Editorial: How will Publicis ensure Razorfish pays its way?

On the face of it, the $530 million takeover of the digital agency Razorfish by Publicis Groupe looks like a shrewd piece of business by its chairman, Maurice Levy.

And so it may prove. The cash-and-shares offer will take Publicis a long way down the line to becoming a world leader in digital communications. Razorfish's expertise is unarguable, it has an impressive client portfolio, particularly in the key US market, and it will add serious clout to the already formidable presence Publicis has in the digital field. Indeed, it is now able to boast of having more digital assets than any other marcoms holding company.

So far, so good for the French. But the deal does pose some questions. The most intriguing is why WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell who, along with Japan's Dentsu, had Razorfish in his sights, should have opted - or been forced - to quit the game. Another is what exactly is included in the deal?

Levy has paid an eye-watering amount of money for his prize. For one thing, not even the digital sector has been recession-proof. For another, Microsoft, Razorfish's previous owner, didn't see the business as core and was eager to offload it.

Also, how does Publicis use it to enhance the digital capabilities it offers to clients? Is it wise to put all its digital assets under the VivaKi umbrella? Won't that make it more difficult for the Publicis Groupe mainstream agencies to make the most of the digital technology?

Finally, there's the matter of how much the deal has turned Publicis Groupe into a hostage to fortune. A five-year agreement between Microsoft and Publicis will allow Publicis-owned agencies to buy display and search advertising on favourable terms. However, reports suggest Publicis must commit $3 billion of clients' business over the life of the agreement for it to work. Doing a headline-making deal is the easy part. The difficult bit is making it pay.

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