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Interpublic (IPG) is one of the traditional big four international marketing organisations, alongside WPP, Omnicom and Publicis. A one-time pioneer in the industry, it struggled for most of the early 2000s with challenges in different parts of its portfolio. Initially, these difficulties stemmed from a string of expensive acquisitions in 1999 and 2000: Interpublic was plagued by problems as it attempted to integrate its new purchases. Matters were made worse by a disastrous investment in UK motor-racing and accounting errors which led to repeated restatements of the group's financial results. Meanwhile, there were significant client losses within its UM and Initiative media networks as well as from core creative agencies Lowe and McCann Erickson. A shake-up of senior management in early 2003 failed to put an end to these problems, which dragged on through 2004 and most of 2005. There was a further restructuring in 2006 which led to the merger of FCB with integrated network Draft to form Draftfcb, but that network too shed several key clients. In 2009, Interpublic slipped below Publicis for the first time to become the #4 ad organisation worldwide, and for the next few years struggled with yet another decline at lead network McCann. A series of management changes across the main agencies, and the relaunch of Draftfcb under its old name of FCB seemed finally to have drawn a line under past troubles by 2014.
See chart of Interpublic's quarterly organic growth since 2016
See ranking of Leading advertising Groups Worldwide
Interpublic's long-delayed accounts for 2004 and 2005 did not make for happy reading, but they were received with something of a sigh of relief by the industry at large. Most commentators were simply relieved that the group was finally able to draw a line under the worst of its painful and drawn-out troubles. Yet there was no magic turnaround. Several of the group's agencies continued to struggle to retain existing clients and also to replace those which had already departed. The much heralded merger of Draft and FCB never really proved its worth, especially outside the US (although it has been said to be the group's most profitable business); and McCann suffered a new run of account losses between 2010 and 2012, finally stemmed by a change of CEO.
Despite these worries, the steady strengthening of the group's financial performance since 2007 shows that Interpublic's recovery is a reality. Indeed it has often outclassed its rivals since 2014 in terms of organic growth. However, Interpublic's media offering remains the weakest by far of the four major groups; and a cloud still hangs over the Lowe advertising brand, which has failed to respond lastingly to multiple injections of fresh blood over many years.
IPG encompasses an extensive collection of marketing services businesses, many of them accumulated in several sizeable acquisitions in the late 1990s. Each new acquisition brought with it further restructuring as Interpublic struggled to digest layer upon layer of new companies. In 2003, the group attempted to divide the bulk of its businesses into three groups, clustered around core agencies McCann WorldGroup, FCB and Lowe. More serious financial concerns as well as dissatisfaction among some of the acquired companies shoe-horned into unsatisfactory reporting structures put paid to that, and so a looser group structure subsequently prevailed, designed to encourage cross-cooperation between different agencies.
Troubles at Lowe and FCB led to a further restructuring in 2006. FCB, which had failed to establish a strong international presence despite years of effort, was merged with integrated network Draft to form the Draftfcb Group. Yet that business continued to be plagued by strategic missteps and a nagging reputation for dullness. Finally, a new lease of life arrived with a rebranding to the old FCB name. Meanwhile Lowe's international network was scaled down considerably, and it was repositioned as a creative hub network. Yet its profile continued to sink over the next few years, especially in the US, and it was eventually merged in 2009 with standalone agency Deutsch. Another change of heart in 2013 led to realignment with Campbell-Ewald; yet another replaced Campbell-Ewald with Mullen in 2015.
The group owns a sizeable collection of other standalone advertising agencies in the US. Other than Deutsch, CE and Mullen the most important of these are Hill Holliday and The Martin Agency, both among the leading US advertising agencies by revenues. Another subsidiary, R/GA, is one of the global industry's most highly acclaimed digital specialists, partnered by a second global digital specialist Huge.
At the next level down are ad agencies Carmichael Lynch and TM advertising. Smaller units include Gotham, Tierney, Stein Rogan Partners and Wahlstrom. Another creative agency, OneSeven, was launched in New York in 2005 around the 17 staff members who had resigned en masse from Saatchi New York in 2005. However it was shuttered less than two years later for lack of business. Los Angeles agency Dailey was sold to its management team in 2017.
In the multicultural market, affiliated agencies include Asian American specialist IW Group (formerly Imada Wong Communications) and Hispanic shop Siboney USA. Two others, Accentmarketing and Casanova Pendrill, operate as part of McCann Worldgroup. For several years, the group held a 49% stake in multicultural market leader GlobalHue, but sold those shares back to management in 2006. A similar situation occurred with Translation, a multicultural agency which has evolved into a mainstream agency. Interpublic sold its majority stake back to founder Steve Stoute in 2011. The group also has a long-standing relationship with Middle East Communication Networks (MCN), a marketing services group headquartered in Dubai which represents the interests of various IPG networks in the Middle East and North Africa. The core unit within that group is Fortune Promoseven. In summer 2008, Interpublic increased its shareholding in MCN to 51%.
Since summer 2008, the group's media operations have been coordinated by a new central unit, IPG Mediabrands (see separate profile). This serves as an umbrella entity for all the group's various media-related units, including planning and buying networks Initiative and UM (formerly Universal McCann) and forecasting unit Magna Global.
While the group's advertising and media businesses are grouped together under the heading of Integrated Agency networks (or IAN), another collection of subsidiaries is housed in another entity, with the slightly uncomfortable name of the Constituency Management Group (or CMG). Its biggest businesses are the public relations giants Weber Shandwick - the global #2 just behind Edelman - and Golin, each with their own various subsidiaries and affiliates, as well as event marketing specialist Jack Morton Worldwide, sports marketing unit Octagon, and more specialised PR agencies DeVries and Current. DeVries is best-known as P&G's biggest PR agency partner in the US, and the group began to establish a global micro-network for the business in 2012 with an aim of capturing more of P&G's global business. Previously, DeVries had farmed out that business to Weber Shandwick. For some years, the group also owned two of the US entertainment industry's most prestigious PR firms, PMK/HBH and Bragman Nyman Caffarelli. These were merged at the end of 2009 to form a single giant business, now PMK-BNC.
According to industry watcher The Holmes Report, Interpublic was once again the global #1 in PR in 2016, with estimated fee income of $1.5bn. Weber Shandwick was the #2 PR network worldwide with fee income of $775m. Golin was #10 with $227m, while PMK-BNC ranked #28 with $70m and DeVries #49 with $37m. Graphic Orb is the umbrella for a collection of design and marketing companies based in Hollywood which work mainly in the entertainment industry.
The group also maintains small investments in various new media specialists through what it calls its Futures Marketing Group. The most significant of these was in social networking service Facebook. In summer 2011, IPG sold half of its shares in Facebook, originally acquired in 2006 for around $5m, for a whopping $133m. The remainder were sold in Nov 2012 for $95m.
Despite (or actually because of) the broad scope of this portfolio, the first decade of the 21st century proved one of the most challenging in Interpublic's already turbulent history. The steady defection of major clients between 2002 and 2005 was exacerbated by long-running accounting problems at the group, which led to numerous restatements of financial results. Each time, the group claimed to have identified the full extent of necessary adjustments, before subsequently issuing a new set of corrections, sometimes only months later. The combined effect was to demonstrate that the group's internal control systems were deeply flawed, and this caused understandable alarm among clients, who in most cases had been called upon to lodge large sums of cash with the group on trust to fund media purchasing. There were numerous reasons for these errors, not least impairment of overvalued acquisitions and double accounting, where different group subsidiaries working together on joint projects had each erroneously accounted for the full budget in their own accounts. More seriously, the group was eventually forced to declare that it had come across several cases of apparent fraud in subsidiary companies outside the US.
As a result, financial results for 2004, as well as for the first two quarters of 2005 were delayed substantially as the group went back over its records with a fine toothcomb, re-auditing accounts as far back as 2000. These figures were finally released at the end of September 2005, wiping a further $550m off the group's retained earnings for the previous four years. The largest chunk of the restatement related to inaccurate accounting of the contributions from companies acquired between 2000 and 2002, primarily FCB and its subsidiaries. For fiscal 2004, the group reported revenues of $6.4bn and a net loss of $558m. Although IPG made a small profit in 2002, combined losses for the four years since the acquisition of True North totalled almost $1.7bn. Performance for 2005 was slightly improved, with net loss reducing to $289m on revenues down by almost 2% at $6.3bn. There was modest progress in 2006, as net loss reduced once again to $79m. However, revenues continued to slide, drifting by a further 1% to just under $6.2bn.
There was some genuine good news finally in 2007, with a 6% increase in revenues to $6.55bn, helped along by currency fluctuations. Better still, the group finally broke into profit for the first time since 2002, with net income of $131m. Performance for 2008 was even better, with revenues up by a further 6% to just under $7.0bn. The organic increase, stripping out currency fluctuations, acquisitions and disposals, was almost 4%. However, the economic turmoil of the following year took its toll, driving down revenues by 13% to just over $6.0bn. The organic decline was 10.8%. Net income more than halved from $295m in 2008 to $121m for 2009. However, the general economic recovery during 2010 was strongly reflected in IPG's results for that year. Total revenues rose over 8%, on a reported basis, to $6.5bn. The organic increase was 7%, rising to 11.2% in the final quarter. Net attributable income more than doubled to $261m.
There was another strong performance in 2011, confounding speculation that the group's underlying performance would be dented by several high-profile account losses. Revenues rose 7.8% on a reported basis to $7.01bn, while net income almost doubled to $521m as a result of the exceptional gain from the sale of part of the Facebook shareholding. Those account losses came home to roost in 2012, causing revenues to slip back to $6.96bn. The decline was caused primarily by exchange rates, with organic performance up by 0.7% as international growth offset a decline in the US. Net income also fell, slumping 17% to $435m.
For 2013, revenues were back over $7bn at $7.12bn, equivalent to organic growth of 2.8%, rising to 3.7% in the final quarter. However profit performance was disappointing with net income plunging more than 40% to $259m, partly because of a large charge for restructuring the group's struggling operations in continental Europe.
There was much better performance in 2014, with revenues rising to $7.54bn, and organic growth of 5.5% for the year. But the best result was on the bottom line, with net income soaring by 84% to $477m. Interpublic's results for 2015 outclassed those of US rival Omnicom in terms of topline growth. Revenues for the full year were up on both a reported and an organic basis to $7.61bn. (Omnicom's revenues were up organbic but down slightly on a reported basis). Interpublic's organic increase for the year was an impressive 6.1%. However, net income of $455m was down almost 5% against 2014 as a result of a significantly higher tax charge. Pretax profits were up almost 6% year-on-year.
The group delivered another strong performance in 2016. Revenues rose to $7.85bn, up 5.0% on an organic basis, and 5.3% in the final quarter. Cuts in operating expenses resulted in an impressive 13% jump in net income to $633m. The group's largest client (probably GM) accounted for 4% of revenues in 2016, or $315m.
Interpublic reported a strong close to 2017, with organic growth of 3.3%. That was considerably better than the two previous quarters, raising the full year metric to 1.8%. Revenues for the year came in at $7.88bn. Net income slipped 5% to $579m, including a $24m loss on divested businesses and a slightly larger tax gain. Several figures were distorted by pass-through revenues, such as programmatic spending and disbursements. Overall growth would have been slightly lower with those figures excluded. Almost 60% of revenues ($4.7bn) came from the US, and almost 9% ($682m) from the UK. Other European markets contributed only slightly more ($716m) and Asia Pacific 12% (or $914m).
For 2018, group net revenues topped $8bn for the first time at $8.03bn, while net income jumped by 17% to $618.9m. Topline figures included a three-month contribution from Acxiom of $182m.
Annual revenues for 2019 were up over 7% on a reported basis to $8.6bn, with net income up 6% to $674m. Reported revenues for 2020 were $8.06bn, with net income of $354m.
Michael Roth is chairman of Interpublic. Philippe Krakowsky, previously chief strategy & talent officer, and also chairman of Mediabrands, was appointed mid 2019 as group COO, becoming the effective heir apparent to Roth. He took over as CEO at the beginning of 2021. Roth remains executive chairman.
Interpublic's financial troubles during the 2000s mark the second time that the group has come close to disaster through ill-considered expansion. Interpublic was officially formed at the end of 1960 as a holding company for McCann-Erickson and a group of marketing services subsidiaries it had acquired during the 1950s. (See McCann Erickson profile for background). Yet within just seven years of its creation the group was hovering on the brink of bankruptcy.
The key idea behind the formation of The Interpublic Group of Companies, as it is still officially titled, was to provide a structure to allow McCann-Erickson to handle competing clients. In 1954, McCann's brilliant but obsessive CEO Marion Harper acquired a Cleveland agency, Marschalk & Pratt, which had successfully poached part of McCann's core Standard Oil account several years earlier. Borrowing a strategy already pioneered by another client, General Motors, which owned several different and competing car brands, Harper chose not to fold Marschalk into the McCann-Erickson network but left it to operate as a standalone agency under the name McCann-Marschalk. As a result, Harper's empire was, at a stroke, now able to service competing accounts, a feat no other advertising company had managed until then. "What we've done," Harper told Newsweek in 1964, "is take the management ladder and turn it into a horizontal position."
Initially, Interpublic comprised four divisions: McCann-Erickson advertising in the US; its worldwide operation McCann-Erickson International; second-string agency McCann-Marschalk and the diversified marketing operations of Communications Affiliates, which included PR business Communications Counsellors and sales promotion agency Sales Communications. With the client competition problem apparently resolved by the creation of Interpublic, Harper rapidly set about adding further businesses to his portfolio. A steady stream of more than 35 other purchases followed, culminating in 1963 in the purchase of rival giant Erwin Wasey Ruthrauff & Ryan. That deal finally vaulted Interpublic ahead of J Walter Thompson to become the world's biggest advertising company, with billings of $500m, compared to Thompson's $420m. In 1964, Fortune magazine celebrated Interpublic's extraordinary growth with a feature entitled "Marion Harper's Big Tent"
Behind the scenes, however, the ringmaster had already lost control of the circus. At its peak, Interpublic had 24 different divisions and billings of $711m, but Harper's obsessive zeal prevented him from delegating any major decisions. The death in 1962 of the group's controlling shareholder, Harrison McCann, left Harper in virtual sole control of the business, and although he was undoubtedly a genius when it came to business structure and strategy, he had surprisingly little financial acumen. According to a subsequent group chairman, Neal Gilliatt, he lost touch with the reality of being in the advertising business and instead "began building a monument to himself... and then living and acting accordingly. He decided he should live as well as some of his major clients." Harper began to lavish an extraordinary amount of money on executive perks, not least a fleet of five aircraft, including a expensively furnished DC-7 set aside for Harper's personal use. He also ploughed the profits from McCann's main operations into wholly speculative new business units, without any clear plan for how to make back the investment.
At the same time, the horizontal structure in which Harper had put so much faith was also showing cracks. Nestlé transferred its business from McCann in 1964 because newly acquired Erwin Wasey handled what was then a rival, Carnation. Several Wasey clients also pulled their business after the agency's acquisition, at a combined cost of around $11m in billings. A year later, Continental Airlines transferred its account because another Interpublic subsidiary handled rival carrier Braniff. (Ironically Braniff too pulled its business and handed it to a start-up agency formed by a former Interpublic staffer, Mary Wells, later the wife of Braniff's chairman).
By this time, many of the men who had supported Harper through McCann's phenomenal growth during the 1950s had retired. Instead he became increasingly reliant upon Bob Durham, described by Harper's biographer Russ Johnston as "loud-talking, fast-moving, hard-drinking, pleasure-loving… a master at corporate intrigue, a past master at corporate infighting". Johnston compares him to Rasputin. "It would be wrong to blame Bob Durham for Marion Harper's fall from the top of Interpublic," says Johnston. "But if anyone contributed more to Harper's increasing troubles, that person would be hard to find." During the course of the 1960s, Interpublic's losses spiralled, peaking at what was then an exorbitant figure of $2.8m in 1967. Its debt also rose steadily, from $1m in 1962 to more than $9m by 1967. That year, Interpublic violated the terms of its loan agreement, making it potentially liable for full repayment of its debts on demand. Since it had insufficient funds available to make such a payment, the entire business would be forced into receivership.
Behind the scenes, Harper also had increasingly serious financial problems of his own. In 1965, the Internal Revenue Service had initiated an investigation into his financial affairs, claiming that his tax returns were incomplete. The probe eventually found discrepancies in the accounting of a series of lavish investments in cattle-breeding, then a popular tax shelter for high earning executives. For some reason, Harper paid little or no attention to a subsequent tax demand, and the IRS eventually issued a lawsuit, and secured a judgement against him to freeze his personal assets. There were also concerns over possible conflicts of interest relating to Harper's shareholding in a data processing company which also took on confidential work for rival agencies.
In 1967, Interpublic's board finally acted to save the struggling giant. In November that year, Harper was shifted into the role of chairman. Robert Healy, who had been chairman of McCann US and later of Interpublic's international operations during the 1950s and early 60s, was brought out of semi-retirement to oversee a drastic pruning of the group. Over the following months, Healy closed or sold a number of non-core businesses, consolidating Interpublic's 24 divisions into just five and dismissing 500 of the group's 8,000 employees. At the same time, to tide over Interpublic's precarious cash requirements, Healy persuaded three of the group's biggest clients - Coca-Cola, Carnation and distiller Heublein - to lend the company an advance on future fees. On the strength of that vote of confidence, he was able to negotiate a life-saving bridging loan from Chase Manhattan in early 1968. The bank's only condition was that Marion Harper, perceived as the architect of the chaos which had engulfed Interpublic, should resign. He finally left the company he had created in February that year.
In an attempt to brush aside this ignominious fall, Harper threw himself into a new, albeit much smaller venture. He joined forces with Ron Rosenfeld and Len Sirowitz of DDB to launch creative boutique Harper Rosenfeld Sirowitz. It was not to last. After just five months, Harper was fired by his partners for being "inaccessible and autocratic". Soon afterwards, the IRS issued him with a demand for $500,000 in back-taxes. In 1973, Harper dropped out of sight altogether, and for years not even his lawyer or his now-estranged wife knew where he was. In 1979, in an attempt to shed light on the apparent mystery of his disappearance, Advertising Age sent a reporter to Oklahoma City to interview his mother. The reporter was sitting in her living room when Marion Harper walked in. He lived nearby, he told the reporter, and he was broke. He re-established a low-key position in the industry during the 1980s as a business consultant and writer before his death in 1989, aged 73.
Meanwhile Interpublic had regained its focus. Healy oversaw Interpublic's IPO in 1971, and in 1978, with Paul Foley as chairman & CEO, it finally achieved Marion Harper's long dreamt of goal of becoming the global leader in the industry, pulling off what was then the biggest merger in advertising history. The acquisition of SSC&B (formerly Sullivan, Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles) pushed combined billings up to $2.6bn, almost twice those of Japanese rival Dentsu. SSC&B became the fifth advertising brand within Interpublic's portfolio alongside McCann, Marschalk, Erwin Wasey and Campbell-Ewald.
With its strength restored, Interpublic went shopping again in the 1980s, making the most of the worldwide consolidation in the advertising industry to add Lintas International, Lowe Group and others to its portfolio. In the 1990s, Ammirati & Puris joined the club, and was merged with Lintas to form Ammirati Puris Lintas. Media buyer Western International followed suit in 1994, and direct marketers Draft Worldwide in 1996. In 1998, the group gobbled up UK-based International Public Relations, then the world's largest PR firm, and comprising the Shandwick and Golin/Harris PR businesses. Interpublic was also an early investor in interactive businesses, taking a minority stake in digital agency CKS in 1995. (CKS later was swallowed up into ill-fated MarchFirst). Also in 1997, the group invested in US agency Nicholson NY and community site Tripod. Thunder House Online Marketing was acquired in late 1996 as part of the Weber PR Group and absorbed McCann Interactive in 1998. The group made its biggest investment in new media with the 1999 acquisition of a 20% stake in the major Swedish interactive agency Icon MediaLab (later LB Icon/Framfab) for $20m. Most of these interactive interests were eventually combined under the Zentropy Partners umbrella (now MRM/McCann).
Overshadowed by the strength of McCann-Erickson, neither Lowe nor APL had become a clear #2 within the portfolio. Lowe was generally perceived to be highly creative, but not international enough; APL was international, but weak creatively and too dependent on its Unilever heritage. During 1999, Interpublic entered detailed negotiations to acquire MacManus, the holding company for the more powerful DMB&B network. In preparation for this anticipated purchase, Lowe and APL were combined to form Lowe Lintas, leaving room for the expected newcomer. IPG's management team was as surprised as the rest of the industry when D'Arcy was gobbled up by Leo Burnett instead.
Interpublic brushed over that setback with a string of other deals. In late 1999 and early 2000, the group added a series of other businesses including research and marketing consultancy NFO Worldwide, leading Hispanic agency Casanova Pendrill and independent shop Suissa Miller. But the most envied deal was the capture of maverick creative hothouse Deutsch in late 2000. Around the same time, in what was then an unprecedented group-level deal, IPG itself, rather than any of its subsidiary agencies, was appointed by Coca-Cola as its global ad strategist, responsible for all worldwide marketing. McCann was already one of Coke's main agencies but the wider brief was thought to have added another $2bn or more to group billings.
Interpublic finally picked up its third network in March 2001 with an agreement to acquire True North, parent to FCB Worldwide. IPG paid $2.1bn in shares to absorb the smaller business, which also housed a wide selection of marketing services subsidiaries. Shortly afterwards, IPG's chairman & CEO Phil Geier took the opportunity to retire on a high note, handing over his role to McCann CEO John Dooner. This was to prove a wise move on Geier's part. Retrospectively, the True North deal couldn't have come at worse time, and was probably the most ill-advised decision Interpublic managers had made since Marion Harper's excesses in the 1960s. Almost immediately, new group boss Dooner was faced with a set of daunting challenges. First was the mammoth restructuring needed to absorb True North into IPG's already huge portfolio, while at the same time coping with a slump in worldwide advertising expenditure in the wake of the dotcom crash. FCB was itself in poor shape as a result of the loss of its share of the DaimlerChrysler account a few weeks earlier. Interpublic's accounts for 2001 reflected the generally difficult advertising environment, including a shortfall of over $200m from sharply reduced interactive revenues, and another $116m from the loss of DaimlerChrysler. Currency fluctuations also played a part, along with hefty tax charges and a big restructuring bill from the integration of True North. After a profit of $420m in 2000 (later restated to $330m), Interpublic reported a substantial net loss for 2001 of $505m. Later restatements raised the figure to more than $610m.
The following year proved even more difficult. There was near-panic among investors when Interpublic delayed publication of its results for 2Q 2002 following the introduction of tighter accounting regulations in the wake of the Worldcom scandal. The company's share price plunged, and IPG subsequently announced that it had identified $68.5m of additional charges which had not been properly expensed. The error originated at McCann-Erickson in Europe, where it appeared that different group companies working together on shared projects for clients over a period of several years were each recording the full value of those projects in their accounts. Luckily for Interpublic, the problems were only internal and clients were still billed correctly. The group said it would revise its annual accounts as far back as 1997 with small adjustments of between $4m and $7m per year.
Yet the blows kept coming. A few months later the company issued a shock profits warning, which it blamed on market conditions as well as problems within its Octagon division. At the same time the group almost doubled the provision for the McCann Europe restatement to $120m. Only weeks after that, the adjustment was itself adjusted, rising to more than $180m, and the group began to make a series of deals to extract itself from various motor sports commitments which had contributed to Octagon's losses. A further blow came when Coca-Cola, under the influence of a new management team, began to backtrack on its worldwide affiliation to IPG agencies, steadily shifting business out of McCann in several territories around the world, including the US.
Interpublic began attempts to tighten up management controls. Frank Borelli was appointed to a new role as presiding director in charge of corporate governance, and financial executive Thomas Dowling was named as chief risk officer, overseeing risk management strategy and internal audit policies. In a surprise reshuffle in early 2003, group CEO John Dooner also resigned his role and stepped down a level to take back control of McCann-Erickson Worldgroup. Former True North chairman David Bell replaced him as group chairman & CEO. Chief financial officer Sean Orr also resigned, replaced briefly by COO Chris Coughlin. Yet none of these changes failed to prevent yet another revision of the figure for financial adjustments, which doubled once more to $340m.
To raise additional cash, IPG sold off market research group NFO Worldwide to Taylor Nelson Sofres (for $425m), as well as virtually all of its 42% shareholding in Modem Media (for around $60m). None of these moves served to improve Interpublic's relationship with disaffected client Coca-Cola. At the end of 2003 the soft drinks giant shifted its entire US media buying account, worth $350m, out of Universal McCann and over to Publicis-owned Starcom MediaVest. For 2003, Interpublic's losses weighed in at $452m (later restated as $539m). Shareholders were later surprised to find that, despite the poor net result, expenses included more than $41m of bonuses to managers. IPG explained that despite the group's net loss, most divisions had hit their restated performance targets for the year.
By mid-2004 Interpublic claimed to have put the worst of its problems behind it, although many shareholders voiced disappointment that the turnaround seemed to be taking so long. Revenues showed some improvement for the first half of the year, but the group continued to report a net deficit. Yet by the end of the year, a new set of errors had been unearthed, prompting the launch of a full investigation tracking accounts as far back as 2000. In a further evolution of the senior management team, David Bell relinquished his role as chairman of Interpublic to Michael Roth, previously chairman & CEO of financial services company The MONY Group. Roth became CEO as well in early 2005. There were more changes in the financial department as well. Chris Coughlin retired in 2004 and was replaced by former SVP of finance Robert Thompson. Only a year later, Thompson was out as well. Frank Mergenthaler, former CFO of the Columbia House mail order company, was appointed as the group's fourth finance director in three years. (Outlasting all his predecessors, he remains in that role in 2010).
Bad news was back in fashion for the rest of 2004 and early 2005. Despite the capture of the Intel account by McCann Erickson in 2005, the group was forced to concede a number of other reviews across its various agencies, not least worldwide media for three major clients: Nestle, General Motors, Unilever and for a fourth, L'Oreal, in Western Europe. Matters were not helped by the fact that the accounting investigation was still dragging on endlessly. Interpublic eventually announced it would release its 2004 figures by the end of September 2005, around eight months behind schedule, and only just in time to avoid a default of its credit arrangements as well as possible delisting by the NYSE.
Yet as the deadline grew nearer, further problems emerged. The group revealed for example that it was also investigating a series of instances involving what it called unlawful "misappropriation of assets" and "falsified books and records", mostly in Eastern European and Latin American business units. The full restatement of past accounts was finally released just before deadline in September 2005. (Interpublic eventually agreed to settle charges of accounting fraud by paying a fine of $12m to the SEC in 2008). Interpublic's problems led one activist shareholder to demand a formal vote on putting the group up for immediate sale to the highest bidder. That proposal was defeated at the group's AGM. However, with little clear improvement in the group's overall performance over the next couple of years, Interpublic was dogged by industry speculation that it would become the target of an acquisition. Towards the end of 2006, Publicis was rumoured to be considering a takeover bid, although any such plans were firmly denied by the French group, and no such offer materialised. Finally in 2007 it began to look as if Interpublic had turned a corner, reporting its first net profit in five years.
Last full revision 27th October 2019
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