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Cannes Lions

The Man Behind Marcel, Publicis Groupe's New AI Platform, Expected the Skeptics

By Published on .

Chip Register.
Chip Register. Credit: Publicis.Sapient

Two names were uttered more than others at Cannes last week. One is Arthur Sadoun, the new Publicis Groupe CEO who unexpectedly announced that his agency holding company will skip Cannes en masse next year. The other is Marcel, an AI system whose development Publicis will fund with the savings.

But there's another player in the drama, Chip Register, co-CEO of Publicis.Sapient and the architect of Marcel.

Register is nonplussed by the reaction to the announcement, which has included trolling by rival agencies on Twitter and sneering that Marcel is nothing more than an amped-up Alexa or publicity stunt executed by a newbie CEO trying to improve the bottom line.

"I expect and expected the skeptics," said Register, who works out of Arlington, Va., but lives in New Orleans. "That is always the case whenever you've got the idea and nerve to step out like this. My only comment to them is, 'See you at VivaTech.'‚ÄČ"

VivaTech is Publicis' annual technology conference in Paris and where the company plans to debut Marcel next year.

Here's how Register describes what Marcel, named after Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, will be able to ferret out. "In a group of 80,000 people that have 200 capabilities across 130 countries, where is the best talent to work on a project once you've received an RFP or a brief?" he said. "Where is the absolute best talent in the group to work on that and how can we assemble that team and allow that team to work and collaborate virtually to bring the best ideas and values we can to a client at a moment's notice?"

Marcel is "a transformation to go from a group to a platform," he said. "A bunch of organizations to a flat leveling of capability that can be compiled in new creative ways that can solve new and creative problems for our clients. What Marcel does is create the mechanism for that happen."

Register said Marcel will not be an enemy of creativity, but will facilitate it.

"There's been all sorts of speculators and commentators out there saying there's a trade-off between creativity and technology," Register said. "That is an absurd notion."

"The use of technology enables great creative work. It enables the connectivity of people," he added. "It enables teams to work and it enables ideas to generate, be shared globally and virtually, through the use of better insight in culture and the journey of human beings."

Publicis turned to Register due in large part to his role with Sapient before it became part of the holding company in a $3.7 billion acquisition in 2015. His expertise is building tech using Sapient's Global Distributive Delivery system, to which Publicis attributes Sapient's 32% growth rate from 2004 through 2007. Publicis.Sapient has nearly 23,000 employees, more than half of whom run that system from India and will play a large part in the development of Marcel. That's one secret of Marcel's deployment.

"We work in a very virtual way," Register said of Global Distributive Delivery. "It takes a project and it divides the requirements into the places across the whole world where the greatest talent exists to solve those problems."

Sadoun himself was in India a few weeks ago touring tech facilities operated by Register's team. It was there, insiders claim, that Sadoun's idea to ditch Cannes for Marcel was born.

Register and Publicis vigorously refute that.

"I'm not sure I can pin down a moment or an event that led to the idea," Register said. "We've been talking about how to do this for a while."

Register said he and key leaders met after Sadoun made his announcement in Cannes, adding that they "ideated 15 to 20 core competencies for the platform."

Marcel is being built internally because no one can understand the unique customization required to get the most out of its talent base other than Publicis, Register said. The company will likely work with a third-party platform in some capacity, though, to aid in the rollout.

"We buy lots of software from lots of companies that could play a role in the ultimate architecture of the products," Register said. "That's a foregone conclusion."

"But there is no off-the-shelf solution that is going to explode the value of Publicis Groupe," he added. "Fortunately, we are able to do that ourselves because we have a huge technology based enterprise that exists on a wide, global scale. There's a difference between being able to do Einstein's math and being able to split an atom; one is the ability to understand a problem and the other is ability to execute. And that is where I think we have a great shot at leading the transformation of our company."

FIVE THINGS YOU'LL BE ABLE TO ASK MARCEL

1. "Marcel, who is the CMO of Tesla and is anyone in the network connected to him or her? Please also check LinkedIn relationships."

2. "Marcel, do we have any Mumbai-based full-time, temporary, or contract employees with 5 to 7 years Java angular development experience?"

3. "Marcel, can you show me examples of great creative work we have done for luxury apparel clients?"

4. "Marcel, who won awards for creativity from our LA office?"

5. "Marcel, can you help me find a creative director in Chicago with healthcare experience?"


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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Publicis.Sapient system that will help develop Marcel. It is Global Distributive Delivery, not Global Distribution Delivery. The article also said Publicis.Sapient has 12,000 employees; the correct figure is 23,000.

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