Publicis faces up to life without its hotshot

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The upcoming departure of David Droga sticks Publicis Worldwide with an unenviable challenge: how to deal with the loss of one of the ad industry's few bona-fide stars.

Mr. Droga, the 37-year-old Australian who has shot through the creative ranks, said last week he's leaving the agency to start up a joint non-advertising venture with his current employer, Publicis Groupe.

Given marketers' current craving for breakthrough ideas, big-hitting creatives are highly sought after, critical to an agency's new-business story-and difficult to replace.

STILL IN THE FOLD

Nevertheless the Paris-based holding company was quick to emphasize that Mr. Droga is still in CEO Maurice Levy's good graces, and remains part of the gang. "We came to the same conclusion that there is a possibility for an [agency] of a totally new kind which is much broader than advertising," Mr. Levy said in an interview in which he called Mr. Droga's tenure "fantastic." The two have been discussing the venture for about three months.

Mr. Droga's impact on the agency has been significant, marked by the installation of some creative and new-business juices in an agency that had been pretty dry. Given the dearth of creative stars with enough wattage to act as the face of a global agency, Publicis will probably have to rely heavily on the bench Mr. Droga has built. The agency will look for a North American creative chief, but it's unclear whether the global role will be filled, said Susan Gianinno, chairman-CEO of Publicis USA.

During his time at Publicis, Mr. Droga created a 17-member creative board and replaced leadership in several markets. What followed has been an improved showing at the awards shows-including Cannes, where Publicis took in 11 Lions this year and 12 in 2004-and on the new-business scene.

One of Mr. Droga's first and most crucial moves was to improve the New York office. From his previous agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, he brought over Howard Wilmot and Duncan Marshall, who produced breakthrough work for Amstel, Heineken and the TBS campaign "Very Funny," a Lion and Effie winner.

SATISFACTION

Publicis' New York office recently picked up duties for Vault, a citrus-flavored energy drink from Coca-Cola, and the Paris office is pitching in Coke's global iconic review. Publicis also won accounts from Allied Domecq, Sanofi-Aventis and Zurich Financial Services.

Mr. Droga is satisfied with the changes he made. "I've certainly put in place an infrastructure," he said. "Creative is now at the heart of a company that was a business. It still is a business, but creative is at the table as well."

Neither Mr. Droga nor Mr. Levy would give up many details on the new agency, which looks likely to be a content producing company more akin to a production house than an ad shop. "It's not an advertising venture," Mr. Droga said, adding that it will be based in New York and London. "It's a hybrid of a lot of things."

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