Publicis Groupe's chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun defended his controversial Marcel project – which entails pulling out of all awards shows for a year to help fund a group-wide AI system – as a draw for both talent and clients.
Speaking at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers' annual lunch, Sadoun told a room full of marketers that Marcel would make a big difference to the younger generation.
"They are the ones who will find the kind of ideas we are looking for. They are not behaving in the same way we are," he said. "They want to be recognized quite quickly, they want to be engaged, they want to touch things in a different way. This is why we are building a platform."
Marcel will be able to link up not just people qualified to handle a brief, but to find "the ones who are eager to do it." A young creative in Sao Paulo, he said, would have the opportunity to work on a Super Bowl ad led out of New York.
Marcel is already having a positive impact on business, Sadoun claimed. He told the story of a big client with whom the relationship was "difficult." The marketer had been planning to fire Publicis, but said to Sadoun, "I see what you did in Cannes and I get the impression you are making progress and I'm going to give you six months."
In a rejection of the status quo, Sadoun said, "I don't care how long I stay. We are committed to changing things. Whether we will succeed I don't know. We believe we have a responsibility to our industry. It's incredible to see we are operating exactly the same way we were 20 years ago. We look at Omnicom, at WPP. We are not putting technology at the core of our own model. We are the only service industry that has not tried."
The packed room at London's Dorchester hotel burst into applause when Sadoun added, "We are trying to show something to the industry. If the others say we are not coming to Cannes because we don't stand for creativity, I will take it. I don't care... I'm not going to CES either, so I guess I don't like technology."
Still Sadoun was met with some cautious optimism at best.
"I enjoyed his energy and candor," said Michael Wall, global CEO of Mother and former global CEO of Interpublic's Lowe and Partners. "He is dealing with one of the common problems of holding companies: Namely large teams of people that are largely unconnected and who can often create complexity in terms of dislocation, capability and cost before they get to a legitimate answer for their clients. Whether a high level form of intranet can help to resolve this, time will tell."
Despite his spirited defense of Marcel and the decision to pull out of awards for a year, Sadoun made it clear that that the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is important to him.
"I am a big fan of Cannes," he said. "I owe my career to Cannes. I've been on stage to collect an agency of the year award four times. I am what I am because of creativity and Cannes has a big part to play in that."
However, he did suggest that the hiatus from awards could have longer-term effects. "It's a question of focus. We need to enter work because we truly believe it deserves an award, and not because the creative director knows the festival. It's a way to bring back putting the idea and the talent first."
Continuing in the tradition of his predecessor, Maurice Lévy, Sadoun lost no time in criticizing rival group WPP. He said that the reason Publicis Groupe had beaten WPP to win the Procter & Gamble business was that, "instead of saying 'this is how you should organize yourself,' we said 'this is the kind of transformation you should do and these are the kind of people you need to do it'. You wouldn't know who was from Sapient, Digitas, Publicis, Saatchi."