IPG CEO Michael Roth on Diversity, Yahoo, and Why Arianna Huffington Told Him Off

April 23, 2016 | Share this article

New York-based Interpublic Group (IPG) is one of the “big four” advertising agency networks, competing alongside WPP, Omnicom, and Publicis Groupe.

The company — which owns agencies such as McCann, R/GA, IPG Mediabrands, and FCB — ended 2015 on a high, posting better-than-expected organic growth for the year. It reported its first quarter earnings on Friday, beating expectations on both revenue and earnings, with a 6.7% rise in organic revenue.

It was also one of the big winners of a major event in the ad industry last year: “Mediapalooza,” where an unprecedented number of big-name brands put their media-buying accounts up for review.

So it was fitting that IPG CEO Michael Roth was in a jovial mood when Business Insider caught up with him at Advertising Week Europe in London earlier this week.

We discussed a range of topics including how he’s feeling about the year ahead, his favored buyer for Yahoo, and why Arianna Huffington has told him off.

Business Insider: 2015 was quite a year for IPG, not least with everything else going on in the market, like Mediapalooza, the macroeconomic environment. IPG’s organic growth not only outgrew other companies in your sector, but exceeded your own expectations as well. So what are you expecting going into 2016?

Michael Roth: Hopefully it’s not as hectic as it was in ’15. Some of my competitors seem to think that ’16 is going to be as crazy on the media side as 2015 was. I don’t believe so. What I said was: “Unless they know something I don’t,” like they have clients that are looking …

BI: Are you talking particularly about Maurice [Levy, the Publicis Groupe CEO who has predicted a Mediapalooza Part 2 — albeit smaller than Mediapalooza Part 1]?

MR: Yes exactly. And sure enough he started out with a problem, you know. [Publicis was the agency group considered with the most to lose during Mediapalooza.]

We’ll have a couple of big reviews, hopefully they won’t be ours who are participating, but I just don’t sense it to be as active as it was in 2015.

BI: It was quite fruitful for yourselves, winning Coca-Cola and others?

MR: And J&J, CBS, we retained Sony. It was a good year for us in 2015, yes.

BI: There were quite a lot of structural changes with your competitors in 2015. Others, like WPP, have been active on the acquisition front. Do you expect any big changes within IPG?

MR: We are always looking for acquisitions. We spend $150 million to $200 million a year on acquisitions and, interesting enough, in 2015 we did a number of PR acquisitions which were great, including one in China, which was terrific.

So our pipeline is actually pretty healthy right now and in the digital space or in the markets where we want to strengthen our presence … but nothing of any significance in size.

As far as restructuring, we have been operating under this open architecture now for 10 years.

It’s kind of interesting now to see Maurice [Levy] restructuring and Martin [Sorrell, WPP CEO] talking about his special-purpose agencies.

We have been operating on the assumption that our clients are entitled to the best offerings that IPG has, and absent of conflict, we pick and choose the best talent and we bring them to the table on an integrated basis. I think that’s the way clients are looking to us to help them solve their issues and so we have been operating now for 10 years.

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