Three of the ad world’s big four of IPG, Omnicom, Publicis and WPP issued disappointing results, accompanied by warnings about decreasing spending in bellwether categories like autos and consumer packaged goods. While IPG Chairman Michael Roth insisted “we don’t see evidence of a broad-based economic downturn,” when conglomerates as large as Omnicom and WPP adjust North American growth forecasts downward to between 0 and 1 percent, anyone in marketing should be at least a bit anxious.
So, we wanted to investigate and determine if any of that softness at the top of the agency food chain is affecting those with which we are most familiar: the marketing service/sports marketing/consulting agencies that negotiate and service the biggest sponsorships for the world’s largest brands.
“If the global marketing industry catches a cold, we’ll eventually feel it,” said Adam Lippard, head of global sports and entertainment consulting at GMR Marketing, owned by Omnicom. “You’ll see an impact on the broader media and advertising budgets first, but we haven’t felt a negative impact to our sponsorship and experiential space. There’s an elevated concern based on macro geopolitical concerns that’s making marketers more cautious.”
“For the first time, media spending is trending in the opposite direction of GDP, so, of course, we’re all trying to figure that out,” said Charlie Horsey, chairman and CEO of MKTG, owned by Dentsu Aegis, the world’s fifth-largest agency holding company.
“We’re starting to see reductions in budgets and clients talking about doing more for less,” said Michelle Palmer, president of sports and experiential at The Marketing Arm, an Omnicom agency. “For next year, we’re hearing flat to down [budgets], and while our agency is diversified enough to handle that, we continue to hear concern from clients about things like NFL ratings as a possible indicator of sports TV overall, and a lot of top-level uncertainty because of Trump.”
|The Marketing Arm’s Michelle Palmer is hearing budgets will be flat to down next year.
Nonetheless, many agencies specializing in “below-the-line” marketing, including sponsorship activation and experiential marketing, all report record or near-record revenue, likely because they are insulated from many of the problems faced by traditional agencies.
“In the simplest equation, the more advertising doesn’t work with millennials or the more TV ratings are down, the beneficiaries will be sponsorship and experiential or anything below the line,” said Andy Pierce, Lagardère’s North American president and CEO.
Elizabeth Lindsey, who heads Wasserman’s marketing division, was one of many sports marketing agency leaders reporting record performance, even in the face of disappointing results and forecasts from the ad behemoths.
“Our fates are rarely tied to theirs, because our work is socially and experientially driven, which is all growing,” she said.
Added Rick Dudley, chairman and CEO of IPG-owned Octagon: “People are pointing to things like political uncertainty [for agency holding company financial concerns], but it’s really too early to determine that. We’re not hearing anything from clients about spending levels changing, so while we’re not ignoring the news about cutbacks, it’s not something we’re worrying about now.”
Added MKTG’s Horsey, “From a holding-company perspective, the waters are turbulent and there’s real concern, but our business in the U.S. is as healthy as it ever has been. Even with the proliferation of technology, consumers being able to touch and feel is more important than ever, so experiential marketing is just vital.”
“A lot of the [holding companies’] decline is related to media buying and how it has been impacted by programmatic [automated] buying,” Lencheski said.
“Money is surely shifting to digital, but there’s all kind of doubts about what you’re buying, which is never a problem in sports. You know who your customer is and you can lock out your competition with exclusive relationships.”
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.