Publicis Media chief Steve King on consolidation, data development and Spine

Steve King, Publicis Media CEO

With the creation of Publicis Spine, a new brand that will see Publicis Groupe bring together its tech and data assets alongside a workforce of around 3,500 people to cement its focus on data development within its client offer, chief executive of Publicis Media, and Publicis Groupe Directoire member Steve King, shared his views on what the changes will mean for the business and clients.

Does this formation suggest that Publicis given up on being a brand-led organisation and is now focusing on centralisation?

Publicis Media is steadfast in its commitment to being a brand-led organisation powered by data-driven, global practices. That vision doesn’t change with Publicis Spine; in fact, it is further strengthened. Similar to Publicis Media’s global practices such as content or performance marketing, offerings are matrixed into the brands and client teams, powering capability. This Publicis Spine model provides centralised data and tech expertise so that it is not fragmented across business units.

Agencies still have the power to make the best decision for their clients. Publicis Media has a very distinct—and unique from our competitors—position as a brand-led organisation, supported by global practices. Creating this model has allowed our brand leaders to have more powerful assets, which they can use in their delivery to clients.

How do you see extracting 3,500 data & tech staff from the brand agencies and forming a new layer with dedicated leadership simplifying the organisation’s structure?

Publicis Spine is an accelerator, not a layer. Clients today want simplicity and speed and this model will help us achieve that. While all Publicis Spine talent will be connected, depending on workstreams and client need, some of our talent will remain embedded within the agencies, whereas some talent will serve in a centralised function—again similar to Publicis Media‘s global practice approach which is operating with great success.

The word extract is a misnomer. What we will do is leverage these talents in a much more cohesive way, with clear focus on leveraging data and technology resources to provide stronger, sustainable advantages to our clients.

How are clients supposed to benefit from Publicis Spine?

Firstly, let’s start with a couple of today’s realities. One - every client and every sector is experiencing disruption and is challenged to transform marketing and business infrastructure. And, two, in today’s world, brand is the experience and the experience is the brand. Publicis Spine delivers on both these realities for clients through unprecedented access to data insights and expertise, as well as Publicis PeopleCloud, which provides true individual marketing at scale, and the linkage of marketing and enterprise via data—essential for success today as clients look to us to act as their catalyst for reinvention and growth and create a better experience for consumers.

What exactly is PeopleCloud? How does it help clients from different industries? Will all client data be combined in there?

Publicis PeopleCloud is our proprietary platform that provides people-based marketing at scale. It does this by building a universal ID—not a persona or generalised profile—that helps uncover brand opportunities for growth on an individual level. For example, it identifies a growth plan for you with a brand that is different than a growth plan for me with a brand, and so on. From there it uses rich behavioural and semantic intelligence to target, optimise and drive creative-decision making, activation and measurement to deliver on those brand individual growth plans.

Also, importantly, we are taking great care to not only create the precision marketing standard, but also the privacy standard for consumers and brands. All data within PeopleCloud is password protected and stored in a secure network environment.

Clients need to transform their business. Why do you think media agencies are the first in line to help with this task?

Publicis Media has the capability, talent, and marketplace clout to lead in marketing transformation. We also realise that to help clients win in transformation, we need to successfully deliver in both marketing and digital business transformation and, importantly, link the two, which we are doing through Publicis Spine. As part of Publicis Groupe, we are the only holding company to own transformation end-to-end. Through working together with the other hubs and Publicis.Sapient, and connecting it all through Publicis Spine, we have a unique offering to truly reimagine the customer experience and grow client business.

There has been much discussion on the agency model of the future: will clients prefer the even bigger network or the customised agency? Will there be agencies at all or will the specialists be “rented” by the clients and sit in their offices together with the marketing?

The agency model of the future offers both powerful scale and customised solutions. In the future there is no ‘or.’ Clients will need both. That is why we have clients at the centre of our Publicis Groupe model. It also why we approach the business as agency brand-led with client-dedicated teams, but powered by global practices. You get the scale and expertise of a big, world-class operation versus having to build it client by client, but the dedicated talent, focused on your business, and its unique challenges and opportunities, to best bring to life results. Our delivery of tech and data, especially now with Publicis Spine, is one of the many areas that our clients benefit from our holding company scale and expertise, applied uniquely to various client businesses to power greater insights and capabilities for them.

Talking about future role of the media agencies, what about this scenario: the big global players manage the ad business directly with the clients, assisted by artificial intelligence and smart technology platforms from Oracle and Adobe. No media agencies needed. Would that be your personal nightmare?

Technology enables greater creativity, precision and connectivity, but AI and smart tech are generally incapable of making creative leaps on their own. It is programmed to recognise mistakes and course correct. However, it is incapable of identifying those “happy accidents” where we draw new, fresh inspiration for creativity. The answer to successful marketing lies in the right combination of IQ (technology) and EQ (human intelligence). Media agencies are uniquely primed to deliver on this winning combination since they sit at the intersection of media, data and technology.

The Power of One idea means that media, technology and creativity will be served from one hand to the client. Most clients still choose their creative agency on the one hand and their media agency on the other. Do you see a change in this behaviour on a global level?

We do see centralisation as a global trend. Clients want simplicity. Delivery of an end-to-end solution is how we deliver that simplicity for our clients and why we’ve seen such great success and momentum with the Power of One approach. By leading with the client need, we know that we are assembling the right expertise and capabilities needed to tackle it head on. As part of this approach, Publicis Groupe has Global Client Leads who serve as point of entry to help build end-to-end solutions for a client across agencies.

One point I am certain about is that the message and the medium are going to become much more closely linked across all markets, not just here in the UK. Also, the idea of a big creative idea developed in a vacuum from understanding consumers and their behaviour has become inappropriate in a world where we can now reach our target audiences with both relevancy and efficacy.

The Publicis agencies from the different hubs Publicis Communication, Publicis Media, Publicis Sapient have been working independently for their own P&L so far. How can you offer their solutions as a Power of One package? Wouldn’t you need one clear leader for that?

Our Power of One approach puts clients at the center of our model, which establishes clients’ needs, not individual P&Ls at the center and fosters a culture of collaboration to deliver results together for our clients. Building on that strong foundation, Publicis Groupe recently rolled out a new country leadership model, appointing a leader responsible for simplifying our business, breaking down silos and bringing to life collaboration across the four Solution Hubs in various markets. For example, we announced Publicis Groupe country leaders in Italy, Emanuele Saffirio; in the UK, Annette King; and in France, Agathe Bousquet. This approach will deliver greater collaboration on client briefs within various markets and further a true Power of One solution.

Which clients do you already have in Publicis Spine?

As you would anticipate, we do not want to breach any confidentiality by revealing which clients are leveraging PeopleCloud. What I can share is that we have a number of major global advertisers currently using Publicis Spine’s PeopleCloud and continue to onboard additional clients looking to leverage its unique ability to unlock individual growth at scale for their brands. Further, the majority of our clients have deep understanding of PeopleCloud, as it was shared with them before it was communicated externally.

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Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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