'I hope we will still be cousins': Levy on Brexit, UK and Publicis restructure

Publicis Groupe's chief executive, Maurice Lévy, has said the group's performance in the UK in 2015 was "better than expected", despite the 4.4 per cent drop in revenues.

Maurice Levy: "I hope we will still be cousins"
Maurice Levy: "I hope we will still be cousins"

He spoke to Campaign after the group’s full year results were released today.

In the results, Publicis Groupe attributed the decline in the UK to the restructure of Razorfish and the management change at Publicis Worldwide’s UK office.

Lévy said the drop in the UK had already been forecast, but added: "Everyone has done a better job than what we expected. Despite the fact the numbers are down, the trend is positive. We feel good about the UK this year."

But he has concerns about a potential Brexit (the UK leaving the European Union) and believes it would hurt the UK more than Europe.

"I think politically and from a European dream, it will be a waste to see the UK leaving Europe. I do sincerely hope we will be still be cousins and we will not need to shut down the channel," Lévy said.

A possible bid for Cheil?

At the start of the year, reports suggested that Publicis Groupe was considering making a bid to take a controlling stake (30 per cent) in the Seoul-based Cheil Worldwide. Cheil and Publicis both share Samsung as a client. Cheil began life as Samsung’s in-house agency and the tech company still has a 25 per cent stake in the agency.

When asked if there had been any movement on the issue, Lévy said: "We have a policy – it is a cliché – that we don’t comment on rumour or speculation."

But he added: "We have regular conversations with Samsung about what avenues we can explore to have a service that is more integrated between Cheil and ourselves. This is something that has been discussed for many years. Clearly there are some interesting avenues to look at."

On the restructure

Publicis Groupe announced a major restructure at the end of last year that will see the business organised around four "solutions hubs": Publicis Communications (headed by Arthur Sadoun, and incorporating all the creative agencies), Publicis Media (all the media agencies headed by Steve King), Publicis Sapient (digital agencies led by Alan Herrick) and Publicis Healthcare.

Partly, the change has been sparked by the need to turn around a disappointing run of financial results. The other, according to the initial press release, was to put the client "at the heart" of the business.

Explaining the move to Campaign, Lévy said clients had always been at the core of the business and its first area of focus, but said the changes are to ensure clients are benefitting from all of the group’s assets.

In practice, this means changing the thinking around how a client is serviced. "A client is coming to an agency most of the time because he wants a problem to be solved. We are expected to bring a solution," he said.

"The best way to manage this is to change the prism of the way you see the organisation. So you look at the client first, and then the units as solutions. We look at the clients as a vertical rather than a horizontal."

Although not explicit, this sounds like a jibe against "horizontality" – the word WPP’s chief executive, Martin Sorrell, uses to describe collaborative working between his agencies.

Operators not middle men

Overseeing the key client relationships will be new "chief client officers" – which Lévy expects to announce by the end of the month.

He claimed these positions will not be intermediaries between a client and different agencies, but positions of real power: "This is not about moving pieces on a chessboard. We don’t want to have a middle man or a go-between easing the relationship with the client. We want to have people who are dedicated, fully in charge and acting as CEOs. They will definitely be an operator."

Lévy said Publicis Groupe will start new training programmes to upgrade the knowledge of the new chief client officers, and enable them to have conversations with clients about all parts of their marketing problem, including digital, marketing, media and creative.

"We want them to be far better than anything that exists in the competition," he said.

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