Can publicis make Le difference?

Publicis Groupe is one of the biggest marketing networks in the world. Richard Abbott met group chairman Maurice Levy and Jack Klues, chairman of Publicis Groupe Media, to hear how they plan to make an impact in the Middle East

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By  Richard Abbott Published  April 16, 2006

Can publicis make Le difference?|~|mauricelevy200.jpg|~|‘We don’t believe in homogenisation. We believe in globalisation, with a deep respect for individuals, their culture and their roots’ Maurice Levy, group chairman of Publicis Groupe|~|Maurice Levy is on a flying visit to Dubai. Literally. His plane touched down early this morning and he takes off back to Paris tonight following a lightning quick tour of his local agencies and an appearance at a Publicis Groupe function at the Ritz Carlton. In all, he will have spent less than 24 hours on the ground. “It will be a race at a speed faster than what Michael Schumacher can do,” he laughs. But any time with Levy is better than no time at all. The Frenchman is one of the most influential men in world advertising, with agencies in more than 100 countries, including Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi and Starcom. When the immaculately turned out Levy talks, the advertising world tends to listen. Fresh from receiving the International Advertising Association’s Distinguished Services Award at the organisations World Congress — billed as the advertising world’s equivalent of an Oscar — he has been whisked upstairs to an ante-room at the Dubai Convention Centre for our interview. The clock is ticking. Raja Trad, the CEO of Leo Burnett in the Middle East and North Africa, is sitting alongside, poised to bundle him into a limo bound for Media City. But Levy appears to be in no rush as he talks through his perspective on this corner of the world. “The main difference, compared to Europe, is the level of optimism that exists in the region. People are eager to do great work,” he says. “It is moving very fast and the speed of change is much faster than in some other regions.” He admits to being surprised at the level of sophistication from clients, especially in Dubai. “There is a high level of demand from the marketers,” he says. “They are expecting from us the full range of services and a very high level of creativity and they are expecting that we deal with all kinds of issues — from classic advertising to internet to CRM to promotion.” And unlike some other senior agency figures who have visited the Middle East recently, he has no doubt that agencies are up to the task. While the region is yet to make the grade at international advertising festivals, it appears to be punching above its weight within Publicis. Levy reveals how the network’s best work is displayed in the elevators at the group’s Paris headquarters. “We display work in our elevators in order that people see work coming from all over the world,” he says. “And you will very often see work coming from this region.” The eyeballs of the captive audiences in the Publicis lifts is one thing, but will creatives in Dubai, Beirut and Jeddah ever challenge regularly for the top international awards? Levy says patience is the key. “If you look at all of the world’s emerging markets, you have expats teaching local people to become good professionals in an industry which is new to them,” he says. “It is the time that is necessary for the market to become mature. There is no reason why this region will not have some of the best creative people, the best planners and the best ad men of the planet.” Here, Trad interjects: “Some of our agencies are very much equipped with people that are in connection with the lives of the consumer. We are attracting more Saudis than ever before.” Publicis’ interests in the Middle East include two of the region’s biggest advertising agencies in Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi, as well as Publicis Graphics. In media, it also holds a strong hand, with Starcom jostling for top spot in the region with Omnicom’s rival OMD. Another Publicis brand is Zenith, whose Egypt office scooped best media agency and best media plan gongs at this year’s Campaign Awards. In an advertising world dominated by a handful of holding groups, Levy seeks to differentiate the Publicis offering by citing ‘Le Difference’, calling on the French tradition of style and flair. It’s a nice soundbite. But what does it mean in practice? Levy explains: “We believe that people are different, countries are different, cultures are different. There is no such thing as a global consumer — he doesn’t exist.” This attitude, he says, helps Publicis to understand the subtle, yet crucial, differences that exist between the Arab nations and the pride with which they associate their individual cultures. “Some people think that it is a Muslim region and everyone is the same,” he says. “But some have a stronger relation to tradition, some are more open to the Western world.” Levy uses his own experience of Europe to help him appreciate the depth of identity that people have with their individual nations. “When you are born in Europe you know there are differences. There are some aspects of Northern France that are closer to Belgium,” he explains. “We [Europeans] have been taught that some people are fighting, risking their life, for a small territory. “When you look at what happened in the Basque country or the Balkans, we know what nationalism means, so we understand that we are born with these feelings. That is where Le Difference can bring a lot.” He acknowledges the increasing Western influence on the Arab world — shopping malls and fast food are prime examples — but is very specific in his interpretation of this trend. “We don’t believe in homogenisation. We believe in globalisation, with a deep respect for individuals, their culture and their roots,” he says. “And that is something I think is quite unique in global holding companies. “What we have to do is understand the genuine difference in order to communicate in the most authentic way. This is how we can really build bonds with the consumer and be honest in the way we are approaching them.” A common thread that runs through everything that Levy says is his obsession with clients. Great adverts are important, awards are even better. But he is primarily concerned with keeping his client roster happy, which includes the likes of Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal and Renault. “If there is something written in golden letters in everything we do, it is to reach the highest level of satisfaction from our clients,” he says. “There is no selfishness. We are not egomaniacs. Everything we are doing, even the smallest thing, is not to get the headline — I’m sorry to say that — of the trade press. It is to really anticipate the need of our clients.” Levy has shown himself to be a highly efficient businessman. His acquisition of Bcom3 in 2002 — the network that included Leo Burnett — propelled Publicis into the premier league of advertising networks. Publicis is currently the world’s fourth largest marketing communications network, the second largest in media, and Levy plans to move it up that ranking. His attitude to the business is described as “ruthless” by The A-List, the guide to who’s who in media, marketing and advertising published by Campaign UK. But there is little of that ruthless streak on display during our meeting. Indeed, he is the epitome of charm — down to earth and happy to answer a variety of questions about his business. IAA world president and The Holding Group CEO Joseph Ghossoub describes Levy as “one of the world’s leading figures in international advertising and marketing”. “Under his stewardship, the company has been transformed into a global powerhouse of top creative and marketing capabilities,” says Ghossoub. But how will Publicis ensure it is in pole position to help its clients capitalise on the booming Middle East? By using its crystal ball, it appears. “We will help them see the future first and navigate in that future,” says Levy. “We need to think about how we can anticipate the needs of our clients, anticipate where the market is going in order to be the first to bring to our clients new techniques, new approaches, new technology.” If clients are at the top of Levy’s priority list, then creativity is not far behind. He is a strong believer in individual agencies having their own strong brands and creative identities. He cites the example of the Bcom3 acquisition. Publicis kept faith with Leo Burnett but axed another brand, D’Arcy, and merged it into the former. “We hate cookie cutter,” says Levy. “We value the fact that Leo Burnett is Leo Burnett, Saatchi is Saatchi and Publicis is Publicis. We will do everything we can in order to protect and cherish the differences that exist between our organisations. “We don’t want more of the same. We have a philosophy, which is a little bit naïve — we believe in people.” And with that, Levy is off. After pausing momentarily to have his photograph taken for Campaign, the relentless pace of his 20 or so hours in Dubai continues. Receiving prestigious awards, attending lavish parties, meeting the local teams — it’s all in slightly less than a day’s work when you run an international network.||**||Can publicis make Le difference?|~|klues200.jpg|~|Jack Klues|~|It has been a turbulent 12 months for Publicis Groupe Media in the Middle East. Chairman Jack Klues talks about the past year and looks to better times ahead Jack Klues is on his fifth visit to Dubai but he feels like he hardly recognises the place, such is the speed of development. It is just five years since Starcom was launched as one of the region’s first media specialist agencies, yet the growth of the discipline matches the speed of construction in the city. Publicis already has four of its brands here, with Mediavest, Zenith and Optimedia also vying for client’s planning and buying business. All are fully owned, apart from Optimedia. “I feel like the advertising industry, and media in particular, is growing every bit as quickly as this city grows and changes,” he says. Last year was the most pivotal in its short history, with Matt Blackborn installed as CEO of Publicis Groupe Media for the Middle East and North Africa. His two-year brief is to bring Starcom, Mediavest and Zenith in line with international levels of transparency. In an industry that is seen by many as driven by private arrangements between agencies and media owners that clients are unaware of, and contracts that are less than watertight, it was seen as a huge challenge. Klues says he was sad to see previous Starcom boss Tarek Ayntrazi leave the business. The full story of his departure will probably never be told in print buy it involved a confrontation with the powerful Choueiri Group sales house in a dispute over MBC airtime sales. “It was sad to see Tarek leave. I have known him more than half my professional career,” says Klues. “Tarek and his team built a very enviable and strong brand for us. “I tried to find another place for him, but I couldn't make it fit. “Matt is somebody who was a part of the family who has spent a great amount of his time as a buyer. “He was looking for an experience to rapidly accelerate his experience and become a more complete advertising and media professional and was open to working in another market.” Klues is as frustrated as anyone at the lack of progress towards robust audience research, accusing the industry of collective finger pointing. “My sense of the reason that we don’t make fast enough progress is that the advertiser says it is the agency’s responsibility, the agency says it’s the client, and so on,” he says. “I don’t feel that there is a feeling of shared responsibility for building the data.” But once collective responsibility has been established, Klues feels there is a real opportunity to “build something fresh”. Klues gives an honest appraisal of the region’s planning skills. “I don’t know if you could say that it is brilliant in many areas,” he says. But he cites a campaign for Kellogg’s Froot Loops in early 2004 as one of the best he has seen from the region. The campaign achieved impressive cut-through in Saudi Arabia by prompting kids to use their mobiles to play an interactive game on TV featuring the breakfast cereal’s characters. Klues was one of the speakers at the IAA World Congress in Dubai. His speech challenged advertising and media agencies to “walk the walk” by working more closely together. “The beauty of being separated wasn’t so much that it was out of aggression. It was driven by market dynamics. The result had to be a better media operation. And rapidly people have embraced media,” he says. “Along that way, with all that pace and rush we have lost some connectivity to the creative agencies. “If there has been any animosity from the separation we have to get over that. My sense is that the bridge between each other could be strengthened.” When asked to sum up his feelings about this corner of his global territory, he stops to think for a second. “I can’t say that the Middle East is brilliant. in anticipating the digital environment,” he says, again referring back to his speech, which called on agencies to better prepare themselves for an era of unprecedented consumer control and technological advancement. "Maybe there is an opportunity in branded content, working with media owners to properly blend product and entertainment together in a way that consumers are comfortable with. “But we need to learn more from this part of the world than we teach. I don’t say that in every market I go to.”||**||

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