Publicis Group ended 2020 with organic growth down 6.3% for the year but with a better than expected December quarter, a bigger market share and reduced debt.
The France-based global advertising group also decided to repay 6,000 staff who took voluntary pay cuts during the pandemic.
Net revenue for the full year was 9.71 billion euros, down by 0.9% compared to 9.8 billion euros in 2019.
Net debt was down almost 70% to 833 million euros.
The US business showed resilience with full year organic growth limited to a 2% fall. In North America, reported growth was +8.7% and organic growth was -2.4%.
December quarter organic growth was ahead of expectations at -3.9%.
"In the tough context of 2020, Publicis posted solid performance thanks to our transformation," says CEO Arthur Sadoun.
However, he says the crisis did not end with 2020 and the world will to be marked by the social and the economic effects of the pandemic for some time.
"So we are going into this new year with a renewed fighting spirit, ready to double down on our efforts to keep our people safe, make our clients win in a platform world and continue to improve our efficiency," he says.
Sadoun is confident Publicis will emerge a stronger company.
"Our long-term investment in data and technology, our country model, and our platform Marcel, have enabled us to stay strong by containing our revenue decline and maintaining best-in-class financials," he says.
"We outperformed the industry average in this year of exceptional crises by delivering a published growth of -0.9% in 2020 and organic growth at -6.3% for the year, with a Q4 ahead of market and our expectations at -3.9%.
"This is the result of our ability to capture the shift in our clients’ investment towards digital channels, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer, which intensified throughout the year.
"It is particularly visible in the US where Epsilon delivered growth of 5.5% in Q4, enabling our most important country to be slightly positive. This was also the case for Publicis Sapient.
"We gained market share by growing with our top 200 clients by 1.8%, and recorded a continued new business momentum with wins like Kraft-Heinz, Reckitt Benckiser, Pfizer, Visa, L’Oréal in China, TikTok and Sephora.
"Last but not least, we continued to post the best financial ratios of the industry with an operating margin rate of 16% and a free cash flow of close to 1.2 billion Euros while significantly reducing our net debt at around 800 million euros at year-end.
"Today, our solid results mean we are able to propose a dividend of 2€, slightly below our pre-pandemic level, corresponding to a payout of 46.8%.
"It is important to note the sustainability of this performance, which was achieved with virtually no benefit from government schemes, including in France where we decided not to take advantage of any state aid.
"When we saw at the beginning of the crisis how devastating the pandemic could be, we quickly acted to redefine our plans. This included a voluntary pay cut by around 6000 of our managers, and a new set of objectives for the rest of the year. T
"Thanks to the collective and extraordinary performance of our people in these difficult times, we have been able to post results that are above industry averages, allowing us to repay the salary sacrifice and set aside a higher bonus pool to fairly reward and recognise our teams."
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