Publicis Revenue Leaps 14% in 2012, a Surprise in a 'Disappointing Year'

Levy Promises Not 'to Stay Sitting on' Cash for Long

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Publicis Groupe revenue increased 13.7% to $8.8 billion last year, the agency holding company said today, and Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy said he was "surprised by the cash generated" during a "disappointing" year. Mr. Levy also promised that he was "not going to stay sitting on it for long."

Maurice Levy
Maurice Levy Credit: Bloomberg

"The Olympics and the U.S. election didn't trigger the spend we had hoped for, but Publicis performed remarkably and had the best year in our history," Mr. Levy said during a results presentation. Net income, up 22.8% to $983 million, was "a record breaker," he said.

Organic growth -- stripping out the impact of acquisitions and exchange rates during the year -- was more modest for the Paris-based communications group at 2.9% for the year.

Digital and emerging markets again proved strongest, with full-year revenue growth in the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- and MISSAT countires -- Mexico, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey -- at 10.1%, compared with North America at 3% and Europe with a decline of 0.3%.

Growth in the fourth quarter was also helped by BRIC and MISSAT countries at 13% and less so by North America at 3.7% and Europe at 0.8%.

Speaking in English but with his usual French flair, Mr. Levy said, "Our results look like an unending river of happiness -- like sailing across Lake Geneva on a calm Sunday -- but it's not so simple.... You have to be ready to fight new fights on changing battlefields."

Perhaps aware that his 71st birthday is only a few days away, and that succession planning has been high on the agenda for several years now, Mr. Levy was keen to promote the achievements of the people around him, though without naming any names. "The results are down to a remarkable management team," he said. "I'm proud of them, and of the extreme professionalism of the people on the ground -- clients are aware of this and it's probably why we are seeing a lot of consolidation in our working relationships."

Despite his bullish analysis, Mr. Levy remained cautious about 2013. Publicis Groupe's own media division ZenithOptimedia is forecasting 4.1% worldwide growth in ad spend for 2013, but Mr. Levy said that he found it hard to believe growth would be that high, particularly because of the difficulties in Europe. Publicis is currently losing money in Spain and Italy, although France achieved 0.7% growth in 2012, the U.K. delivered 2.8% and Switzerland 5.4%.

Mr. Levy did not specify what he plans to spend the group's cash on, but the group has a history of regular acquisitions, including more than 20 in 2012. In September, it announced the $450 million acquisition of Amsterdam-based digital LBi International, which it plans to merge with its existing Digitas network, purchased in December 2006 for $1.3 billion.

Publicis Groupe's digital services accounted for 32.9% of total revenue, up from 30.6% in 2011, and 33% of revenues, up from 31% in 2011. Mr. Levy claimed net new business for 2012 of $3.5 billion.

Publicis Groupe agencies include Leo Burnett, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Publicis Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi, Razorfish, Digitas, StarcomMediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia.

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