Marcel's U.S. launch builds sense of job security at Publicis as economic uncertainty reigns

It took a global pandemic for the A.I. platform's imperative need to be underscored.

Marcel's U.S. launch builds sense of job security at Publicis as economic uncertainty reigns

There are two things this industry loves to talk smack about behind closed doors: Gary Vaynerchuk and Publicis Groupe’s Marcel.

We’re here to talk about the latter.

The A.I. platform has attracted headlines for all sorts of right and wrong reasons ever since it announced on the first day of Cannes Lions 2017 that it would skip awards events for a year to focus energy and resources on the launch. 

Marcel promised to be a management product that reinvented the way in which a major advertising network would communicate internally to -- ultimately -- better serve clients. 

Its journey has been a stuttering one mired in a confusion and a cloud of delays, earning ridicule from adland folk hoping to bask in its very public demise. But today, these people may find themselves eating their words. Because Marcel has never been needed more, and its successful U.S. launch this week proved that. 

"We’re all working from home -- we’re now 80,000 offices," said Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis Groupe and CEO of Publicis New York. "What people require right now is different and what they’re hankering for is different. The people’s needs changed and all of a sudden Marcel was able to be more useful at this time."

The platform was slated for global rollout by the end of June following a U.K. launch last summer. But since isolation took hold as the world grapples with COVID-19, leaders noticed a sharp uptick in Marcel usage from our friends across the pond. A partnership with healthcare company Headspace to tackle mental health amid this crisis helped engagement. This jump, combined with countless questions from employees in other markets about when Marcel was coming, sparked a launch acceleration.  

Leaders took what they had already learned from the U.K. (such as the desire for a desktop web version of Marcel, not the app or mobile-driven platform initially conceived) and went for it on Monday, hitting the green button in America. 

Publicis raises $140,000 to WHO through profile upload donations

More than half of U.S. staff (14,000) had created a profile by Thursday. A donation incentive helped. Publicis promised to give $10 to the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for every profile uploaded. That means the holding company has already amassed around $140,000 for the cause.

"The first day or kind of hellish because we had an abundance of profiles being activated -- which is what we wanted," Serrano noted. "We had a queue that was thousands and thousands. When we launched this, we set the expectations that we were accelerating it and that it wasn’t totally perfect. So people have been really forgiving. We’ve been really transparent in communication."

Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun admitted himself that it wouldn’t be perfect and to expect some bugs during his weekly video message to all staff at the end of March. 

Obvious glitches aside, the features Marcel provides are proving to be vital amid this chaos and uncertainty, not only with its beefed-up connectivity, but the greater sense of job security it is instilling through Publicis. 

One of the major platforms it offers is called "Gigs." This is an enhancement of an internal job feature U.K. Marcel houses. As well as posting roles a week before they go public, Publicis is now making staff aware of project-based work on businesses they wouldn’t normally get to have a hand in.

The kinds of short-term work up for grabs could be anything from strategically aiding a client’s transformation plan to something as simple as taking photographs of your breakfast for a campaign in need of assets.

Marcel is actually saving jobs

Serrano explained: "The reason why that’s obviously important is, as you can imagine, through the portfolio of businesses that we have, some businesses are incredibly swamped and others are not so much.  

"In our effort to protect people’s jobs, the notion is that we’re going to balance out and create one fluid workforce that allows people to help project-wise on businesses which are very busy, for those who are not particularly busy right now."

Marcel posted 300 gigs this week. Around 75 employees have already thrown their hat in the ring. 

She said: "It’s a sign that we’re taking care of our business. Gigs helps people understand that there is a strategy and an effort to equally protect our people, serve our clients as best we can and still have the ambition of the future."

Serrano stressed the holding company is able to do that because operationally and structurally it works on a country-level PnL system. 

"I think it’s very difficult if you’re still working just on your own brand or in a global perspective without this country-level opportunity to cross-pollinate across different disciplines and agencies," she said. 

Another vital solution Marcel is bringing to the table is its "Daily Digest." The round-up of 15 pieces of information is already informing markets on how best to navigate COVID-19 with clients. For example, as many in China start to get access to the office there has been an increase in campaigns welcoming people back. 

"It’s so hard to imagine that right now when you live in New York City," said Serrano, underscoring the importance of such intel. "It means a lot that there is something that unifies us at a time that is a little distressing. The value of the intelligence coming from China and Italy in respect to the U.S. right now is really reassuring."

Publicis takes production in-house to protect employees

Marcel has quickly become an invaluable weapon in Publicis’ armory as ad agencies across the world transform at a speed they never imagined possible. It may (eventually) be a bazooka, but it is still just one weapon. Outside of this platform, the firm must prove it can overcome all the other challenges A.I. can’t necessarily help with at this time, like client relations, production and creativity. 

Serrano told Campaign US that client relationships have become stronger, mainly because everything is taking a little bit longer and requires more communication. She explained that clients who used to be less integrated are more integrated now as a result of different arms of the business needing to come together to understand how best to tackle the crisis.

Meanwhile, in a move to protect Publicis staff, all production has shifted from classic outside companies to internal capabilities. But this hasn’t stifled creativity, according to Serrano, who said she’s seen a lot of ingenuity and work since the global pandemic took hold. 

The proof will be in the pudding, as they say. Or, in Publicis’ case, new work for Citi Bank staff recently shot from a makeshift studio on one ECD’s Manhattan roof.

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