When Arthur Sadoun assumed the head role at Publicis Groupe last June, he knew he would be tasked with repositioning the holding company in an ever-changing landscape. He just didn't know how immediate this mandate was.
"There is urgent pressure," he says. "We have to move away from being only a communications partner" to instead serve as a partner for clients in "content, data, technology, and engagement across the entire customer journey."
After reporting the third consecutive quarter of improved growth during the year, Sadoun spoke one-on-one with MediaPost's Agency Daily about how this transformation is necessary and critical for the Groupe's bottom line.
By serving as a partner across multiple touchpoints, Publicis will no longer be "dependent" on clients' paid advertising budgets or the whims of account relationships, which can spark pitch reviews based merely on the preferences of new CMOs.
This insight was echoed by his colleague Steve King, who earlier during an investor call mentioned how Publicis Media reported more than $7.5 billion in billings last year -- a "gross number that is difficult to measure" since it includes so many bundled services and cross-billings.
The "people-first" network installed Emmanuel André as the newly created position of chief talent officer to oversee all talent management and recruitment. Since June, Publicis Groupe has put in place two new management committees, in addition to its Management Board. The first Executive Committee is in charge of the Groupe’s transformation. The second, the Management Committee, is in charge of operations.
Sadoun also has streamlined the Groupe's sprawling network by appointing leaders to serve across regions with a single P&L. For instance, Agathe Bousquet joined the Groupe in September 2017 as president, Publicis Groupe in France to oversee all activities in the country and integrate its expertise.
These changes underscore Sadoun's preference as a modern leader who prefers to share decision-making as part of a team, rather than serve as a top-down figurehead. To that end, Sadoun says he doesn't make any decisions without consulting with colleagues -- which includes King and now Nick Law as Chief Creative Officer of Publicis Groupe.
While some critics have questioned his decision to appoint technology-centric Law -- the former CCO of the digital agency R/GA -- as head of all its advertising agencies worldwide, Sadoun says "creativity remains at the core of everything we do. Nick is a creative." He says Publicis, at the end of the day, remains a creative company, but is bolstering its technology to "make us stronger." Law embodies both sides of this evolution.
The Groupe's partnership with Microsoft is another essential part of Sadoun's plan to expand its relevance with clients.
Sadoun counters questions that Marcel was intended to serve as an internal project to illustrate its advanced capabilities. He says the original work with Sapient would include the architecture, experience and design — and would take a year. He says the company always intended to partner with another for the backbone, specifically IT and AI services. "We don't do that. We don't have the cloud." However, Marcel is "further along than expected."
Therefore, when Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella called him to discuss building it together, Sadoun jumped at the opportunity. "We were going to outsource it anyway to a provider." Now, Publicis is working with the best in the industry, he says.
Publicis Groupe still has no plans to attend Cannes this year. "If we have to send a few people, we will let you know publicly," says Sadoun. Cannes has been "clever" in inviting Publicis executives to serve as jury members. He notes that Publicis Group wasn't against Cannes; the issue was not spending the money. "You can count on us for years to come."