Publicis: The Company That Survived a War

This is the fourth in a series of summary reports on major agency holding companies prepared by students in the Agency Management course at DePaul University. This placemat was part of the “final exam” presentation before a panel of recruiters.

Publicis Placemat - Rhett Ahlander & Melanie Decelles jpg

By Rhett Ahlander & Melanie Decelles

When someone says they’ve been through war after a hardship, it’s usually figurative. But when the founder of Publicis says this, he means it.

Marcel Blanchet founded Publicis in 1926. The father of French advertising was an innovator and pioneer for the industry, always taking it to the next level. The company grew quickly as Marcel discovered new tools to add to his arsenal. He brought radio advertising and public opinion polls to France, which he learned about in America.

Marcel was a busy guy. During WWII, he joined the French resistance – being the patriot he was. He even changed his name to avoid detection. But this didn’t protect the Publicis office, and it ended up being completely destroyed.

Determined to move forward, he built his office from the ground up, in the same exact spot. He personally called up all his previous clients and gained back their business.

From this point on, Marcel – and his successors – have made Publicis an unstoppable machine in the communications industry.

Publicis leadership is split into four groups. The Supervisory Board, the Management Board, the Executive Board and the Management Committee. Gender equality is important to Publicis, and it shows in these leadership groups.

The Publicis business is clustered into five solution hubs. They call this The Power of One. These hubs are designed to increase connectivity and integration, while also maintaining fluidity and clarity. The hubs are:

  • Publicis Communications: the creative arm
  • Publicis.Sapient: the digital platform
  • Publicis Media: media analysis, planning and buying
  • Publicis Health: for health and wellness clients
  • Publicis One: to serve smaller clients in smaller markets

These hubs were designed to put the client at the center of all the company’s offerings, allowing access to the whole Publicis enchilada.

Publicis has many big agencies, such as Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, MSLGroup and DigitasLBi. Some its clients include: Unilever, Google, Apple, L’Oréal and Kraft.

As the third-largest communications group in the world, Publicis finished 2017 with a net profit of €862m and an operating margin of €1.67bn, while it grew the business by 0.8 per cent despite the overall dip.

Despite the company’s strong position in the marketplace, Publicis has its setbacks. In 2013, Publicis and Omnicom announced a potential merger. This would give both companies the chance to dethrone WPP, the world’s leading holding company. But the deal didn’t work out, due to differing personalities and leadership styles. This hurt both companies financially.

However, Publicis has made some big moves this year. This past June, newbie-CEO Arthur Sadoun, announced that the entire company will skip the 2018 Cannes Lions festival. This sent the entire communications world into a frenzy. It’s being touted as a publicity stunt and a budget-saving measure. Both are true, but there’s another motive.

Publicis employees won’t be getting PTO during next year’s Cannes festival. They’ll be working. Executive leadership wants to focus on their newest project, called Marcel. Yes, the father of French advertising is returning – in different skin. Publicis is working on an AI assistant, intended to alter the way large holding companies manage employees and projects. Marcel will allow employees at global conglomerate titans, like Publicis, to work together seamlessly.

Aside from skipping awards shows and building AI assistants, Publicis is winning awards for equality. The 2018 Corporate Equality Index gave MSLGroup a perfect score – making it the top US PR agency for the LGBTQ community. Eight other Publicis agencies also received perfect scores.

Publicis continues to uphold Marcel’s legacy of originality, resilience and equality. The company has been through war to ensure these qualities remain unscathed.

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