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Publicis boss Arthur Sadoun on uncertainty of Marcel: ‘I don’t care if I get fired’


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

July 5, 2017 | 4 min read

Publicis’s newly instated chief executive Arthur Sadoun has claimed he doesn't care if he is sacked from the holding company if his controversial experiment with AI assistant Marcel fails, saying the commitment to change is more important than the outcome.

Arthur Sadoun

Arthur Sadoun

Sadoun revealed his plans to develop an artificially intelligent (AI) platform that will ingest information about its 80,000 global employees and recommend them for client projects based on their current skill set or the potential it sees last month.

Dubbed Marcel, it was announced at the Canned Lions festival where Sadoun also stated that it would freeze investment into attending conferences or entering awards in order to fund it, a decision that courted controversy among press, clients and within its own agency walls.

Commenting on the backlash at an annual lunch hosted by UK trade body ISBA yesterday (4 July) at one of his first public engagements since becoming CEO – joking that his predecessor Maurice Levy warned him not to talk about Cannes – Sadoun brushed off any criticism.

“[Advertising groups] are not changing from within and putting technology at the core of our own model. We are the only service industry that has not tried,” he said.

"This is what we’re doing. It’s for our people, for our clients and trying to do something for the industry. And at the end all we get is ‘ah, they’re not coming to Cannes; they don’t stand for creativity.’ I’ll take it. I don’t care.”

While indifferent to the critics, with such significant investment being ploughed into it (exact budgets haven’t been disclosed) Sadoun admitted he will be in the firing line if it doesn’t play out as expected.

“I have decided I don’t care how long I’m going to stay but I’m going to have an impact,” he said. “I’m happy to get fired, I don’t care, I have other things to do. My responsibilities are that we’re committed to changing things. Will we succeed? I don’t know.”

The early signs, he assured, are that clients and staff are pleased and, if anything, the controversy courted has helped spread the word to clients about what it is doing.

“On Monday I took a call with a French client and the relationship has been quite difficult and he said ‘you know, Arthur, I was calling to fire you but I’ve seen what you’re doing in Cannes and I get the impression you’re making progress so I’m going to give you another six months’,” he said.

“So, if we want to be relevant we need to be at the core of transformation and to do that we need to change. We can’t operate the way we did 20 years ago.”

Meanwhile, for its own staffers he said today [5 July] a creative at Leo Burnett San Paulo will work on a Super Bowl campaign that has come from the creative team at Saatchi New York, evidence of the plan coming into fruition.

“We give the chance to people that at 25 years old to work on the next big ad.”

Read The Drum's interview with Publicis executives on Marcel.

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