Publicis CMO on the Power of One, outcome-based pricing and what his client-side past brings to his new role
Justin Billingsley has one hell of a Lego set.
Publicis Groupe’s first global chief marketing officer used the famed building blocks in an analogy during the Ad Age Ad Lib podcast to explain how the holding company’s Power of One works for clients. Billingsley said that for client Mercedes-Benz, the company constructed a shop—Publicis Emil—comprised of 650 people in 39 countries customized specifically to the automaker’s needs.
“I had the most amazing Lego set in the world. I had 82,000 pieces of Lego and I could choose 600 to make an agency for Daimler,” says Billingsley, who shapes and oversees these relationships with clients including Beiersdorf. In addition to those people in the Mercedes team, Billingsley says Emil can also draw on other resources, including 8,500 engineers in India.
If that doesn’t sound much like advertising, it’s not. The higher purpose of the Power of One—and why Billingsley is convinced it will change the industry down to its economics—is the ability to transform a marketer’s business through means that may or may not include the foundations on which the industry was originally built.
“I measure the quality of a relationship by the first brief and if it’s ‘I want an ad for Halloween,’ we are a vendor. If it’s ‘We want to increase the penetration of our brand among 20-to-29 year-olds by X percent, help us to do that’ that is interesting and I have to flex the skills I have,” says Billingsley. And how that’s achieved shouldn’t be the marketer’s problem, he notes, citing Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard’s famed admonishment to agencies: “You need to make your complexity invisible to me.”
Billingsley—who spent many years on the client side working for Coca-Cola along with telecoms Nokia and Orange—says that when he was hired at Publicis a decade ago, Maurice Levy, now chairman of Publicis’ advisory board, told him, “You job is to make the agency you always wanted as a client.”
And that has helped guide his career. “When I was a client I did not like the way I paid for how many warm bodies woke up in the morning and worked on my business. It felt as if it were my agency’s job to put as many bodies as possible on my business to get the fees as high as possible,” says Billingsley. “As a client, I believed in account-based pricing and the sooner we can get attribution right in our business and identify things with as much clarity as possible as to what efforts we did to build a client’s business, the sooner we can get to outcome-based pricing.”
In our conversation, Billingsley also addresses detractors who call Publicis’ money-back guarantee a publicity stunt. He compares the agency Mother to a Ferrari, talks about the effect Publicis’ withdrawal from Cannes had on the festival and gives his view on the competition between agencies and consultants including Accenture. He also touches on what it is like working with two big-personality bosses, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun and Kevin Roberts, the former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. And though he doesn’t speak French, native Australian Billingsley says he knows enough Mandarin to sing a few karaoke songs.