At the age of 12, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet dropped out of school and two years later went to work at a relative's furniture store. In 1926, at age 20, Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet started his own agency, Publicis. His first clients were his family and friends.
In 1929, Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet hired his first employees. At the time, Agence Havas, dominated print media. Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet therefore turned to radio as an ad medium. He traveled the French countryside approaching provincial stations and extending an exclusive contract to them to book ad time in return for guaranteeing them yearly revenue.
In 1934, the French government banned advertising on the state-run radio stations that comprised most of Publicis' clients. In response, Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet bought his own Parisian radio station and christened it Radio-Cite. Radio-Cite transformed French radio by introducing a mix of news, game shows, commercial spots and popular entertainers.
Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet also explored cinema advertising and produced ad shorts beginning in the mid-1930s. He established a subsidiary that managed the distribution of cinema advertising and by the time World War II broke out, Publicis had exclusive distribution rights to more than half of France's movie houses.
With the advance of German forces on Paris, Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet and his family relocated to southern France. Radio-Cite was taken over, and the Vichy Government confiscated much of his personal property. After Germany occupied all of France in 1942, Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet made a daring escape to Spain, where he was imprisoned briefly. Finally, he made his way to Britain and served with the Free French flying reconnaissance missions. After the war, he became a member of the French Legion of Honor.
When the war ended, Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet had to start over. He regained many of Publicis' former clients for the agency, but was unable to relaunch Radio-Cite as the government had nationalized all radio stations in France.
But more significant for the future, in 1947, he gained his first U.S. client, Colgate-Palmolive Co. (American clients were important because they gave Publicis advice concerning advertising and marketing techniques.) Other large clients followed, among them Shell, L'Oreal, Nestle and Renault.
Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet successfully guided Publicis to dynamic expansion through the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s, growth resulted mostly from gaining new clients; in the 1970s and 1980s, however, Publicis grew chiefly by acquiring other agencies.
By the 1970s, Publicis and Agence Havas were by far the two largest French ad agencies. However, in world rankings they trailed the American ad giants. In order to compete with such U.S. shops as J. Walter Thompson Co. and Young & Rubicam, in the early 1970s Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet sold a minority stake in Publicis on the Paris Bourse and used the cash that was generated to acquire agencies in other European countries.
His last major act as director of Publicis was to promote the ill-fated merger with the U.S advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding in 1988. Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet had long sough to enter the lucrative U.S. market and saw an alliance with FCB as a mutually beneficial arrangement. Unfortunately, a clash of business cultures created mistrust and misunderstandings between the two partners.
Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet retired from Publicis in 1990, after leading the agency for more than 60 years. He died in Paris in 1996.
Born in Paris, Aug. 21, 1906; left school at age 12, 1918; founded the agency Publicis, 1926; lost business during World War II; restarted Publicis after the war, 1946; gained first U.S. client, Colgate-Palmolive Co., 1947; engineered merger with U.S. agency Foote, Cone & Belding, 1988; retired as director, 1990; died in Paris, April 11, 1996.