IPG Investors Unimpressed by Recovery Plans

28 March 2006

JPMorgan vice president Fred Searby probably spoke for most of those present on Monday at Interpublic Group's long-overdue Investors Day.

"It's a nice event; it's good to get to see more of the executives," said Searby amiably. "But the actual amount of incremental financial data isn't much, so far. They've had a lot of these concepts around for a while - the need for talent and collaboration."

Over three hundred investors and analysts present at the event learned, among other things, that IPG hopes to improve organic revenue growth and profitability by 2008.

But few felt themselves greatly enlightened by chairman/ceo Michael Roth's declaration of the obvious: that the ailing group needs to improve operating margins to compete with those achieved by its main holding company rivals - currently averaging around 14%.

To achieve this would require IPG to move from a 2005 loss to an operating margin of 10% plus 6.5% organic growth.

Many of the attendees were in Oliver Twist mode. Demanded Michael Nathanson, global media analyst at Sanford C Bernstein: "I need more financial detail. I want to know how deep the financial problems are at Lowe Worldwide and I want more data on McCann. And I want an example of a media pitch where they've won and how they won it."

The state of the Lowe network exercised many of those present. Admitted the agency's chairman Tony Wright: "The bad news of Lowe is that it has essentially stood in its place for many years as an advertising agency. It didn't have an integrated offering."

Lowe Ceo Steve Gatfield revealed that the network will reduce its global reach, downsizing from 37 majority-owned offices to nineteen, of which eight would be key hubs.

The network, he said, needed to get beyond an 'ad-centric' model, introducing better channel-planning and analytics capabilities, as well as collaboration with other Interpublic agencies.

Using the yardstick of IPG's share price, the day can not be judged a success. The stock slumped at Monday's opening bell and continued to drift lower as Investor Day presentations continued, closing at its lowest price of the day - down 39 cents (3.7% ) to $10.05.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff