Maurice Levy concedes ‘disappointment’ over collapse of Publicis-Omnicom merger and dismisses rivals’ claims that it has lost clients and talent as a result

Publicis CEO Maurice Levy has expressed “disappointment” over the collapse of the $35bn merger between Publicis and Omnicom but dismissed reports that it has lost clients and staff to its rivals as a direct result.

The news of the merger’s collapse surfaced last night after the companies released a statement announcing the severance.

On a press call with journalists this morning, Levy stressed that the termination of the “merger of equals” was made by mutual consent and on a “friendly” basis, with all accrued costs to be divided equally between the two companies.

“It was honestly a superb idea, and if we had been able to take it to fruition as expected it would have been a formidable operation. It was not a merger that we decided because either one of us had a problem. It did not come from necessity for either one – it was a merger based on an opportunity. We thought that there was a lot to do by bringing the two companies together.

“We have some differences clearly, and we thought we would overcome them. We knew it would not be a walk in the park, it was clearly an ambitious goal and a challenging one."

He conceded that the hurdles that were being encountered were just too steep and became "insurmountable", but admitted his frustration that it had not worked, describing the outcome as feeling like “divorcing before getting married”.

He added. “We made the decision together at the suggestion of the lawyers, and it was done pretty quickly and amicably. Now we must focus on the future. The fact we are not realising a dream doesn’t mean we have no dreams. It is disappointing that we are not putting this through.”

Levy dismissed reports that the group has lost talent to its competitors over the last few months, challenging those who have claimed to have done so to prove it. Sir Martin Sorrell has reportedly stated openly that he has poached both clients and staff who are uncomfortable with the merger.

“You should ask my competitor to give you the list – I would be extremely surprised," Levy said. "When we heard that we spoke to all our CEOs…we found we were actually hiring top-notch people from then – and we can publish the list. So no there is no imbalance in the losing of talent – these last 12 months have been no different from previous months, and the same goes for client accounts."

However, he admitted that the question of scale will remain an issue for the agencies, in the face of increasing competition from major technology-driven behemoths, as previously outlined when discussing the reasons behind the merger.

"In this new world of big data size matters", Levy said, but added that given the strength of the digital operations of Publicis and Omnicom, this would be a problem "not for today, but for tomorrow".

He later added: "There is a still a scale issue but we will address it differently. We still believe scaling needs to happen in some operations...we are now looking differently at how we will build scale."

Levy stressed that now he will turn his full attention to an aggressive acceleration plan, which will see it redouble efforts to meet its strategic goal of hitting 50 per cent digital revenue targets by 2018.

"We will enhance our focus. We have been out of focus – not the group nor the operations – but I have been out of focus because I was focusing on the merger. Now I will refocus ensuring Publicis will deliver on all these items."

He also added that the process of his succession would be reopened, having previously revealed his intentions to step back last summer.

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