MSLGroup EMEA: Agency Business Report 2015

Mixed results but the UK helps paint a positive picture for the Publicis Groupe agency

Olivier Fleurot: CEO, MSL Group
Olivier Fleurot: CEO, MSL Group

Principals: Olivier Fleurot, CEO; Anders Kempe, EMEA president; Jason Frank and James Parsons, joint CEOs, UK
Ownership: Publicis Groupe
Offices: Global 115; UK 2
Revenues: Global $450m-£500m (£305m-£339m); UK €35m (£25m) (estimated)
Headcount: Global 3,016; UK 250

EMEA proved to be a bright spot in a challenging year for MSL. The region (excluding France, which is counted as a separate entity) saw single-digit growth, with the UK, Germany and Poland excelling on high-single to low-double-digit expansion. Overall EMEA was the second best performing region behind Latin America.

MSL Group CEO Olivier Fleurot says he was "expecting a better year" overall in 2014, with global revenue experiencing a "very slight trailing off". But, in a nod to parts of EMEA, he stresses that "some regions and some countries did very well".

Last year was a period of change for MSL in the region, not least in London, where the departure of Jeremy Sice as chief executive saw Jason Frank and James Parsons, chief marketing officer and chief operating officer respectively, given joint chief executive roles.

The agency’s Capital MSL and Communications Networking Consulting divisions merged under new entity CNC. MSL also bought the 70-employee-strong Salterbaxter agency last summer. "They have a very, very good portfolio of clients, not only in the UK but also in France and the US," says Fleurot of the newly rebranded Salterbaxter MSL.

Anders Kempe, EMEA president, is upbeat about the UK business, which now employs around 250 people. "We now have a much better platform in London," he says. "We have more of a realistic offering now."

Kempe adds: "We were growing last year and we are very optimistic for this year."

Eastern Europe has been a particular area of growth, with new offices opening in Bucharest, Sofia and Ljubljana, while the operation in Poland now employs more than 100 people. The Practice (Romania), Marc (Bulgaria) and LiveCom (Slovenia) were all integrated into MSL Group in the past year. Meanwhile, Epic Communications in South Africa became the agency’s first wholly owned entity on the African continent.

MSL has a "conservative approach" to discussing clients, and declined to say how much of its growth was from existing clients and how much from new ones (or which clients were lost).

How­ever, the agency says its largest clients had "impressive growth" in 2014 and it achieved a number of "important wins".

Fleurot highlights Netflix as a significant account win in 2014, with a remit to cover several countries across Europe and beyond: "We are probably going to help it launch in a few other countries. That’s a demanding and fast-moving client."

Global brewer SABMiller was another major coup.MSL’s digital work grew by 50 per cent between 2013 and 2014. "Now about 20 per cent of our work is truly digital," Fleurot points out.

The company racheted up its digital capabilities using its "content engine", enabling MSL to offer a "holistic" approach that can include building websites and mobile apps. One major appointment last year was Jeff Melton, who was brought in as SVP, global technology and platforms, to manage and develop new tools and platforms.

Another important internal development in 2014 was the launch of Mind, a Facebook-style social knowledge platform to share expertise across the group.

Staff turnover
Recruitment remains a challenge, although Kempe points out that staff turnover is lower today than it has been. Turnover is between 20 and 25 per cent globally but with "very strong differences" bet­ween regions. London is one place where churn is especially high because it is "such a competitive marketplace".

Fleurot says: "I would say that everything is more competitive today, because in-house [competition] is better, our competitors are better. That said, because of the fact that we have much stronger brands now in the UK and EMEA, and quite fun assignments to work on, that makes it possible to find the right talent."

Asked about his priorities for the year ahead, Fleurot emphasises the need to continue transforming the business in general. In terms of target clients, he is keen to go "up the value chain" and offer "value-added services" to satisfy their requirements.

Kempe says one challenge is for MSL to become more "well known as a brand" in the UK, even though the agency has "improved and changed a lot" in the country. He is optimistic about the year ahead for EMEA: "Because of the improved economy in Europe, I think this could be a really good year. For the moment we have a better pipeline than we did before, even though we have to work hard for it."

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