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Publicis' chief strategy officer breaks down 'the big challenge for us right now'

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Carla Serrano
Carla Serrano Credit: Photograph by Ad Age/Alfred Maskeroni

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Publicis Groupe has had quite a year. In June of 2017, Maurice Levy stepped down as the holding company's CEO, handing the reins over to Arthur Sadoun. That same month, the company made waves at Cannes for saying it would abstain from sending work to awards shows for a full year in order devote resources to an internal tech platform called Marcel, which is meant to mine talent from across the network to offer integrated solutions for marketers.

Marcel is a response to the tensions facing all of the big companies and an attempt at "changing the dynamic of being just an agency of record and really accepting much more fluid projects across innovation pipelines," says Carla Serrano, CEO of Publicis New York and chief strategy officer of Publicis Communications. "The kind of work that we're doing includes a variety of things. Things that start to touch on internal change management, unifying their own organization."

As someone tasked with cracking the company's strategy, Serrano shares what distinguishes the Publicis approach at a time when holding companies are under pressure from clients to cut costs and under siege from consultancies and tech giants Google, Facebook and Amazon. Case in point: Publicis missed its revenue targets in the second-quarter earnings that it reported last month despite winning some major accounts in the first half of this year.

"It's making sure technology and media are working hand-in-hand, obviously securely, and also without losing or degrading the creative product, which I think is one of the biggest things right now that we're grappling with as an industry," she says on this episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "We can all do one-to-one engagement, or we're all trying to get there. But to do that with quality, with the power of ideas all the way through, so nobody's bluntly stalking you with some weird retargeting ad, that's the big challenge for us right now."

We get into all of that, plus her childhood as something of a family black sheep and the time she gave advertising legend Lee Clow—the man behind Apple's "Think Different" tagline—some really bad advice.

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