Agency A-List 2016

Publicis' Arthur Sadoun Is Ad Age's 2016 Agency Executive of the Year

CEO's Performance Offers Clues to What's Ahead at Publicis Communications

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Arthur Sadoun, CEO, Publicis Worldwide
Arthur Sadoun, CEO, Publicis Worldwide Credit: Lea Crespi/LUZphoto/REDUX

Arthur Sadoun points to a nearby table at the New York Sofitel where he had breakfast a year ago with a top marketing exec at Cadillac, helping to clinch Publicis Worldwide's biggest global account win in a decade.

"A traditional French agency won an iconic brand from General Motors, against [incumbent Interpublic]," said a beaming Mr. Sadoun, who was CEO of Publicis Worldwide until the end of 2015, when he was named head of the new Publicis Communications. His new post encompasses all the holding company's creative agencies, part of a massive Publicis Groupe reorganization.

Later in the year, across another table at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Mr. Sadoun also persuaded Heineken, which had just been named the festival's Creative Marketer of the Year, to hire Publicis as its lead global agency. Armed only with an oversize brochure -- handed out to everyone he met at Cannes -- that lauded Publicis' ambitious plans and debunked the idea that his agency was too old, too traditional and too French to change, he closed the deal with the beer marketer and the win was announced a few days later in Amsterdam.

Mr. Sadoun's performance as CEO of Publicis Worldwide offers, if not a blueprint, certainly some clues as to what's ahead at the new Publicis Communications operation he now leads. A top priority, he said, has been to bring back a winning, entrepreneurial spirit to Publicis. That started with the Cadillac win, followed by Heineken, as well as big national wins like Sears in the U.S. and major accounts in Brazil.

Another priority is collaboration and sibling agencies that are "sisters, not cousins." Mr. Sadoun was given responsibility for PR business MSL Group last June, and a global Procter & Gamble win soon followed. Last fall, Citibank's global media account was won not by a media agency, but by Publicis Worldwide, thanks to its strategic vision, he said.

Above all, he wants people to work as a cohesive team, as happened with Cadillac. "We won Cadillac with strategic thinking in New York, creative out of London and new business support from Paris," he said.

He is also laser-focused on talent, and deeply involved in knowing who the best people are and figuring out how to make them want to work at Publicis. Another tenet of Mr. Sadoun's is innovation. Publicis' startup incubator the Drugstore is intended to give clients access to innovation and guidance in transforming their own business models. At a two-day meeting Mr. Sadoun chaired in New York in early January with 100 top Publicis Communications execs, he outlined an agenda that included having the Drugstore in all key markets by the end of 2016.

But there is another reason the ad world is watching the tireless 44-year-old Mr. Sadoun, who sleeps only five hours each night. His Publicis career has progressed in quantum leaps and his new role is a high-stakes one that could position him to take over from Publicis Groupe Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy, due to retire in 2017.

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