Editorial: Publicis' Levy must let his managers do their job

Maurice Levy is at his most confident when he holds all the aces. His worst nightmare is not being in control. No doubt the Publicis Groupe chairman would acknowledge that the fates have been dealing him mixed hands recently.

His handling of Rick Bendel's departure as the chief operating officer of the Publicis network was a classic example of Levy's skill in keeping his hand close to his chest until news of the resignation could be accompanied by the announcement of a replacement management team.

Last week, the game took a nasty turn. The cards did not fall well for him. Levy's usual strategy of keeping a problem to himself until he has an answer was trumped when Christophe Lambert, the chairman of the network's flagship Paris agency, Publicis Conseil, resigned to do a start-up with two of the group's star creatives, Frederic Raillard and Farid Mokart (page 17). To rub salt in his wounds, it's being backed by his closest rival, the Havas chairman, Vincent Bollore.

The price Levy must pay for this is potentially substantial. Most notable is the possible loss of the SFR telecoms account in order to keep the France Telecom business currently with the Publicis-owned Marcel, the agency for which Raillard and Mokart were the creative catalysts.

The worst outcome from all this is that it should reinforce Levy's belief he is indispensable to his beloved Publicis, and that he alone can perform the juggling act necessary to see it through its current bother.

It may be hard for Levy to take a pragmatic approach because of the emotional dimension. Not only did he indulge Raillard and Mokart, but also allowed their agency to take its name from Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, the Publicis founder and a man with whom Levy had a special bond.

Whatever the rights or wrongs, Levy feels betrayed and humiliated. All his instincts are doubtless telling him he should fix the problem himself. Not least because it has occurred in Paris, the city in which his power is the greatest.

Levy must not let this get too personal. In appointing Olivier Fleurot and Richard Pinder to run the Publicis network, he must give them the oxygen to do their job. Levy must have his say, but he must let his managers manage.

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