How Publicis is smashing cultural and structural barriers

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 7 June 2017

All major media outlets and global ad shops are suffering against the backdrop of digital disruption, audience fragmentation and intense competition, but according to Matt James, CEO Australia and New Zealand at Publicis Media, it’s Publicis that are without question “walking the talk” when it comes to adapting and readying for the new age client of today.

His comments follow-on from a video message released on Thursday by incoming chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe Arthur Sadoun. 

Sadoun, who replaced globally renowned adman Maurice Lévy officially last week, made the video address on day one of his new job. He discussed how the goal was "to become a platform", not a holding group, instead describing its future structure as "an agile, flat, modular-dynamic organisation". He also said more than 100 'client leaders' would be appointed, without and P&L shackles, to ensure client centricity was paramount.

This means better collaboration across brands such as Leos, Saatchis, Zenith, Starcom etc, with someone sitting above and outside the agencies looking across the whole Publicis landscape.

Speaking to AdNews on how the wider group’s new vision would filter down to the local network in Australia, James, who works alongside CEO for Publicis Communications ANZ Michael Rebelo and chairman of Publicis Communications and CEO of Publicis Worldwide Andrew Baxter, says the lack of P&L restraints means it can stay absolutely true to the client requirements – whether that means capabilities delivered by creative, media or any kind of agency in the group.

Taking the P&L shackles off

We’re now not bound by an old conventional space. It means we can operate for the good of the client without any one brand or division effectively being a weak link in the chain,” he says.

It’s having that collective responsibility sitting at the heart of driving what’s good for the client.”

Sadoun’s video message follows on from the first step of the group’s transformation which started late last year. In December, Publicis split the business into four sections of ‘Publicis Communications’, which contains creative businesses such as Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi and Marcel; ‘Publicis Media’, headed up by Steve King, which houses media businesses such as Zenith, Starcom and Mediavest and Performics; ‘Publicis Sapient’, which oversees Sapient Consulting, DigitasLBi, SapientNitroRazorfish and is led by Alan Herring; and lastly the health and pharma hub of ‘Publicis Healthcare’, run by Nick Colucci.

 “We are now moving at a fantastic pace and this is the next stage of evolution for us with Arthur in the chair,” James says.

What has fundamentally happened is that all structural and cultural barriers have been smashed up and transformed.

“This means is that you now have a genuine sense of working for the Publicis Groupe. Secondly, Maurice, Arthur (below) and the organisation have removed those P&L shackles, so our ability to be fluid and agile, in the way that we run the business as a collective, has actually accelerated quite significantly - and that's been quite refreshing for someone like myself that’s been in three of the major networks over the last 27 years.”

 Rainmakers wanted

James says himself, Baxter, Rebelo and the various CEOs running other divisions within the group, now have a real sense of being able to work together and pitch together, “unconstrained by some of those existing cultural and structural barriers”.

In terms of the client chief officers, James says locally it has one on-board already with Suncorp via Starcom. While James wouldn’t confirm how many more chief client officers would be appointed locally, he said the roles are not based on account value, meaning it's not a structure reserved for big spending clients, but is for those clients that require it.

It’s more about looking at the client’s needs before appointing someone in that role.

There are clients who have a genuine need to have a fully integrated ‘power of one’ service,” he adds.

Culturally, some clients want that, and while some may still prefer to have services separated, more and more it is becoming a discussion as having that integrated service makes sense.”

It’s unclear if the network will look externally to recruit for the chief client services roles, or simply leverage talent already within the group.

He says at a group level the business has been great at looking at who the “rainmakers and major transformation agents” are within the organisation that would have the unique capabilities to be an overall client lead.

Rebelo says the chief client officer is a critical and increasingly important role in delivering the promise behind the 'Power of One' model.

“Now we have a very defined architecture with the creation of the Solution Hubs which paves the way for how we can come together for clients and new business pitches” Rebelo says.

“There are increasingly more conversations in the market around creativity, CX, media and technology working closer together to deliver the modern day solutions CMOs are searching for.

“Our group-wide purpose and architecture allows us to truly walk the walk when it comes to assembling talent, ideas and solutions. This is inherently a competitive advantage.”

P&L for each division

In terms of how the P&L side of things works, there is one P&L for each division I.e. Publicis Media, and it operates as one P&L across ‘Power of One’ clients.

James says working for ‘Publicis’ is becoming increasingly important as, for example, if you’re in one of those client roles, you’re not just a Starcom or Zenith person, but you become a fully-fledged Publicis individual and go through a big transformation.

That’s happening now and it’s being embraced now,” he says.

With a number of established brands like Zenith, Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi within the group, each with their own culture, historically it has been tough for them to all work together.

But now that’s gone away,” James says. “The client centric piece is a genuine mantra and both the strategic and cultural shifts will allow us to concentrate on how we can best deliver for clients.”

Incredibly liberating 

James says the tech and data piece is also key with Sadoun highlighting in his video that the business is shifting from a holding company to a platform.

Explaining this change, James says it has fundamentally been a pipeline business, offering an end-to-end service with all areas having their own output (creative/media) but now, it’s about deconstructing those pipelines and becoming one platform.

He says for clients it’s a huge relief knowing that they can operate seamlessly in one platform.

It’s a big shift that has been incredibly refreshing and incredibly liberating around the way we can invest and the way we can think about the business,” James says.

A lot of people are now touching all the different divisions – from Comms to Sapient and Health and people are excited about what’s ahead for us in the group and they’re feeling a great sense of dynamism and collaboration now. We are walking the talk without question,” James said.

Publicis isn’t the only major advertising and communication holding group shaking up its structure. Check out the major changes WPP made by this week merging Maxus and MEC.

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