Commentary

Facebook, WPP, Publicis Work On Their Future

I guess we have to talk about Facebook first. I was astonished to catch a recent Facebook Live broadcast in which Vice President Global Marketing Solutions Carolyn Everson hosted a conversation with Sir Richard Branson and his daughter Holly about — I kid you not — combining purpose and profit to change the world.

This was on the occasion of the launch of the daughter’s book, called “WEconomy.” The book’s website states: “Customers will get behind products that do good, and dedicate spending power to companies that make a positive impact on the world.”

Talk about being tone-deaf, Facebook. Was that your priority?

This was five days after the scandal broke, and six hours before Mark Zuckerberg finally spoke up about #FacebookGate.

I think for the time being, we should now wait to see if (a) regulators and governments either side of the Atlantic are truly ready to step in, and (b) if Zuckerberg and his leadership team will demonstrate that real and meaningful change will be implemented.

Instead of #FacebookFail, let’s focus on the very different approaches that WPP and Publicis are taking to address their fortunes as agency holding companies.

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell gave an interview at Ad Week Europe explaining how he sees his business and the industry transforming. Arthur Sadoun, chairman of Publicis Groupe, held an investor day where he addressed the same challenge.

Unsurprisingly, both leaders anticipate major changes to the business model and future of agency holding companies, but each has a radically different approach.

Sorrell acknowledged that the pressure is on and seemed to approach the challenge from a typical business management perspective. His reasoning is that because clients are no longer prepared to pay for all the layers of bureaucracy, he will need to execute some major cost restructuring by eliminating head count and implementing what he called a zero-based budgeting approach to project planning.

The other part of his strategy is to continue consolidation within the WPP empire, and to selectively buy additional service providers to keep growing. All in all, a typical corporate restructuring approach.

Over at Publicis, Arthur Sadoun, less than two years into his job, outlined a radically different plan to grow and transition. The company will pivot the main deliverable of Publicis away from being a “traditional” agency holding company that delivers creative, media, digital, PR, etc., towards three service pillars driven by: (1) PeopleCloud, its cloud-based platform that will help identify sources of client growth at an individual level, (2) “dynamic creativity,” all about the creation and delivery of personalized content; and (3) technology and consulting through Publicis.Sapient. And as with WPP, Publicis also expects further consolidation and cost-cutting to allow its plans to be implemented.

Sorrell is an amazingly successful businessman and survivor (how many times has he bested opposing shareholders?). And Sadoun is obviously also a smart and experienced business leader who grew up creating and managing agencies. He is also 27 years younger than Sir Martin.

So which strategy will prove to be the better one: business experience or agency savvy? Time will tell, but in the meantime, update your Facebook App permissions — though by now that might be as meaningless as Facebook’s book launch session.

1 comment about "Facebook, WPP, Publicis Work On Their Future".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, March 23, 2018 at 4:43 p.m.

    Facebook become a one size fits all platform. The problem is demographics. You have kiddies at 10 years old to retirement age boomers. I don't see this as the model for the future.  I tend to think that if there were 3 or 4 different Facebook type platforms dedicated to the different age groups would work better. Also separate out the Foreign market individuals from the US markets. I think that the advertiser are paying way to much for people who can't or will not be interested in their products.

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