“When you see an argument breakout between two men in their 70’s about which brands they want to buy, something is wrong,” said Chris Lewis, founder and CEO of fiercely independent public relations group Lewis.
For Lewis, the failed merger between Omnicom and Publicis was evidence that the oligarchy of conglomerate-owned agencies that dominate the industry needs to change.
“The industry is being sliced up and auctioned off like a bazaar,” he said. “It’s great to have ambition, but it didn’t work out in this instance.”
His comments follow yesterday’s announcement that Lewis PR had acquired EBA Communications as part of a strategy to bolster its operations in China, a market where the firm is looking to break the dominance of WPP, Omnicom and Publicis.
“We want to break up the oligarchy that exists in this industry,” he said.
But he stressed it requires a change in philosophy.
“To take on the bigger players you have to do what they are unwilling to do – invest, invest, invest.”
One significant difference between a company like Lewis and the likes of WPP, Omnicom or Publicis is giving staff ownership of the business.
Across Lewis’ global network there are now some 100 owners of the business.
“You’ve got to have skin in the game,” he added. “You can’t do this from the top down. If you give someone ownership, they will grow the business with you. Share the ownership, share the vision and share the decision making.
“Give ownership to staff.”
Lewis described Asia as a huge opportunity for the PR firm as it races towards US$80 million in annual fees – a jump from $35 million 2013.
“Asia today is a lot like what America was in the 1930’s. There’s so much opportunity and development ahead of it.”
But he said it needs innovation, new ideas and big thinkers.
“This region has a choice – what does it want to look like?
“You can get busy getting yourself in the future, or fight for the remains of the past. It’s up to you.”