By ELEANOR TRICKETT, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 16 July 1999 12:00AM
A couple of big cheeses in the Publicis Group have been wandering
around unfamiliar offices in recent weeks, staff telephone lists and
maps to the coffee machine in hand, trying to remember not to stroll
into their old buildings of a Monday morning.
Publicis Dialog’s new chairman, Chris Parry, for example, admits having
trouble remembering to say ’Dee-a-log’, rather than the more obvious
’Dye-a-log’. And many’s the occasion that he refers to his ’old’ agency,
- where he was also chairman - as ’us’, rather than ’them’.
Mike Croft, FCA!’s new boss - formerly the chief executive of Publicis
Technology - seems to be settling in a little more easily, though he
admits that he’s not very good with names and is worried about offending
someone he really ought to know.
To the rest of us, the moves are reasonably straightforward. Publicis
Dialog needed a new boss after the sudden, shady departure of its chief
executive, Fred Kuys, earlier this year, and rather than looking outside
the group, Parry, from sister network FCA!, was picked for the job.
Parry’s move made way for Croft, deemed by the group’s chiefs to be
perfect for the next phase of FCA!’s development. Add Giles Keeble,
formerly the creative director of the Open Agency, to the mix as
creative director of Publicis Technology; split off the
business-to-business accounts and put them into FCA!; evolve Publicis
Technology into a new-media shop, and we’re pretty much there.
The Publicis Group shake-up has left some a little bewildered, however,
including Parry, who moved from Campaign’s direct agency of the year to
a shop that lies at the beck and call of its above-the-line sister and,
to boot, has been rife with personnel problems. If Parry is delighted
about the move, he’s doing a splendid job of hiding it.
But it would be unfair to question his commitment, as he has pledged to
make Dialog live up to its potential. And it is also a little unfair to
belittle Dialog for suffering the dubious affliction of handling
shedloads of Publicis Group business, including its flagship Renault and
Parry is keen to point out that he wasn’t forced to move to Dialog, it
was one of a handful of options. ’I have been a Publicis Group person
for 20 years, on and off. I was picked because no-one else within the
group was right for the job. They saw what I did with FCA! in Paris and
London - develop a tremendous brand - and they want that in Dialog.’
Rick Bendel, Publicis’s UK chairman, explains that the rearrangements
are part of a rationalisation across the group. ’When I took over, it
was clear that our vertical companies, Publicis Financial, Publicis
Technology, Publicis Advertising and FCA!, had nothing to do with the
market,’ he says.
So Publicis decided to make a shift from companies that specialise by
market sector to companies that specialise in disciplines. ’The decision
was to build an integrated network and call it Publicis. The best thing
was to run it on start-ups, and give each one a group client to be
getting on with. That way, you get the entrepreneurial skills of a
start-up but with a large, integrated, group feel,’ Bendel explains.
So where does FCA! fit in? Being part of a separate network - BMZ
- up until now meant that whatever happened inside the Publicis network
had little or no effect.
All that changed when Bendel was recently given full control of all
Publicis Group’s interests in the UK including, for the first time,
FCA!. Much glee and rubbing of hands on Bendel’s part, no doubt, as his
new toy acquired more and more value with each new-business win, each
gold creative award and the accolade of Campaign’s direct agency of the
Bendel says he had identified a gap in the media-neutral market in the
UK, and decided to rejig FCA! to take advantage of that. By removing
around half of Publicis Technology’s clients - the business-to-business
ones - and putting them into FCA!, he believes the creative agency top
ten is now within sight.
And this is where Croft comes in. A strategic whizz with group
experience and an ebullient demeanour proved irresistible to Bendel, who
predicts that Croft’s relationships with the executive creative
directors, Shaun McIlrath and Ian Harding, will be dynamite.
Croft himself says: ’Publicis marked out the three of us - three people
who are sparky, troublesome and challenging - and thought it would be
fun to put us together and see what would happen.’
Croft also agrees that splitting Publicis Technology into two was the
best thing for it. ’Over the past two years, Publicis Technology was two
different agencies; the robust and bright business-to-business side
which came through our acquisition of SMI, and the Publicis side, which
was a fledgling interactive shop. There was very little crossover
between the two. This almost became a constraint on our growth, so now
they have separated, they can be marketed without confusion.’
Bringing in Keeble was also evidence of an agency keen to differentiate
itself from the vast number of new-media shops run by callow youths with
superb technical skills but very little creative and strategic
Bendel explains: ’We’re not here for interactive fulfilment - that’s
IBM’s job. Giles has been brought in to generate creative ways of
exploiting the communication vehicles.’
Which leaves Dialog. Bendel admits that it has never quite lived up to
its potential despite the pool of talent at its disposal. The agency
will now invest more in its creative product, and Parry’s relationship
with George Boyter, Dialog’s creative director, will be decisive in
raising the agency’s profile. ’If a new chairman doesn’t believe in
creativity, nothing will happen,’ Parry says. ’FCA! became what it did
because of my relationship with Shaun and Ian, and it will be the same
with George here.’
However, Bendel and Parry obviously have more talking to do before the
direction of Dialog is secured. While Parry is realistic about new
business targets - he says: ’We’re not about to start pitching for
pounds 10 million accounts; at FCA! it took years to get past the pounds
1 million mark’ - the two have different ideas over positioning.
Bendel says: ’I want it to be our relationship marketing agency, using
all channels to talk to people directly. It is not an advertising
agency, nor should it be. We don’t want - or need - two FCA!s.’ Parry,
however, wants a total communications agency.
Furthermore, while Parry is girding his loins to pitch against FCA!
Bendel says this will never happen. FCA! won’t pitch for direct
marketing-only clients, and Dialog will never be a one-stop shop.
The general consensus seems to be that this is a demotion for Parry.
Is this the case? ’What do you think?’ he replies coyly, then agrees
with Campaign’s diplomatic reply that it’s up to him to make sure that
Edited by Eleanor Trickett
Tel: 0181-267 4901
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk