The Publicis Groupe chairman-CEO plays a somewhat different role than his counterparts at other holding companies like Omnicom Group and WPP Group. Mr. Levy is a high-level confidant and adviser to both the government and the business community in France, and in a crisis, he's always there, although sometimes behind the scenes. When the government wanted a campaign to explain the highly emotional issue of replacing the French franc with the euro, Mr. Levy was called in.
He's also a familiar figure at the annual World Economic Forum every year in Davos, Switzerland-one of his Publicis units, Publicis Events, is the organizer of the prestigious annual summit. Now, Mr. Levy has taken responsibility for producing a report on what the French refer to as "the intangible economy."
At a press conference, French Minister of Industry Thierry Breton said that France is made up of at least four separate economies that coexist: agriculture, manufacturing, the service economy and intangible services. He puts about 38% of the French work force in the last sector, including advertising, telecommunications and multimedia, and predicts that "in a few years it will be the majority."
Besides analyzing the fastest-growing sector of the French economy, the Levy Mission, as it has become known in France, is charged with figuring out how to value some of these intangible assets, especially those owned by the government.
"Our mission is to look at all the stages of creation in all forms: intellectual property, design ... and to check that the handling of the rights linked to intellectual property, research and innovation is done in the best way," Mr. Levy said.
Mr. Levy has assembled a 24-person commission composed of economists, media specialists, researchers, business executives and journalists. The group's deadline is June for preliminary findings, with a final report due at the end of September.
Part of the commission's job is to figure out how everything is working in the economy, how it can be managed, what value it creates for businesses but also for the French government, how these companies should be taxed fairly, and how to handle development of newer technologies like the Internet. It has often been unclear, for instance, how to value state-owned assets like licenses. In hindsight, the government may have charged too much for licenses for third-generation mobile phones, but not enough for audiovisual frequencies, which were sold off cheaply despite great demand, Mr. Levy said.
"The fact that the French government asked Maurice Levy to take responsibility of this national mission is the best award our business could get," said Herve Brossard, chairman of the French Advertising Agency Association and international chairman of DDB Worldwide.