Publicis Groupe has reported a second quarter of improving revenue performance versus pre-pandemic levels and upgraded its annual growth forecasts for a second time.
The French agency group said Q3 revenue was “ahead of expectations”, with an 11.2% increase on an organic basis compared with 2020 levels. That followed a 17.1% rise in Q2 on a year earlier, when the world was in the depths of the first coronavirus lockdowns.
Analysts have also been looking closely at revenue on a two-year “stack” basis versus 2019 to judge growth against pre-pandemic levels and Publicis Groupe’s numbers showed sustained improvement.
Revenue was up 5% in Q3 versus 2019, after a 2% rise in Q2 and a flat Q1 compared with two years earlier.
Arthur Sadoun, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe, said: “In Q3 we delivered strong organic growth at 11.2% [versus 2020]. All of our regions contributed to this performance with double-digit growth, notably the US, which grew 10.9%, Europe at 10% and Asia at 12.5%.
“The continued outperformance of our data and tech capabilities once again demonstrated our ability to capture a disproportionate share of the shift in client investment towards digital media, commerce and DTC [direct-to-consumer. This was particularly the case in the US, where Epsilon delivered +13% and Publicis Sapient was at +20%.”
What he called “traditional creative and media” services also grew in key markets, such as the US and UK.
“The strength of our model not only means we have fully recovered from the impact of the pandemic, but it has also allowed us in Q3 to grow 5% versus 2019. On a two-year basis, Asia is at +2%, Europe has returned to pre-pandemic levels and the U.S is accelerating to +8%.”
Sadoun conceded in an interview with Campaign that Publicis Groupe had been struggling before the pandemic, with revenues declining in 2019, and said that the return to growth now at higher levels proved the company’s “Power of One” model of internal collaboration between agencies for clients was working.
“We have turned what was a declining business in 2019 into a growing business at 5%, despite the crisis,” he said.
“Overall, 18 months after the beginning of the pandemic, we are emerging as a stronger group.”
Looking ahead, he now expects organic revenue growth of between 8.5% and 9% for the whole of 2021 – up from its previous forecast of 7%.
Analysts at Bank of America welcomed the results, which “beat” expectations, but still felt the French agency group may have been “conservative” about the outlook for Q4 at this stage – with the wider global economy facing potential supply chain problems.
Although it is Publicis Groupe’s second revenue upgrade of the year, its growth prediction is still roughly in line with that of Interpublic and WPP, and Bank of America said it was expected.
That trio, Interpublic, WPP and Publicis, have been the best performers in recent quarters among the big six holding companies on a two-year basis versus pre-pandemic levels.
Publicis Groupe’s share price rose more than 3% to almost €59 – its highest level in more than three years on the strength of the results.