Lévy on Cannes

As adland comes to the South of France, the head of Publicis Groupe talks candidly about the dreams and the heartache behind the industry's biggest merger that never was, and attributes its ultimate failure down to a lack of love.

Lévy on Cannes

Maurice Lévy chairman and chief executive, Publicis Groupe

Between the last Cannes Festival and this one, we have envisioned going through with the biggest merger of our industry, and finally decided it wouldn’t be materialised. The news at announcement time was a real tsunami and took everyone by surprise.

Needless to say, I’ve been immensely enthused about this merger and I fiercely fought to see it happen.

Hence a commensurate disappointment when this dream collapsed – as it really was a dream. Not merely about scale or profits, but chiefly about transforming our industry – an industry that is coping with no less than a digital earthquake: empowerment, datafication, speed and transparency. Some will call it a utopia or an immoderate ambition that we underestimated. I prefer to think, with a guilty conscience, about young generations that strongly believe in such a dream and that we let them down. That said, although it’s a shame this dream was never realised, not dreaming at all would have been even more shameful.

As is the case for love, only the converging will of two people can pave the way for something bigger

I always say that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. We can learn a lot from this failed deal – that’s a fact. About people, their strategies, their ulterior motives, their differences (viva la différence!). But you can’t just blame differences – we’re all different, in terms of habits, shareholding base or governance. Perhaps the main lesson to be learned is that of shared willpower: as is the case for love, only the converging will of two people can pave the way for something bigger.

Too bad it did not happen, but it’s OK – life is really good for Publicis. The year 2013 was undeniably an exceptional year: all of our results (revenue, gross margin, net profits and cash flow) reached records levels, thanks to our teams’ dedication and talent. For our agencies and for our networks – including the number one and number three media agencies globally (Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia), coveted digital agencies such as DigitasLBi and impressive creative talents that Advertising Age recently honoured – this unrealised dream is another reason to go the extra mile. On top of continuously bringing new ideas to our clients, we will further transform our industry ourselves, with the help of innovations we’ve always believed and invested in. Eventually, we will succeed in fostering a joie de vivre among enthusiastic young generations – that’s our promise and our recipe for success.