Publicis' Levy: 2012 Will Be Tough, Agency Must Up Its Game

Maurice-LevyPublicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy told company employees Thursday that 2011 has been a “difficult year” and that it is going to take all the creativity, talent and determination they can muster to successfully meet the challenges 2012 will present.

The video, in the form of a holiday greeting, started with about 50 different people in rapid succession sitting in Levy’s chair greeting the viewer with a “bonjour” that was clearly the CEO’s voice. When he took the seat himself, Levy said it was a “little gag” to get people used to the idea that “one day somebody else will be sitting in that chair.” A formal search for his successor will begin this summer.

Levy indicated that the economic environment brought about this year, in part by the twin debt crises in Europe and the U.S., “will be a fixture for many years to come.”  

Next year, he said, “should have been a year for joy,” with the Olympics, other special events and earlier expectations that the global economy would be back on track after the recession. Instead, agencies and clients alike will be faced with “more challenges. To meet them, we will need to improve performance on every level,” Levy said, including, “creativity, innovation, growth, growth and in case I forget, growth and performance.” 

Clients also face a year of uncertainty,” Levy said.

Their growth prospects by and large are not great, he noted. They confront an increasingly busy mobile world of demanding customers and a media landscape that continues to undergo “major transformation.”  

Just two months ago, during the company’s third-quarter earnings call, Levy was a bit more upbeat about next year, saying at the time the indicators suggested “healthy growth for the year ahead.” But that was when company subsidiary media shop ZenithOptimedia was forecasting 5.3% growth. Earlier this month, that forecast was downgraded to 4.7%.

Through the first nine months of the year, Publicis Groupe reported revenues of $5.78 billion, with organic growth of 6.9% versus the 6.6% organic growth achieved for the same period a year ago. Levy also warned during the Q3 conference call with analysts that this year’s fourth quarter could be soft, given downgraded economic forecasts.

No doubt adding to what he described as the “tense” environment is the fact that one of the company’s biggest clients, General Motors, put its media assignment in review.  A decision is expected shortly. That said, the company did well on the new business front through the first three quarters, winning $4.1 billion in net new business, including assignments from Burger King and Esurance in the U.S.

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