Arthur Sadoun has shaken up his top team at Publicis Groupe, promoting four leaders to the Directoire+, a new top tier of management, as he wants the French agency group to be “next-century ready” ahead of its 100th anniversary in 2026.
Sadoun, who announced the shake-up at the same time as the supervisory board in Paris gave him a new four-year mandate as global chairman and chief executive, described the quartet as a “new generation of leaders”.
They are Agathe Bousquet, president of Publicis Groupe France, Dave Penski, chief executive of Publicis Media US, Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis Groupe, and Nigel Vaz, chief executive of Publicis Sapient.
Steve King (below), who has been the chief operating officer since 2019 and has been widely regarded as Sadoun’s number two, will leave the current top team, known as the Directoire, and he takes a newly created role as chairman of Publicis Groupe Europe.
King’s decision to step back as COO and leave the Directoire is a significant moment because the Briton has been a key figure within the group for decades as CEO of ZenithOptimedia and founding CEO of Publicis Media.
He first made his name as a founding member of Zenith when Saatchi & Saatchi separated media from its creative operations and set up the buying agency in a pioneering move in 1988 to leverage its trading power.
Publicis Groupe said Maurice Lévy, the chair of the supervisory board, and the other board members “thanked Steve King for the remarkable work throughout his career, which began at Saatchi & Saatchi and continued after the acquisition of the network by the Groupe”.
The board added: “His career is that of a great professional who has always had the success of clients and teams at heart, while representing our values.”
King, who turned 63 in August, will keep working full time and be a member of the management committee – the next tier of management below the Directoire.
“He will continue to work for some major clients, and bring his experience to the Groupe’s future talents” in areas such as mentoring, the company said.
Big, international regions such as King's new remit covering Europe matter within Publicis Groupe, Sadoun added, noting he has responsibility himself for North America.
“The new age of commerce”
Publicis Groupe said Sadoun had picked the four new members of the Directoire+ because they are “highly qualified individuals who have demonstrated great mastery of operations in their role”.
He explained the rationale for the new changes in a video to staff.
When he became CEO in 2017, his focus was on digital “transformation” for clients and “shifting to a platform organisation” – rather than being siloed with creative, media, technology and data being separate.
That move has paid off, he said, as Publicis Groupe has been performing strongly with 10% growth in 2021 and again in H1 2022.
Now Publicis Groupe needs to evolve again for what he called “the new age of commerce” as areas such as ecommerce and retail media become more central to how clients run their businesses.
Sadoun said: “Most of our industry is still relegating commerce to a specialism, a siloed capability, just like everyone did wrongly with digital years ago. This is a mistake we won’t make.
“Today every brand, business, channel, platform, person, can be a hub of commerce like never before. Thanks to data and technology, every brand experience can become a commerce experience.
“From a text to a tweet, a tik-tok video to a television spot, a store visit to a transaction in the metaverse, every interaction today has the potential to lead to commerce.
“This is a big opportunity for our clients and for us, but also a big risk if we don’t make it a core priority for our group.
“With [data unit] Epsilon and [consulting arm] Publicis Sapient now fully integrated with our media and creative operations, we are uniquely placed to lead this creative commerce revolution, and put it at the core of our clients’ transformation journeys."
Michel-Alain Proch, chief financial officer, and Anne-Gabrielle Hellebronner, secretary-general, remain on a “wider” Directoire – along with members of the Directoire+ – which is responsible for corporate and administrative functions.
The management board, which includes about 18 leaders, operates below the Directoire+ and Directoire.
The shake-up is arguably the biggest management change at Publicis Groupe since 2014, when the company announced plans for Lévy to step down as CEO in 2017 after 30 years and previously created a Directoire+.
Sadoun and King were both appointed to the Directoire+ in 2014 and Sadoun later went on to succeed Lévy as CEO.
Lévy welcomed Sadoun’s new mandate as CEO and said the Directoire+ was “a formula that has proven its worth in the past” and the creation of the new management line-up “has been the subject of very thorough work”.
Lévy added: “This team will be in charge of operationalising the 'Power of One' in an even deeper, broader and more demanding way, with the integration of the e-commerce functions now inseparable from all dimensions of marketing and business transformation.”
Publicis Groupe is the world's second largest agency group with about 90,000 employees.
Sadoun told staff as part of his presentation that the group has overtaken WPP and closed the gap on Omnicom in terms of stock market capitalisation and was ahead of both in terms of organic growth since 2019.
This article first appeared in Campaign.