Publicis Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy Waives 2012 Salary

In Keynote at Mobile Ad Conference, Warns of Need to Behave Responsibly Toward Mobile Consumer

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Maurice Levy intends to waive his 2012 salary as chairman-CEO of Publicis Groupe , due to a substantial deferred compensation payment he'll collect next year, he told French newspaper Le Monde. That payment, based on the group's performance from 2003 through the end of 2011, was designed as golden handcuffs to ensure Mr. Levy remained at the helm of the agency group he has run since 1988, although no one who knows him could imagine Mr. Levy ever leaving for a rival group. (The base salary Mr. Levy is waiving was $1.2 million in 2010, according to a regulatory filing; he would still collect a variable compensation payment; this was $3.6 million in 2010. The deferred compensation due in 2012 is an additional payment)

Maurice Levy
Maurice Levy Credit: Eric Dessons

The salary waiver is in keeping with the open letter Mr. Levy and other wealthy French execs signed in August urging other rich folks to help President Nicolas Sarkozy patch gaping holes in the country's budget by paying extra taxes.

Mr. Levy, 69, was originally scheduled to retire at the end of this year, but was persuaded to stay on until a successor is found. He also heads the five-person Publicis management board, which last week was given a new four-year mandate.

In a keynote at this week's MAD World Mobile Advertising conference in London, Mr. Levy discussed reaching consumers on their phones, with a few personal asides about his frustrated wife tossing his BlackBerry into a swimming pool last summer, and his own opinion of mobile invasion of privacy that he calls "almost rape," in an apparent reference to the U.K.'s ongoing phone-hacking scandal. (For some personal insights into his rival Martin Sorrell, read about the WPP Group CEO's appearance on the U.K's Desert Island Discs radio show, where he talked about his life and family between choosing his favorite records.)

Here is an edited version of Mr. Levy's speech:

It seems to me that mobile phones have already begun to change the job we do and the consumers we address. In 1975, when I bought my first car phone, I thought it was a terrific invention. As soon as I left a client meeting I could phone my assistant, dictate a memo, and the client could receive it by fax even before I had made it back to my office.

Back then, a mobile phone was something we mainly used as ... a phone. It had a handset; you picked it up and dialed a number, and then you spoke. Sure, it was a surprise to be able to phone from your car, but there was no big mental shift -- we knew what a phone was. But since then, the world has changed.

I'd like to sketch out … some of the long-term perspectives that I perceive for mobile phones, in terms of how they change the consumer and the job of communications professionals, and also what I see as our responsibility as an industry.

Our mobile phones are incredibly easy to use. They're with us everywhere, all the time. We keep them in our pockets, close to our skin. There is no other form of technology that people interact with so intimately. The result: one-third of the population would rather lose their wallet than their phone.

Soon everyone will have a mobile. Babies will receive them at birth and carry them tucked in their diapers. No other device cumulates so many human actions, from the most useful to the most trivial. We phone, we text, we email, we surf the web, we play, we learn, we gather information, we read books, we look at photos, we take photos, we make movies and upload them onto YouTube, we watch TV. We even enact revolutions.

We develop such close bonds with our mobiles that it can sometimes cause problems with our families. I'm sorry to say this has happened to me. I remember a lovely afternoon beside the pool last summer, which I was occupying by staring at my BlackBerry. My wife, who is a wonderful woman, lost her temper and threw it into the pool.

I was horrified. I dived in. I dried its little keyboard. And my BlackBerry still worked! What a miracle!

The mobile phone is a mass media -- more widespread than TV. But it is also, paradoxically, the most personalized media. People invest a great deal of themselves in their mobile. It carries their favorite photos, their address book, their notes. It is a fashion statement, a stock of souvenirs, a second brain, an instant link to friendship that keeps away the fear of being alone.

So the mobile has changed the consumer. I'm insisting on this point because it changes the whole landscape for us as communications professionals. Because of mobile phones and tablets we can now directly address consumers, wherever they are, as individual human beings. And, just as directly, they can respond.

There's a word that has become the major concept of our profession in recent years -- it's almost a cliche -- the Conversation . Well, if there is any media in which the term has real meaning, it is the mobile phone. The consumer can answer back. There is immediate, personal dialog with the brand. And this is an enormous shift, with implications for every aspect of communication, not just for those of us who are specialized in mobile advertising.

Mobiles are a bridge media, the mediator of all other medias. You're lying on the sofa watching TV and something grabs your eye. Who gets up to find a notepad? Your mobile is right there, and you use it to check a fact, make a note, or take a closer look at a potential purchase. You're walking through London and a poster looks interesting. Take a photo of the QR code with your phone and suddenly you're on a website with a lot more information.

It's clear: mobiles can manage and orchestrate our interaction with other forms of media. And I think the lesson for our profession is that we need to think about mobile communication in a way that recognizes its complex, specific character and integrates that into the whole range of media.

My second point is the precision of this medium. People's phones contain a big part of their identities. They can reveal their tastes, social links, favorite activities, localization, travel -- data that is very private, very intimate and very detailed.

We have never before been faced with this kind of precision. It gives us an incredible opportunity to produce advertising that consumers will see as very relevant and even desirable. We can create a relationship of trust.

So mobiles are a fantastic tool, if we don't abuse them. I'm not going to insist on what happened at News of the World, but particularly in this country, you know very well the sense of violation, almost rape, that results from invasion of privacy. If we think about the intense power of mobile communication, and couple it with the extreme precision of data that it can produce, we begin to perceive that the mobile phone has an almost Orwellian potential.

So I'd like to bring up what seems to me the greatest challenge that faces us: the challenge of our responsibility. I have a nightmare. It's a world of intrusion, of a complete loss of privacy, the commercialization of every aspect of personality. Nobody wants this; I know I don't. And this means we as a profession must face a heavy responsibility.

It's up to us to take the first step in proposing clear formats and platforms for mobile phones that consumers can understand, in which they find it easy to engage and disengage, and which mean they can choose to share data, when to share it, and who to share it with.

We need to make a bet on the intelligence of the mobile consumer. He, or she, is faster, more flexible, more informed than ever before. And if we make smart proposals that acknowledge these qualities, consumers will welcome them.

What? You thought only phones had become smart? No way. There are smartphones, but there are also, above all, smart consumers. They are skeptical, informed and highly aware. Communicating with them will make our job harder, but it will also make it an even more compelling adventure.

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