'What we do today has nothing to do with what we will do in five years' – Publicis Worldwide CEO Arthur Sadoun

By Stephen Lepitak | -

Publicis London

|

Nurun article

December 4, 2014 | 8 min read

Publicis Worldwide chief executive Arthur Sadoun met with The Drum's online editor, Stephen Lepitak, while in New York to discuss his first year in charge of the advertising agency that he wants to transform to become a market leader, and how he will integrate digital across all of the company's client needs, before they even know they need it.

It's a bitterly cold November afternoon in New York City as The Drum arrives in the lobby of Manhattan's Sofitel, having made it just in time after dashing 32 blocks uptown to meet Arthur Sadoun, chief executive of Publicis Worldwide.

Sadoun has just stepped off a plane and is visibly exhausted, however his joie de vivre soon returns as he picks himself up to discuss his plans for the ad agency after his first year in charge; a year that has seen him build a new senior team internationally.

Wholly welcoming, he is clearly overtaken with his passion for the plan he is building, which he describes as "transformational" and entirely client focused.

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"Where everything in this world is changing, we have to come back to the basics of what makes a successful brand, and what points we need to change to evolve," he explains.

Much of this change has taken the form of major new hires for the company. Since Sadoun took on his current role last year (he previously served as chief executive of Publicis France) these have included the appointment of Dylan Williams as global chief strategy and innovation officer, Andrew Bruce as North American chief executive and Guy Wieynk as UK chief executive. Andrew Baxter also joined as Australian chief executive, Carla Serrano was appointed chief strategy officer for Publicis Kaplan Thaler and Dawn Winchester was hired as US chief digital officer.

He describes each hire as being "like winning a pitch" for the business and is open to discussing the protracted move of Wieynk from AKQA, who has been on gardening leave since the beginning of the year and won't begin his role until February 2015 as a result.

Sadoun jokes that at least Wieynk won't need any more sleep as WPP has paid for him to be well rested in advance of the new job, and adds that once he begins, he will "have a massive impact" on the digital transformation that the business plans to undergo.

As well as building the global personnel, Sadoun intends to continue improving the agency's creative reputation, having risen from the 17th most awarded company at Cannes in three years to seventh this year. He also endeavours to reignite the "entrepreneurial spirit" that he believes is lost within holding companies.

"If we want to make sure we will be leading the market in three to five years, my vision of our business is that what we do today has nothing to do with what we will do in five years. If we want to be ready in five years, we must make every effort to transform. Afterwards will be too late; with the pace of transformation, we won't be quick enough to reach the goal," he says.

Each of the senior industry figures he has managed to attract from rival companies around the globe have bought into "the project", the aim of which is to see the company become "the preferred creative partner" of its clients as they aim to transform their marketing to reflect future consumer behaviours.

"This is how you convince people like Dylan, Guy or Carla to come over, because at the end of the day, when you talk to any client, what is amazing is that any chief executive or chief marketing officer won't talk to you about how much they like a campaign. That is finished. The only thing they will talk about is how technology will impact their business model and their marketing strategy. And so if you start to have answers to that, then it becomes interesting," he explains, adding that clients now have three types of agency partners Publicis Groupe can offer them; strategy, technology and creative.

Strategic strength is important to him, as he explains his vision for Publicis to become the most strategic network.

"I believe in a world that is changing. There is nothing more important than consistency and there is something that we don't speak enough about, which is strategy. This is at the core of what will make our value tomorrow.

"We want to be by far the most strategic network within the creative environment, so we are investing in strategy by investing in the right talent and making sure we have the right processes and tools. We have a philosophy – 'Lead the change' – which is based on the simple insight that if you don't lead the change, change will lead you."

One of the ways in which the company is attempting to 'lead the change' and help clients with their transition is the creation of its recently opened tech incubator, the Drugstore. Located in Shoreditch, London, it pairs clients with start-up companies, named after the luxurious Parisian department store, which is a core element of his future proofing strategy.

"How can you put under the same roof, a very different type of commerce? This is exactly what we have tried to do with the Drugstore. We are putting together big and small – big clients with small start-ups – through our strategic process 'Lead the change', in a special place based on Old Street."

According to Sadoun, this ensures that if the company wants to be the strategy partner, it will work with clients to "find the right business insights that will have the right impact in their future commitments." This in turn "completely changes" the role Publicis can have in the future, he adds.

He describes technology as "a meme" as he relays his ambition to become the strategic creative network of choice.

"Technology is not complicated. What is incredibly hard to manage in the digital revolution is how you should change the way you work. The creative process is something that has to be completely disrupted if you want to adapt to this new world.

"Now it's about being good, being fast and being cheap, and when I say cheap I mean you have to produce much more content for the same money as you had when all you had to do was produce a 30-second film."

He reveals that the agency now offers new creative ideas to some major clients, such as Procter & Gamble, every two days.

"A couple of years ago we were going to Cincinnati every three weeks to present ideas, now we are meeting with them three times a week, and from every session we define new insights that could be a brief and we present new work on the previous session. That has changed everything that we are doing," Sadoun explains, adding that six major clients now work in this manner. By the end of 2015 he plans for 30 offices to have adopted it.

He believes it's essential for agencies to understand consumer behaviour better than anybody else, which was what prompted the integration of Nurun, an entity that combines 40 of the Groupe's digital agencies across 14 countries and aligns them under one overarching brand. Now, over 4,000 of the Groupe's global digital professionals are able to offer digital products and service ad platform delivery at scale.

"What clients care about today is how a global partner can bring about a transformative experience end to end, from brand advertising to point of sale. When you add Publicis plus Nurun, we are able to bring that at scale."

Asked what he believes brands now want from their agencies, Sadoun tells The Drum that agility is important, which is why Nurun will be run from a country level rather than the Groupe level.

On another digital development within the overarching Groupe, the acquisition of Sapient in November, he remains tight-lipped as he believes it is too early to comment, although he does see it as another "transformative" move.

And what about those rumours that he is favourite to succeed Publicis Groupe's chief executive, chairman and figurehead Maurice Levy when he stands down at the start of 2017? Unsurprisingly, Sadoun has no comment to make. Having experienced the enthusiasm and ambition he has for the developing Publicis Worldwide into an industry leader, however, it's no surprise that he is the favourite for succession at this time.

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Publicis Groupe is a French multinational advertising and public relations company, and is the oldest and one of the largest marketing and communications companies in the world, by revenue, headquartered in Paris.

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Publicis Worldwide is a global creative agency network enabling our clients to Lead The Change in their own marketing and business transformation. We do this through a combination of strategy, creativity, and technology. With over 16,000 employees in 110 countries, clients include Adidas Sports, Axa, Carrefour, Cartier, Citi, Emirates, Diesel, Heineken, L'Oréal, Nestlé, Orange, P&G, P&O Ferries Holdings, Renault, Sanofi, UBS, and Walmart.

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