Publicis Conseil should be one of the most respected agencies in France. Its flagship client is Renault, which is France's sixth-biggest spender. It has been the hub for global clients such as Lancome and Club Med since the late 90s. The agency employs around 350 people, about the same number as Saatchi & Saatchi in London.
But although the Publicis group and its pugnacious chairman, Maurice Levy, have achieved miracles in the business arena (its purchase of the Saatchis network in 2000, for example, caused some jaws to drop), the Publicis network has not traditionally shared the limelight with its sister networks.
Publicis is undergoing a transformation, however. First, it hired Dave Droga as its global creative director last year to beef up the network's creative output. Now the spotlight is on Publicis Conseil.
Six months ago, Christophe Lambert joined the agency as its president from CLM/BBDO and wasted no time in putting his dream team in place. Since his arrival, he has hired four of France's highest-calibre creative teams, three of which boast experience on car accounts. He was instrumental in helping the network to win the $200 million global pharmaceutical Sanofi business, just a few months after his arrival.
Lambert is particularly pleased with his latest hiring. Olivier Altmann will join Lambert as the co-president to salvage Publicis Conseil's creative reputation. He leaves BDDP & Fils, where he was its chief executive and co-founder.
Altmann has experience on a car client (BMW) and was the brains behind the revered "meditation" spot for the marque. He is also renowned for his work on Manix condoms: one of his most famous spots follows the product being unrolled down an index finger. As a mark of just how sensitive the condom is, an ink pad shows the exact fingerprint in startling detail.
Altmann, commenting on his appointment, says: "Publicis Conseil is seen as an agency that uses its connections and relationships to win business, but now it wants to re-establish a reputation for creativity. When Levy told me what he was trying to do, I realised I would be a fool to miss out."
When it comes to raising the creative bar in France, it seems that Lambert's arrival at Publicis has been something of a catalyst.
"Christophe asked me to work with him a few years ago, but it was too early to leave the agency that I helped to found," Altmann says. "Now time has moved on and this is a completely different opportunity. We're trying to wake Sleeping Beauty."
Altmann, 39, started his career as a copywriter at FCB in 1987, later moving to BDDP. In 1998, he launched the spin-off agency BDDP & Fils.
It quickly established a reputation for outstanding creative work for brands such as Egg, Samsung mobiles and La Poste.
Lambert explains how the duo will work together: "In France, business works like a monarchy. You have one king, the president, who has all the power. But this is a partnership: equal power, with defined areas of responsibility. Altmann is in charge of creative and I'm in charge of the clients."
Altmann's appointment has not been without friction. His hiring led to the departures of the strategic director, Gilles Masson, and the creative directors, Antoine Barthuel and Daniel Fohr, to Leo Burnett. Lambert says: "I knew I needed the right people to achieve my very high ambitions. I decided to try to work with the existing team, but I had to make up my mind quickly. After a few months, I realised we weren't going to be able to move forward together."
The duo intends not only to improve the creative output of the agency's existing clients, but also to win, in Altmann's words, "the kind of glamorous brands that would normally go to agencies in the UK or the Netherlands".
Publicis also needs a big retail brand to replace Carrefour, after its wounding move to BETC Euro RSCG last September.
"It's become fashionable to offer creative people fancy titles to get them to come to your agency," Altmann says. "But with me it's rather different, as I was already the boss and here I'm a partner. I don't really care about the title, it's the adventure that attracted me."
Lambert is delighted to have hooked Altmann ("I tried to get him twice before") and it's clear they have complementary working styles. "You can tell by the way that Olivier sits there with his cigar he's the calm one," Lambert says.
Altmann concedes: "Christophe is all nervous energy and no bullshit. He isn't afraid of upsetting people - even clients. I am a little more political. I like consensus."
Rumour has it that Altmann is the nice guy and Lambert is the one with the ego. Lambert grins: "I hope Olivier has an ego. You can't work in advertising without one."
PUBLICIS' CREATIVE TALENT
Four of France's hottest creative teams have been enticed over to
Publicis Conseil this year. They are:
Team: Eric Helias and Jorge Carreno
Former agency: TBWA\Paris
CV highlight: Won the print Grand Prix at Cannes for PlayStation print
Team: Jean-Marc Tramoni and Marc Rosier
Former agency: BETC Euro RSCG
CV highlights: Worked on Orange and Peugeot at BETC. At Saatchi &
Saatchi before that, where they worked on Toyota and France Telecom
Team: Robin de Lestrade and Guilhem Arnal
Former agency: BDDP & Fils
CV highlights: Worked on BMW, La Poste and Michelin
Team: Bruno Delhomme and Andrea Leupold
Former agency: BETC Euro RSCG
CV highlights: Worked on Air France, Peugeot and anti-tobacco campaigns
at BETC and won 2003 ad effectiveness Grand Prix at Effies