Meet Marcel: Publicis Groupe unveils its much anticipated AI platform

Marcel's branding, created by BBH Singapore

“When you are challenged, it’s the right time to be bold.”

When Arthur Sadoun announced last June that one of his first intentions as the new chief executive of Publicis Groupe was to build an artificial intelligence platform to help source the best people to work on its client briefs internally, it’s fair to say there was much skepticism around the industry.

At the time many missed the point entirely, choosing to focus on the decision to fund the platform by removing spend from award entries. This included a non-attendance at Cannes Lions by the whole group for 2018. Secondly, it was queried, how an AI operating system could solve the issues facing the networks around diversity, skills shortage and generating effective creative?

Sadoun, a man of great personal belief, ploughed on regardless. This was a brave, and somewhat unexpected, project for the new boss to undertake, and it was met with heavy criticism both within and outside Publicis.

Nearly a year later, and Marcel - named after Publicis Groupe founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet - is almost a reality with some elements now live. Already it boasts clients including Walmart who has already beta tested the platform.

At the time of writing, The Drum has only seen a video of how the platform will function, and at first look it mirrors the likes of Siri. However the aim is that it will have access to the working details of all 80,000 employees within the network to consider when choosing the best people to service a project. It will also learn about their abilities as they work on projects and develop a better understanding of them over time.

In the unveiling, Sadoun is joined by chief strategy officer Carla Serrano, and the recently appointed group creative chief, Nick Law. The enigmatic Frenchman is full of vigour and energy while talking about his pet project.

“It is time for our industry to face facts – the holding company model has been totally frozen for last 20 years while everything around us has been changing – it’s time to break the industry – to reinvent it with our clients and reinvent it with our people,” is his explanation for why he chose to take what is clearly a gamble on developing the platform at all.

He declares that Marcel has been created to “break the barriers” that still exist between creativity, data and technology within the advertising sector.

In a bid to explain the potential of the product, Serrano reveals the phrase: “Me to the power of 80,000”, which will be how clients are sold its functionality, offering them access to the skillset of the network.

Nonetheless, it is later explained that marketers will still hire agency brands and work within them, rather than across the full group. That necessary silo remains in order to protect client confidentiality.

“We want to connect our people to reinvent our people with the way we work and with this we will draw a line in the sand,” the chief executive declares, determined to underline his belief that Marcel will help his staff achieve more and addressing the nervousness previously expressed internally.

And while the development is very much a part of his ‘client first’ vision that has seemingly revitalised Publicis in recent years, he states that Marcel is all about the people working within the company: “We want to put people first in our transformation… give staff freedom to work as they live and connect 80,000 creative minds…that has been an incredibly difficult journey.”

The features that Marcel possess are encompassed within four sections, each prefixed with the words ‘The Power of…’ in their titles and concluded by ‘Opportunity’, ‘Connectivity’, ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Productivity’.

The ‘Connectivity’ section is where the ‘expert match’ feature is housed, able to search through applicants from across the relevant agency brand who have expressed an interest through the Open Brief feature within ‘opportunity’ and who best matches the needed skill set.

This has already borne fruit in beta, with a test Walmart brief from February having discovered a creative team from Spain who ended up attending the Academy Awards, which the brief was focused around. Law reveals that 70 creatives from around the globe were involved in the process before the successful team was chosen.

“Marcel is a connector. The measure of success is simple, the only thing that matters is to find the best people who have the best ideas and to attract the new generation of creative minds,” states Sadoun.

“We are shifting from being a communications partner to bring about transformation. We need to make sure that everyone in this company has an opportunity to learn to transform itself.”

From the reveal, taking place at Viva Tech in Paris as promised last year, more work will be implemented by Microsoft. The tech giant was appointed to build the platform earlier this year, with 1000 staff internally being sought to be involved in testing the platform, set to go live date in January 2019.

There are still many questions to be answered, and while Marcel has been unveiled, there is a lot of work to do before it is implemented permanently by Publicis Groupe. And interestingly, Sadoun hopes it will help the company better understand itself, with an AI that is free of emotion helping source the best people who opt in for each-and-every job.

“Marcel will be able to show the gaps,” he predicts. “I want to believe that when it comes to the opportunity for people to do more things.”

With the heady expectations, it perhaps just as well that Marcel hasn’t yet learned to feel pressure or anxiety, as the industry waits to see if it can truly deliver the transformation its company so desires for its clients.

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