Publicis Groupe chief Arthur Sadoun is a character who exudes belief in himself and his business, and the current spate of media reviews, potentially worth over £10bn in billings overall, is something he describes as "an opportunity" for his agency network.
Discussing Publicis Groupe's results for 2017, which included flat revenue in comparison to the previous year, down by 0.4% alongside organic growth of 0.8%, Sadoun spoke with The Drum on a number of topics affecting the advertising marketplace internationally. Results from the fourth quarter also saw revenue decline by 3.1% to €2,583m.
The business is operating within uncertain times for the whole advertising industry, as brand marketers seek new engagement solutions through technology that also provides accurate and transparent data to lead business transformation, the watchword that Sadoun has held dear even before his succession of Maurice Levy to lead Publicis Groupe last June.
A partial explanation for this turbulence is that client major clients such as P&G, Asda, Shell and HSBC have begun the process of re-evaluating their agency partnerships, triggering the attack and defend maneuvers that come with such major reviews from the agency sector, while eyeing up a potential whale to reel in.
"We were on the defence during 'Mediapolooza One' but here we will be much more on the attack during 'Mediapolooza Two'," Sadoun says. "I see it as an opportunity because of the work we started three years ago," he adds, referring to the creation of the Power of One model that brought together many of the network's major agency brands.
On why the reviews have begun in earnest this year, he says: "There have been so many disruptions to the media landscape, which is where most of the pitches are. There have been disruptions in the media landscape and the need for transparency coming from the ANA report and if you get both then we get into a series of pitches, which is where we are now."
He believes his business is stronger now as it is structured "not as a communications partner but as a transformation partner".
He says: "The approach we take to every pitch is how to use media for future growth with total transparency. These are two important elements: how can we transform the client while offering total transparency which is going to be an important point in the future?"
He cites three areas that the company continues to invest fully in – data, content and technology – in order to bring client transformation at scale.
"This is what we bring to our clients and at the heart of that has been creativity because at the end of the day we need big ideas that can change the future of our clients. This is what we will always stood for and we will focus on those three areas."
Sadoun says his 'holy grail' is to bring clients "true transformation of marketing and business".
"You cannot disconnect marketing to business as you have to transform the business through marketing and through technology. The competitive landscape has been reshaped because alongside the traditional holding companies like IPG, WPP or Omnicom that are bringing marketing transformation through data, digital and creativity, on the other side you have those who are bringing digital business transformation which is more about fragmentation that you need to bring together through omnichannel, ecommerce and creativity.
"The question then becomes 'who is our competition?' It's both... where we get to a unique positioning is that we are the only ones who can bring it all together and this is why we are winning because when we talk to a client about digital business transformation, we are able to add this additional value and when it comes to brand and consumer understanding, marketing is at the core of the transformation."
Of the competition entering the sector, with the likes of Accenture and Deloitte acquiring businesses within the creative and advertising space, Sadoun is yet to fully recognise their threat, he admits, stating that he has yet to read about any consultancy winning a major creative pitch. Here is a rare moment when the boss of Publicis Groupe outwardly concurs with the assessment of his ever-critical WPP counterpart, Sir Martin Sorrell, who has been similarly unimpressed by the consultancies' attempt to crash the party.
"When they do [win an account] we will consider them competition," he concedes.
During the results call earlier in the day he also made the bold statement that of the talent who had left the business, perhaps for a consultancy, there was not one that the business did not want to see leave, before hailing the recruitment of R/GA creative chief Nick Law in the US as a coup for Publicis and a sign that it is still attractive to top talent.
After his first year in the role, he reveals that he feels "incredible excitement" from what the business has been able to deliver to its clients, including the recent appointment through PublicisSapient to work with McDonald's.
2018 will be a major year for Sadoun, not only as he attempts to land new clients, but also for the expectations he has set around the reveal of Marcel, the AI tool that will aim to better orchestrate the talent within the business made available to clients, based on their suitability to achieve success. His first year in the job may have been quiet by comparison to what is about to come.