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Arthur Sadoun: 'It’s not just about surviving, but transforming for a new normal'


By Stephen Lepitak, -

April 30, 2020 | 6 min read

Publicis Groupe chairman and chief executive Arthur Sadoun, alongside Epsilon chief executive Bryan Kennedy and Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis Groupe and chief executive officer of Publicis New York, outlined their views on how they see companies surviving and moving beyond the impact of Covid-19.

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Arthur Sadoun: ‘It’s not only about surviving, its also about transforming for the new normal’

Speaking to The Drum, the trio discussed a new business solution called The Pact, which aims to guarantee US midsize clients sales, new client acquisition and a result on advertising spend. They talked about how the business will aid small-to-midsize business in the US during the current pandemic’s impact on the global economy.

The new solution includes a 100% refund promised to clients who do not see delivery on the agreed outcomes of their investment and is the first product delivered by Epsilon since its acquisition a year ago.

Speaking in reaction to the impact he had seen Covid-19 have on businesses, Sadoun told The Drum that his priorities were to both protect staff but also to help clients adapt: “Just taking preventative measures won’t be enough to get through this crisis. This is true for us, but it is also true for our clients. We will need to move on the offensive and take the initiative to make sure that our clients not only go through this crisis, but transform for tomorrow.”

He added that while businesses were focused short term on “weathering the storm”, they must also look beyond that.

“The truth is, if you don’t go hard on initiatives to protect your clients and recover, it will be pretty difficult. What you realise today is that most of our clients have an impossible mission to evolve. On one side they have to cut costs to get through the storm when everyone expects the second quarter to be very difficult, but the truth is if they don’t think about investing in the near future, they are getting into a vicious circle and they won’t be able to get out.”

He adds that the basis for the product began a year previously, with a range of packages initially planned for launch in the summer but brought forward due to the sudden needs of both the business and clients.

“One of the driving rationales towards the acquisition was the belief that we need to move towards a more data-driven, data-led, machine-learning led marketing which can drive outcomes and have extreme accountability to it,” added Kennedy.

“That’s what we need and what Epsilon had been marching towards for a long time. The crisis really accelerated that for us, it did raise the urgency for clients in terms of their thinking and what they need to accomplish but it also enriched our own data-set in the last couple of months, as we see change radically.

The devices that people transact on has changed from what we were seeing four-five months ago. The way that media is being consumed and the quantity of digital signals has grown well over 20%, it’s constantly changing right now. The geographies of consumers change in terms of where and what time of day they transact business, and you have a significant blurring of personal devices compared to what we had in the past.”

Explaining why small and midsize companies are seen as a “vital component” to Publicis, Serrano highlights the relief funds being opened up to them in the US with an urgent need for money to keep them afloat.

“When you really dig deep with what mid-sized businesses are grappling with, we found that one in four states that Covid-19 could be catastrophic for their business and ultimately it is about trying to find growth. They came into this year all thinking that this would be a growth year and now 70% of them are saying that they have to pull back on those growth initiatives but they are also well aware that they have to invest. So it’s a weird dilemma.”

Sadoun continued to relay his views on what businesses must concentrate on in the coming weeks and months in order to emerge fit for purpose in the future; “It’s not only about surviving, it’s also about transforming to be ready for the new normal. It’s our role to come back to them with solutions and products and creative ideas that can help them not only weather the storm but be recovery read.”

He also highlighted the importance of partnerships to businesses in the future, with an interdependence likely to help overcome the revenue shortfall experienced due to the pandemic's economic impact.

“What is important to understand is if your shops have been closed for months, the time it will take you to recover will be pretty long and we will have to take a part of responsibility there. We'll do that through true creativity to create impact, through rethinking their digital to adapt and also helping them with their investments and help to bring back confidence into marketing through business outcomes.”

Of the impact and potential transformation of Publicis Groupe itself, having rolled out AI platform Marcel internationally, within a three week period, after a trial period in the UK and an expansion into the US, and now the development of The Pledge in a four-week period, he predicts that the business’ agency structure won’t change.

However, he says another element will: “We are working hard to change our creative point of view… we have been spending a lot of time and energy redefining personalization at scale which is key for our clients… and we are challenging the integration of Sapient which will be critical for our clients. What the crisis will bring to us is something very different which is the power of one for real.”


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