the end of Dooner’s first year as CEO of IPG. When the 52-year-old former media planner took over the spot from Phil Geier, he again had clout in mind—this time aiming to increase what was already the highest clout quotient in the media-agency world. In June, IPG acquired True North Communications for $2.1 billion. And in July, Dooner completed a sweeping reorganization of the advertising holding company and its worldwide media operation.

As part of the realignment, Initiative Media Worldwide absorbed True North’s FCB Media and its $5 billion in billings. Initiative also became the media buying hub for IPG’s Partnership group, which includes Deutsch, Lowe and other sibling shops. Initiative’s global bill ings rose to $21 billion, pushing the former Western International Media (purchased by IPG in 1994) to the top spot on the list of global media networks. Universal McCann, the unbundled arm of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, is eighth in the world with nearly $13 billion. In September, Dooner’s IPG launched Magna Global, the first worldwide media-negotiation company. Representing all of IPG’s worldwide media clients, Magna accounts for $40 billion in billings.

ADWEEK: Let’s start with the big picture. What is the role and relative importance of media to advertising today?

DOONER: Nobody denies the migration from advertising solutions to marketing-communications solutions. The role of media [in that process] is that complexity, diversity and fragmentation have created more of a need for sophisticated tools in the strategic-planning area. And many of those tools can be adapted to broader marketing communications. We could take all the marketing-communications tools—whether event marketing, public relations or promotions— and turn them into media. I think that is a very natural evolution.

ADWEEK: Yet it always comes down to, “How cheap can we buy?”

DOONER: The cost of entry is optimal efficiency, so you’ve got to start there. The issue is that you can’t stop there. You really must also demonstrate an appreciation for targeting.

ADWEEK: How have the events of the past year affected your plans for your media operations?

DOONER: Certainly with the tragedy of 9/11 and an economy that “only” took 10 months to be declared a recession, there is a need to re-examine your offerings to make sure they’re competitively superior. And there is an unpleasant impact on people, on the size of your company. But what we have gone through in the past dozen months should be an opportunity to come out even stronger. For whatever reason—maybe it’s a law of life—that is often the case.

ADWEEK: This year, one of the first real signs that we were in for tough times was the upfront, when we had a buyer’s market for the first time in a decade. What do you think upfront 2002 will bring?

DOONER: The optimists say the second half will bring a reasonable recovery, and the pessimists say it’s too dimly lit to even guess. Given its timing in May, the upfront is going to give us a good sense of when we’ll come out of recession.

ADWEEK: You have been a vocal proponent of keeping media planning at the brand agencies and not attaching it to buying entities.

DOONER: Yes, that comes from 30 years as a practitioner, 10 of them as a strategic media planner. I don’t think anyone denies that media, and strategic insight in particular, is a fundamental part of any great advertising or marketing-communications program. If that’s the case, you cannot therefore say that separating strategic media planning from the process of creating advertising will result in better advertising programs. However, for a variety of reasons, you can say that you need to be set up in a manner that ensures the vesting of media. As we said earlier, the reality is, at the end of the day, they want a price. Therefore, it is important to provide your clients with buying ability that is second to none—and that means clout.

ADWEEK: So that’s why you’ve set up Initiative as a buying resource for the brand agencies in its group?

DOONER: Initiative has a very sophisticated strategic media planning process. It has significant tools and marketing-communications planning here and around the world. I think it has a high buying profile because that’s part of its history. But it also has multinational clients that are both planning and buying.

ADWEEK: And the idea of aligning Initiative with its sister Partnership agencies—how’s that moving along?

DOONER: The idea was to link where appropriate, to get greater consolidations. So it’s more the individual IPG agencies leaning toward Initiative than the other way around. It’s not our organizing principle to create greater efficiency for Interpublic or Initiative, but rather to ensure that every client has maximum advantage.

ADWEEK: Let’s talk about your second network, Universal McCann. Until now, it has really been McCann-Erickson’s unbundled media department, and it has done quite well in that role. Does its mission include pursuing direct media accounts or business unaffiliated with McCann or other IPG shops?

DOONER: Universal’s mission includes independent media clients and, in fact, they have them. They took Nestlé and a couple of others—they manage media for multiple agencies in different countries. It is not in their charter, nor would I encourage them to do what Western essentially did in terms of representing local agencies. That’s a unique thing that Initiative has in its history.

ADWEEK: OK, now let’s talk about the biggest weapon in your media arsenal. Magna Global—it arose out of a competitive challenge you had in Europe, and you saw in that the seeds of a much bigger idea?

DOONER: Yes. In Germany, where historically we have kept our brands apart, we looked at the marketplace and saw a different way to ensure that our clients got the very best in efficiency. Magna will be slightly different depending upon the nature of the country, its competition and the way that media buying is facilitated in that market. So Magna [in the U.S.] is slightly different from what we did in Germany, and basically its intention is to negotiate a better aggregate rate than the buying agencies could do individually.

ADWEEK: How would you respond to rivals who say that the individual needs of the clients aren’t being met because the buyers are locked into whatever Magna has negotiated?

DOONER: Let’s say we have one client that is going to be in golf, and it will spend $15 million. Let’s say another one of our clients will also be in golf but will spend $2 million. So both clients are going in with $17 million. Now, again, this is something new, and it has to be really examined in terms of bringing clients efficiency and clout and, hopefully, programming [opportunities]. But if you have common sense and realize that networks are not bought like you buy things in a supermarket, you will be able to demonstrate that everybody wins.

ADWEEK: Are you satisfied with the media operation you’ve built and its ability to compete with those of peers such as Omnicom and WPP?

DOONER: I don’t look at it as an IPG thing, I look at it as having strong component parts. Your biggest competition is yourself. You have to understand your competitive set, but you have to be driven by what you believe is right. There’ll always be a need to improve, but we’re in a good position. I’m comfortable where we are with our basic proposition, our agencies and how they work. Not that they’ll ever hear me say that in a meeting!

ADWEEK: As a former media planner, what advice would you give to a young planner starting out today?

DOONER: I would encourage them to really focus on the importance that strategic media planning has in building brands, and the roles brands play in life. The more you do that, the more creative and exciting your plans will be, and a byproduct of that is better work. That will serve the individual’s purpose, as well as the agencies and clients. And you know that comes from my heart, because that’s what I did.