In 2014, digital transformation was all the rage and Publicis Groupe made a big bet on what it believed was a game changer for the holding company — the $3.7 billion acquisition of Sapient. Then CEO Maurice Levy gushed that Sapient was a “crown jewel.”
The deal was designed to give the firm big-league capabilities in the digital transformation space, so it could seamlessly merge with all the marketing and advertising expertise it already had in-house. That would give it a leg up on the other traditional holding companies, allowing it to go toe-to-toe with the major IT/consulting firms.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned. They rarely do.
By the end of 2016, the crown jewel had lost a little of its luster as integration proved to be a tougher challenge than anticipated and the holding company took a $1.5 billion impairment charge mostly against Publicis.Sapient, the division the firm created to house its key digital properties.
The Sapient deal turned out to be a game changer in ways both expected and unexpected. But hey, that’s life in the fast lane.
And the advertising-marketing landscape is always in flux. It’s a sector where change comes at you fast and furiously. Now precision and people-based marketing is the new must-have discipline.
And Publicis has stepped up again with another big bet with a deal to acquire Epsilon, one of the biggest precision marketing players in North America.
It follows similar bets made by Interpublic (for Acxiom Marketing) and Dentsu (for Merkle). Omnicom has developed a similar platform in-house (Omni).
Integration of these systems into a model that makes sense for clients is one of the big challenges for all the holding companies. Analysts are already speculating how big a challenge it will be for Publicis as it swallows Epsilon.
The bets are risky but necessary. At least if you want to play in the big leagues.