Q&A: MSL's new U.S. CEO Diana Littman outlines her plans for 2019

Littman embarked on her new role at the Publicis Groupe firm having transitioned from Marina Maher Communications at the end of last year.

Diana Littman is MSL's fifth U.S. CEO in the past six years.
Diana Littman is MSL's fifth U.S. CEO in the past six years.

Publicis Groupe has quietly tweaked the way it structures its PR assets over the past 15 months, dropping the MSLGroup umbrella in favor of a PR group structure and combining its strategic consultancy brands.

Publicis’ PR Agency Network, overseen by CEO Guillaume Herbette, includes MSL, Kekst CNC, and Qorvis Communications.

Jeremy Fielding and Bernhard Meising are co-CEOs of Kekst CNC, two Publicis brands that merged last October and previously operated under MSLGroup; Michael Petruzzello is MD of Qorvis Communications, formerly Qorvis MSLGroup.

In the U.S., Diana Littman replaced Ron Guirguis as CEO of MSL, formally taking charge at the start of this year, reporting directly to Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun.

PRWeek caught up with Littman to discover what’s on her to-do list for MSL in the U.S. in 2019.

What attracted you to the MSL role?

I thrive on change and I’m very interested in what our industry will look like in the next five, 10, 20 years. The chance to be part of what Publicis Groupe is doing at the bigger picture and new models level was very exciting to me. I like Publicis’ Power of One concept. We’re the one communications, PR, influence agency within the group. As an entity overall, and a platform, it’s a great opportunity to think about how we transform the agency, but also the industry, as part of Publicis and the Power of One. That’s what attracted me to this, being part of a dynamic holding company that’s thinking about the industry at large. The influence and impact positioning of MSL is a very strong platform and MSL is core to the transformation of Publicis Groupe.

Is there a weakness going to market as Publicis versus strong individual agency brands?

Publicis is putting everything under client-centric teams that are right for the clients’ business today and tomorrow, and that’s the way the industry is moving. We’re one audience experience and Publicis is tackling business challenges and maximizing business opportunities based on that. We’re building a holistic model based on the experiences the people we are trying to reach have.

How do you ensure PR doesn’t get lost in that integrated mix?

Nobody at group level sees PR in that way. Arthur [Sadoun] doesn’t, and I report directly to him because he believes in the discipline within the integrated model. There’s going to be strength in our offering and I play a big role in shaping what the model looks like. My remit is an MSL remit, but also looking at Publicis Groupe and what our discipline looks like within the group – and it is core to the transformation of the group and the journey it is on. That is ultimately what attracted me to this position.

How important was it that you reported directly to Arthur Sadoun?

It speaks to the value Arthur places on the discipline on the art and science of what we do, and our industry.

Where does MSL’s global CEO Guillaume Herbette fit in to the structure?

MSL has a strong global business and global team across the world. My focus is on the U.S. Guillaume and I are partners and we work very closely together in thinking about MSL overall, and we have a close partnership.

How do you plan to grow MSL in the U.S.?

We have great opportunity within the group. There’s a lot happening in terms of new business and existing clients and that’s a big focus. We have a strong client base across consumer, corporate, and healthcare, so we have a great opportunity for growth across the group. It’s a big opportunity to be increasingly connected with Publicis Groupe from a Power of One perspective to build and grow together, working on integrated briefs.

What’s on your to-do list for 2019?

I’m only a couple of weeks in right now, so I’m visiting all our offices and still have a lot to learn about the business. We have a lot going on in terms of new business. For me, it’s all about ensuring we have the strongest offering for MSL and our clients. We’re thinking about how we innovate within the industry, and also ensuring we’re thinking big picture about the overall model. My priorities are spending time with the team, time with clients, focusing on how we develop the offering, how we grow, and how integrate in a deeper way within the group.

What is the biggest difference between your new role at MSL and former job at MMC?

Marina Maher Communications as an agency and Marina Maher as a leader is one of the strongest agencies in the industry. At MMC, we looked at how we were building a different model as an agency. At MSL, I’m focused on that for the agency and for the group. And that scale is what attracted me to the job.

What encourages you about the task ahead?

The strength of work at MSL has been noteworthy, as evidenced by the strong presence we achieved in the PRWeek Awards shortlist. The work the agency is doing is very strong, and that’s been great to uncover. It’s a great base to build from over the next 12 months.

What will success look like 12 months from now?

Success is all about momentum. The industry is changing very quickly, our clients are changing very quickly. It’s all about the momentum we can build. We have to focus on marketing and business, and speed in the work we do, and being collaborative, both with clients and within our network, collaborating across all disciplines. Have we achieved some of our transformation internally and have we achieved momentum with clients who want to do ground-breaking work and built momentum to grow?

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