NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In recent years, Maurice Levy has bought a top financial PR player, Kekst, a wired-in London firm in Freud Communications, and flirted with the biggest independent PR player left.
Now the Publicis Groupe CEO, still unhappy with the scale of his PR operations, is combining all of the group's public affairs, financial communications, events and specialized firms into one network in the hopes of shaking up the world order and creating a new global player under the MS&L Group banner. Sacrificed to do this will be some existing agency brands and a bit of headcount.
"By combining these dispersed assets and having one single management team, we will get much more traction in the marketplace and create a much more attractive offer to clients," Mr. Levy said in an interview. "It will allow us to compete on a global scale for some pieces of business, which we sometimes did not have the scale to go after."
Among the agencies involved are MS&L Worldwide, Publicis Consultants Worldwide, PublicisLive, Publicis Meetings, Emotion, Freud, and Kekst & Co. A person with knowledge of the matter said overall the group's revenue will be in the $400 million to $450 million range.
The group will be led by one centralized leadership team. Olivier Fleurot, CEO of the MS&L Group, will oversee the group and have regional presidents reporting directly to him, including Jim Tsokanos in the Americas, Glenn Osaki in Asia, and Anders Kempe in Europe.
Strength in numbers
Over the past few years in the U.S. market, MS&L, the flagship PR shop under the Publicis umbrella, has been viewed less and less as a serious threat in new-business pitches, especially on global accounts, by many of its larger competitors. But this move brings together more than 2,500 employees from 20 different agencies in more than 50 countries.
Mr. Levy is looking to create a girth for MS&L that may eventually rival that of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Weber Shandwick and independent Edelman. In fact, Mr. Levy, at one point three or four years ago, went looking to buy that scale and -- depending on who you speak to -- either had "serious conversations" or made a "serious overture" to Richard Edelman for his agency.
One agency CEO said the issue with Publicis has always been that it never had a global brand that could compete with international mega-shops. "This [merger] will give them, at least [in theory] a global agency," the CEO said. "How it will operate is another issue but I think it's the right thing to do from their perspective. It probably doesn't break them into the top five but it gives them a legitimate global agency that can compete with the top five."
Mr. Fleurot said the merger addresses a number of issues for the Publicis PR practice. It creates a stronger geographic footprint, and makes investing in technologies easier.
While a large majority of the shops will eventually lose their names to the MS&L Group moniker, some agencies with "very specific offerings and strong personalities will keep their names," Mr. Fleurot said. He cited Kekst, Publicis Consultants, Freud Communications and Publicis Live as a few who will maintain their brand identity. In terms of headcount, he said while there will inevitably be some redundancies, there are no plans for any major staff cuts across the entire network.
Getting its due
The consolidation and Mr. Fleurot's presence as a member of the P12, Publicis Groupe's management team, establishes a stronger presence and voice for PR inside of Publicis, which according to many industry observers, has never treated the practice as a favorite son.
One high-ranking agency executive said that despite always having a lot of agencies in the PR space, Publicis has never given PR the proper amount of focus. "They are trying to combine a bunch of disparate cats and dogs but [Mr. Levy] is going down the right path here," the executive said.
Mr. Levy said one objective is to create a higher level of integration between the MS&L Group and other Publicis shops. As for eventually setting up a conflict shop or second PR offering for Publicis, Mr. Levy said that probably wouldn't happen in the near future but he will look at more acquisitions for the MS&L Group.
He added, "I can guarantee you over the next year or two there will probably be some acquisitions made to complete our presence in some markets or to open new markets."