I can make Publicis UK great, new CEO insists

Kate Magee meets Guy Wieynk, the former AKQA executive now charged with turning around a heritage ad brand.

Guy Wieynk
Guy Wieynk

It’s Tuesday night and live music is pumping on the rooftop of 82 Baker Street, played to a crowd that includes the Publicis bigwigs Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun.

This is the official "welcome home" party for Publicis UK, which has returned to its Marylebone offices after a two-year renovation.

For Guy Wieynk, who joined after 16 years at WPP’s AKQA and 12 months’ gardening leave, it marks his first 100 days in the role of group chief executive. It is also the symbolic start to a long-awaited reboot of the agency.

Last week, Lévy blamed poor financial results on the lack of a UK boss at Publicis Worldwide for nearly two years, but said he expected a return to growth later in 2015.

No pressure, then, for Wieynk, whose digital agency background made him an unusual choice to run an adland heritage brand.

His brief is to evolve the group’s offering, in part by creating closer relationships between its five agencies – Publicis London (creative), Publicis Chemistry (CRM), Publicis Blueprint (content marketing), Poke (digital, and the current jewel in the crown) and the newly acquired Vivid Brand (shopper marketing).

Uniting the agencies physically was the first step. The second is to put the right internal processes in place. "Integration is a dangerous word. It’s about interdependency," Wieynk says.

While the agencies will retain their own brands, he is in the process of scrapping the separate P&Ls to end any turf wars over business. Clients will now be run across the group and there will be mixed agency teams for new-business pitches.

"I want to get the guys focused on doing the right thing for clients and that means getting rid of artificial mechanics that drive the wrong behaviours," Wieynk says.

He has broadened the group’s capabilities with the acquisition of Vivid Brand. Next up is a play in the content space, which will be a more urgent concern after Blueprint lost its founding client, Asda, last month and stands to shed up to 50 staff through Tupe regulations. Publicis Chem­istry will be refocused on one-to-one comms and its data team will become a resource that the group can use.

There will be key staff changes with a raft of "amazing" upcoming arrivals but also senior exits such as Mike Welsh, the chief executive of Publicis Chemistry who stepped down last week.

Wieynk also wants to change the culture of the group, by pushing people harder and instilling a drive to do better, while injecting confidence and scrapping hierarchies.

Although he doesn’t mention his former agency, a high-performing culture is something more associated with AKQA. But Wieynk says Publicis’ culture will be supportive, not internally competitive.

"The last thing I want is a whole load of ‘type A’ personalities who will do whatever it takes to get to the top. We need to build trust and communities to be a relevant modern business," he says.

So far, it would appear that Publicis Groupe has a healthy appetite for change in the UK and is prepared to invest. Drugstore, the innovation facility in Old Street it set up last year, is one sign of this.

"Publicis UK is a prototype for what Publicis Worldwide will look like globally. There’s a huge amount of support around that. Everyone talks about how things get locked away in Paris, but I’ve not seen any indication of that at all. If I want something, it normally comes back within 24 hours. But I can’t abuse that, I need to earn it," he says.

Wieynk held positions at AKQA including managing director in New York and Europe, and latterly vice-president of international.

Wieynk says he left because "there was nowhere for me to go", and that he wanted to learn about the "amazing set of crafts" of traditional adland.

"Of course, you need a very strong, robust, digital backbone, and that’s what I’m going to build. But, at my old place, I was getting into the habit of selling certain types of solution," he says.

"Everyone is so keen to bash traditional advertising. Actually, maybe a TV ad is right. It’s not just about digital. Maybe I’m the digital guy who is a traditional ad­vertising evangelist."

Wieynk is likeable, straightforward and down to earth. "I’d like to think I’m not one of your big ad ego guys," he says.

He is also very business-focused with a racing mind and obvious drive. And after a year of gardening leave – spent kite-surfing ("my obsessional hobby"), travelling with his family and making detailed plans for the new role  – he has a clear vision for the agency.

So clear that, on his first day when he went to meet Lévy to explain his plans, Wieynk presented his boss with just two A4 sheets of paper. One had a quote on it, the other a simple diagram with what he would deliver against four areas. The pair spent two hours talking about his diagram.

"We’re on a journey," Wieynk says. "I’m going to focus on the things I can control. What I can control is turning this from a good agency to a great agency."

He certainly has the ambition. For the sake of Publicis UK, let’s hope he can deliver.


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