In June last year, Publicis shocked the industry with a declaration that it would be pulling its marketing and awards budget for a year to invest in Marcel.
Despite some internal outcry, Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer at Publicis Groupe told Campaign that the decision was in truth a response to the demands of the group’s 80,000 employees following a "big group talent survey".
The new generation of talent wants to be able to "work the way they live" with the convenience of a few clicks of a smartphone. But the way they worked at the agency group had changed little in the past decade.
So this was a much-needed "reinvention", Arthur Sadoun, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe, said in a statement about the launch of Marcel.
"The need for reinvention is stronger than ever. At Publicis Groupe, we haven’t waited to act. We have broken the divide between data, creativity and technology. We have broken our silos through the 'Power of One'. Today, we are breaking the barriers between talent and opportunity with Marcel," Sadoun said.
Marcel, Sadoun continued, is proof of the group’s commitment to its clients, its talent and the industry. "We will be a force for good, by leading the change," he explained.
Tying the development of Marcel to a one-year industry event hiatus was a controversial decision, Sadoun admitted, but it was necessary to "draw a line in the sand" that leaves no doubt of the company’s determination.
What Marcel will do
Publicis’ aspirations for Marcel are for the platform to grant every employee access to the "power of 80,000".
The first few functions introduced are centred around "opportunity, productivity, connectivity and knowledge".
In terms of opportunity and connectivity, Marcel will provide multiple ways each employee can contribute to ongoing projects or pitches. These individuals will either be found and recommended by the AI, or they will be able to pitch ideas. Marcel will also have access to employees’ calendars and will be able to make recommendations that take the person’s workload and availability into account alongside behavioural patterns, needs, desires and experience.
Publicis also promises its employees that Marcel will cut time spent on tedious and highly-manual processes such as timesheets and expenses. While Marcel won’t auto-generate timesheets, it can create a base one employees can adjust and approve.
Marcel will also serve as a repository and usable archive of all of Publicis Groupe’s work and assets, making it easy for employees to seek inspiration, historical client work and do research. The group has partnered with Cannes Lions to include its archives of 200,000 award-winning case studies - spanning 2002 to 2018 - as an added knowledge resource for its agencies.
How Marcel will achieve this
To make all this happen, Publicis Groupe has had to build its own proprietary enterprise knowledge graph (EKG). The EKG takes into account more than five billion data files and maps relationships within it. Marcel then uses AI tools to process, filter, and organise the data to make it useful. This is an ongoing effort that will, like all AI applications, improve with time and usage.
In late January, Microsoft signed on as a technology and AI partner for Publicis Groupe, a partnership that Microsoft instigated.
"One day, I received a call from Satya [Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft] saying he was interested in the project," Sadoun said in an interview with Campaign. "We had breakfast and I was so impressed. What he’s doing with Microsoft was very close to the ambition we have for Marcel and this is why he’s coming to Paris for the unveiling. He has such faith in the project and for the past five months we’ve had the best AI experts to help us out."
While Publicis.Sapient has the necessary skills to build the architecture needed, Microsoft provided the scale, Sadoun explained.
"Our teams have been working day and night since February, meeting twice a day, seven days a week. We have a shared urgency to break and reinvent the industry," he said.
What Marcel will be like to use
Sadoun has promised that Publicis employees will not be required to use Marcel, and that all of the interaction and data employees provide will be on an opt-in basis.
"It’s about engagement, versus compliance," Nick Law, chief creative officer of Publicis Groupe told Campaign. "You get energy and creativity out of engagement. The app should engage people and make their jobs better so they naturally want to use. If it’s not doing that, then we need to get on it."
Marcel will debut as a mobile application for Android and iOS, but future versions will include a desktop version and other interfaces as needs arise.
The goal for the Marcel team was to design it to be as user-friendly as any consumer app. Users can interface with it by voice or text, and the AI engine will suggest refinements to queries that provide large returns to help someone rapidly make connections and complete goals.
The app will also proactively present what it deems to be relevant connections and information. Each workday, Marcel will serve six prompts tailored to the person’s role and interests in the form of a daily digest. Marcel will refine what it presents each day based on an employee’s interaction and feedback.
Today, Marcel is in use by a team of 100 alpha users. In June, a beta version will be launched to 1,000 people selected to be representative of Publicis Groupe, by agency, role and geography.
This group will provide feedback that will help refine the app. As has been said on the group’s recent investor day, the company has a goal to role Marcel out to 80% of its workforce by 2020.
This beta phase will include:
- a precise onboarding process defined to ensure beta user profiles are complete
- a training module available to get the individual familiar with the Marcel platform
- a feedback function included for employees to provide real-time feedback
Going forward, there will be multiple, updated versions until the optimal state-of-the-art product developed for rollout to the entire Publicis Groupe in January 2019.