Arthur Sadoun on Publicis agency changes: 'If I didn't have them sharing expertise, I'd be a fool'

Sadoun: "I'm not here to create a new corporate layer."

PARIS: Arthur Sadoun, chief executive of Publicis Communications, said he would be "a fool" if he did not encourage his agencies to work more closely together.

He spoke to Campaign UK after news emerged that Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon, was being elevated to a new leadership position overseeing the group’s UK creative agencies. It was the latest move in the restructuring at Publicis Groupe, which was announced in December but left many questions unanswered.

In the newly created role, Senior will be responsible for ensuring greater collaboration between the individual agencies. He is also expected to oversee the financial performance of the collective group that includes Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon, Leo Burnett, Publicis Worldwide, MSLGroup, and Prodigious. Bartle Bogle Hegarty will make use of the group, but it sits separately due to a legal agreement protecting its autonomy until 2022.

For Sadoun, these changes are critical to ensuring the group’s future success because greater collaboration will allow agencies to provide better service for clients.

"What really matters is that what we are putting in place is not a reorganization of the creative agencies. It is a new organization of Publicis Groupe. We are putting the client at the centre with full access to our capabilities," he says.

In practice, this means that, assuming there are no conflicts, a client could choose to work with different Publicis Communications agencies in different countries. It also means that within countries, one agency can use the capabilities of another to provide clients with a more rounded service offering.

But to allow clients to cherry pick, Publicis needs to simplify its structure.

"My vision is very simple," Sadoun said. "What matters the most is to make my creative brands stronger than ever. I’m not here to create a new corporate layer. I am here to make sure that Publicis Communications is a tool for integration. To bring to each of my creative brands the best expertise in digital, shopper, PR, and make sure each of them can deliver and take a fully integrated approach to each of our clients." 

Sadoun stressed that this new structure will not undermine the individual agency chief executives. They will have dual reporting lines to their worldwide chiefs as well as Senior. He said they will still have control over their individual agency's performances but through Senior, they will have access to broader capabilities within the group. Sadoun is taking responsibility for this collaboration in France.

Nor, argues Sadoun, should the change be interpreted as a step away from the individual agency brands. He said he is very committed to the individual brands and that the business will continue to invest in them. 

"What has not changed is the quest for creative excellence and importance of the individual brands and culture," he said.

"I’m so proud of what Guy Wieynk has achieved at Publicis [Worldwide’s UK arm]. Publicis was nowhere two years ago. Now he has built an integrated model and is starting to win big," Sadoun said. "What is changing is the collaboration. With the changing consumer journey, thinking one agency alone can fix everything is a mistake."

What this will allow the group to do is help one agency access the expertise of another.

"You collaborate as much as you want. It is not a constraint, it’s an opportunity," Sadoun said.

He responded to criticism that nothing gets done by committee by arguing that it can be a good thing if it allows people to share knowledge. He pointed to Wieynk, "who has incredible knowledge in technology," and Senior, "one of the best advertisers in the market, if not the best."

"If I didn’t have them sharing expertise, I’d be a fool," Sadoun said.

Of course, to ensure the agency leaders play ball, they need to be incentivized accordingly. As a start, the group is believed to be creating one P&L for the UK creative agencies, which will be overseen by Senior, although the details are being worked out.

Sadoun noted that these changes are very much a work in progress. But he says that if the company is serious about transformation, it needs to act quickly instead of just talking. After all, in a market that changes so quickly, he commented, "You can’t stay still."

This story originally appeared on Campaign UK.

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