Low-profile Publicis chief gets set to pump up media muscle

Roger Haupt stays out of the spotlight but he gets things done, Alasdair Reid writes.

The locals in Chicago can never quite place Roger Haupt's accent.

They know it's not quite of the city, nor of the State of Illinois, although it has clearly assimilated something of the drawl you associate with the Midwest. If they are pushed to make a stab, the locals often reckon he betrays a lingering echo of something Antipodean.

Little do they suspect the truth: they are hearing the faintest traces of the sound of Hornchurch, Essex. The boy Haupt has gone far.

Last week, Haupt - who, as the president and chief operating officer of Publicis Groupe, was already one of the most powerful men in adland - added another string to his bow. He is to head a management board charged with enhancing the group's media offering.

Called Publicis Groupe Media, the board will include a number of familiar faces from the ZenithOptimedia Group (the worldwide chief executive, Steve King, plus the US boss, Rich Hamilton) and Starcom MediaVest Group (the worldwide chief executive, Jack Klues, and Mark Cranmer, the chief executive of SMG across Europe, the Middle East and Africa).

The immediate speculation was that the board would be a flimsily disguised taskforce paving the way for a merger between the Publicis Groupe's two media families. But, according to Haupt, nothing could be further from the truth. "We remain committed to a multiple brand strategy and intend to fortify the ability of those networks to provide unparalleled service to clients," he states. "In pursuit of market strength and greater client benefits, PGM will continue to explore opportunities to streamline investments that support the core media product."

It is true that much of the PGM mission statement seems to focus on dull, but worthy, administrative niceties such as back-office consolidation and the purchase at group level of non-proprietory research, systems and technologies.

Uncontroversial stuff. But there is one little corner of the blueprint that will continue to feed speculation. It seems clear the group is now committed to forming a group buying division in every market where this is feasible. The UK is one of those markets, as evidenced by the existence of WPP's Group M, Interpublic's Magna and Omnicom's OPera. The competition is certain they know what is coming.

"It seems to me they're just beginning to do what we did in setting up Group M," Dominic Proctor, the worldwide chief executive of MindShare, says. "Roger Haupt is a good choice to push that through. He is from neither of the (media) operating companies and, in that sense, he will bring objectivity. His style, generally, is dispassionate and analytical, too."

Many sources say the same thing - Haupt will get things done by working methodically in the background. And he has a surprisingly low profile for one so powerful.

That is not just because he works in the shadow of one of the most charismatic figures in the business, the Publicis chairman and chief executive, Maurice Levy. Haupt rose to the top at Leo Burnett almost by stealth, becoming the chief executive of its holding company (BDM, which was rebranded briefly as BCom3) as it absorbed the McManus Group in 1999.

Haupt reached Chicago by a roundabout route, too. A keen pilot, he had his heart set on a career in the Fleet Air Arm but had to make other plans after fracturing his skull in a car smash. He became an accountant, joined Unilever and was sent to West Africa. From there it was but a short step to the (in those days Unilever-owned) ad agency Lintas and the slightly longer step to a posting to Brazil.

He has worked on four continents but the 56-year-old Haupt is now a naturalised US citizen, having worked in Chicago since the early 80s. He became a multimillionaire when Publicis bought the BCom3 group for $2.3 billion a couple of years ago.

In private, he is charming, witty even, and an insistent advocate for his particular world view. Haupt is generally at ease giving off-the-record briefings to journalists but admits he is uncomfortable in the spotlight.

He certainly gets things done, though.

Observers were particularly impressed by the way he forged an alliance with Dentsu (the D in BDM) in the late 90s. Convincing Japanese agencies to look beyond their home territory is usually a thankless task.

But then he has a facility for picking up languages - as he proved in his globetrotting days. You can safely assume he has not forgotten how to talk to the Essex boys (metaphorically speaking) who buy media for the Publicis Groupe on this side of the pond.