"What we try to do is show that this company has a soul," he said.
"There are some holding companies that I consider [to] behave as
financial holding companies; there are some holding companies that
are trying to manage assets, others that put emphasis on the work,
the work, the work. We are trying to build something that is a
family and for the benefit of our clients."
As for the Publicis Worldwide network, his biggest challenge now
is growing the stable of local clients to complement its
European-based global clients, who spend less on marketing than
"This is a network that was mostly built through acquisitions
and we have a lot of entrepreneurs at the helm of the agencies.
Some of them have left and because of that we have -- "Mr. Naouri
paused, choosing his words carefully -- "reduced the competitive
advantage that we had in terms of the balance between local and
global clients. . . . So we need to go back to the balance that we
Mr. Naouri's experience has been mostly at the holding-company
level; Mr. Sadoun's is on the agency network side. "The advertising
business has to be rooted in agencies," Mr. Sadoun said. "I don't
believe in the corporate job. Look at Maurice Levy -- he's still an
Mr. Sadoun's route to becoming a client whisperer is an
unconventional one, especially for a French adman. After business
school, his father arranged a job in a luxury brand's marketing
department in New York. Instead, Mr. Sadoun fled to Santiago,
Chile, armed with business ideas ranging from selling ads on
supermarket carts to importing French mass-market fashion, which he
did successfully with the Kooka� brand.
He sold his next business -- importing promotional objects such
as branded soccer balls from China for clients including Nestle --
to Omnicom Group's BBDO.
Back in France, Mr. Sadoun had accepted a job at McKinsey when
he met, socially, TBWA head
Jean-Marie Dru, who convinced him that ideas are what transform a
company and offered him a job on the spot.
Focusing on planning, new business and talent, Mr. Sadoun ended
up as managing director of Omnicom's TBWA, Paris, during the
agency's unstoppable years. That promotion came about when he won
back Tag Heuer, which the agency had lost to BBH then pitched and lost again, by visiting
the client to explain why he wasn't going to pitch for the account
yet again, but that the client really should return.
Mr. Sadoun had promised TBWA's best creative minds to Tag Heuer,
so he flew to Chiat/Day in Los Angeles and briefed a team about the
watchmaker and TBWA's Disruption philosophy. He said, "Lee Clow
shouted that it was rubbish and I responded very toughly in front
of his team. I had to challenge him, and he was furious. ...
Jean-Marie Dru told me Lee [said] I was insolent and that he should
Five years ago the call came from Mr. Levy, inviting him to run
the main Publicis agency in France, and Mr. Sadoun quickly
replicated his TBWA success there, most recently hiring former TBWA
colleague Erik Vervroegen last month as Publicis' international
creative director. "I love to be a creativity magnet," he said.
Mr. Sadoun, a great storyteller, describes what it's like to
work with Mr. Levy: "We were waiting for the results of two very
big pitches. At 7:30 p.m., the phone rang and one of the CEOs told
us we'd won. ... The CEO of the second company called and said we'd
won that , too. In six minutes I'd won two major pieces of business
that changed Publicis Conseil. I
went to see Maurice and told him that we'd won both. He stood up,
made a gesture of taking off his hat to me, then sat back down and
said "OK, but where are we with Axa? Did you call them? No, I'll do
it myself.' Maurice is never satisfied, but I respect him a
Giving some insight into Mr. Levy's process of working with key
execs as he contemplates the succession, Mr. Sadoun said, "From 6
a.m. to 11 p.m. we exchange emails, and I see Maurice every day
that we're both in Paris. With Maurice, you are never, ever in a
comfortable situation. When I came to Publicis Conseil five years
ago, my priority was to win business, and in that time we've more
than doubled the size of the agency."
Now, he said he focuses on taking care of France, the rest of
Western Europe, and working with Mr. Naouri on the worldwide
network. "If there's one thing I want Publicis to get recognition
for, it's the ability to lead change for clients."
One often-mentioned key to Mr. Sadoun's success is his tight
15-year working relationship with Valerie Henaff, who is Publicis
Conseil's managing director and in charge of strategy and new
"She's my brain," Mr. Sadoun said. "We work together on
everything. I run around all day looking like a stupid dog while
she's at her desk thinking about what I should say in my next
meeting. She's my teammate. We are one."
So what's ahead? If the global economy dives back into
recession, it'll be tough for Mr. Levy to step down. Another
looming issue is Dentsu's roughly $1 billion, 11.2% shareholding,
which the Japanese ad giant who is Publicis Groupe 's biggest
shareholder can dispose of next year, although Dentsu is required
to get Ms. Badinter's approval for any share sale to a third party
until 2014. Mr. Levy is already smoothing the way, indicating last
week that Dentsu is likely to sell, and that Publicis should be
prepared to buy back Dentsu's shares.
"Maurice's imprimatur on Publicis is so strong, it'll be tough
for whoever succeeds him," said the head of a Publicis group
company who is one of the many execs who gets 6 a.m. calls from Mr.
Levy. "You don't want to be the one after Maurice, you want to be
the next one after that ."