One of the most pressing – at least if you’re sitting in the UK – now seems to have been addressed. Robert Senior is leading Publicis Communications in the UK, with each of the local creative agencies now working more closely together to share expertise.
It’s early days, and "capability audits" and "show and tells" are under way. But from the enthusiastic reception the decision has received from the UK chief executives of Publicis Worldwide, Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi (the group’s main UK creative agencies), either they’re convinced the new set-up will mark a significant competitive advantage in an increasingly challenging market or they’ve been forced to down Publicis’ corporate Kool-Aid.
I’m inclined to think it’s more the former, not least because, if you’re going to create a cross-agency alliance, there are few people better-suited to lead it here than Senior – highly respected and with an absolute passion for brilliant, brave creativity. What’s more, for a local agency CEO used to reporting to a mandarin on the other side of the ocean who has little understanding of or interest in the issues and pressures of the UK market, this new approach could represent a real lifeline. Having the support of a leader who knows your marketplace, your clients, your staff and your competitors is a compelling alternative to the traditional model of the all-powerful global chief covering a hundred offices or more without any deep insight into most of them. And the new structure also creates a powerful allegiance of local agency CEOs all working towards the same overall goal, which – in this case – is claimed to be creating the very best work for all of the group’s clients.
Of course, there are very real management and motivational challenges in establishing this collegiate structure. Ensuring each of the CEOs feels empowered and engaged is key; sharing skills and expertise across agencies will only work if everyone’s incentivised on the performance of the whole, which could create tensions over individual contributions. Crucially, too, driving collaboration across some of the most iconic and respected agency brands in the market must not be allowed to compromise individual agency cultures and nuances, at least for the medium term.
But if Arthur Sadoun, Publicis Communications’ chief executive, and Senior can pull this off, they will have created a new dynamic in the UK and safeguarded the future of their agency brands, or at least those that deserve to be safeguarded. For the weaker agency brands, of course, this could be the beginning of the end.