Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy invited a small group of journalists to lunch today at his Paris headquarters on the Champs-Elysees and surprised them with the appearance of Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He and Mr. Schmidt also sent an e-mail to the staffs of both companies today that describes plans for joint "initiatives related to accelerating the ability of technology to make advertising more effective."
Mr. Levy said in a phone interview with Ad Age that 12 CEOs of major companies were coming to Publicis' headquarters for dinner with him and Mr. Schmidt, who stopped in Paris on his way to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week.
Mr. Levy said the team leading the joint Publicis-Google effort is headed by Digitas Chairman-CEO David Kenny and two Google execs, Tim Armstrong, president-advertising and commerce North America, and Penry Price, director of North American sales. Publicis acquired digital agency network Digitas a year ago.
The internal memo said: "Google has established a dedicated global account team for Publicis Groupe, the first of its kind with a global advertising group."
Mr. Levy said the exchange of talent will start "pretty soon."
"For a few months or a year, people from Publicis Groupe [companies] will be working at Google, and people from Google will be working at some of our companies," he said.
In addition to the exchange of talent and using Google staff and materials for training programs, the two companies will work together on new products, platforms and tools.
"There are no new products yet, but we're working on sharing and exchanging information so we at Publicis shape better tools for the industry," he said.
Not just win-win
Mr. Levy said the goal is to create a "triple-win" -- not just a win-win -- situation. "Our clients win, the platform Google wins and the ad industry/Publicis wins. We're bringing Google our knowledge of advertising communications, consumers and client needs. They're bringing us knowledge of technology and the world of the web."
Mr. Levy takes a different approach to the online giant Google than his rival WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell, who used the word "frenemy" to describe a company such as Google that is both a partner and a competitive threat.
"I always said Google is a partner exactly as CBS or ABC -- at a different level because of the stake they have in the internet," Mr. Levy said. "I don't see a risk of 'disintermediation,' and I don't see a problem for us."
He also said the ongoing collaboration with Google isn't an exclusive arrangement for either party. He said Google might develop partnerships with other agencies, and Publicis is free to work with other groups, such as Yahoo or MSN.