4A's Conference

Publicis CEO Levy Calls for Ad Industry to End Silos, Doesn't Believe Gender Discrimination is Widespread

Right to Build Silos in the Past, the Industry Now Needs Integration, Levy Says

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Publicis Groupe Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy.
Publicis Groupe Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy. Credit: Ari Mintz/Courtesy of the 4A's

Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis Groupe since 1987, told the 4A's Transformation conference during a keynote speech on Tuesday that if he was invited back for another keynote in 20 years, he'd be there.

"Just kidding," he then added, to laughter. "People are waiting for my seat."

There may be no telling when Mr. Levy will actually retire, but he made clear that the industry in 20 years will look very different, well beyond who's running Publicis Groupe.

"Every industry and company, even if they're not acknowledging it, are under siege and under the threat of being Ubered," he said, referring to encroachment from powers such as IBM, Deloitte, Facebook and Google as well as companies like Uber that seem to emerge from nowhere and shake up previously unassailable industries.

"The ad industry is no exception," he added. "The competitive pressure has never been so severe. Everyone wants a share of the ad pie."

Partly in response, Publicis Groupe and much of the rest of the industry are now shifting from a structure comprised of specialized silos toward integrated services that operate on marketing technology platforms.

For agencies, based on changes that Publicis and the rest of the industry are making now, that means a shift from a business comprised of silos toward integrated services that operate on marketing technology platforms.

That doesn't mean that agency holding companies have been wrong in their approach, Mr. Levy said. "Silos were indispensable to building strong capabilities and expertise," he said. "It was great for a period of time, but we have also built a silo mentality."

That mentality includes, for example, personal incentives that encourage guarding each unit's bottom line "and therefore not collaborating as much as the client was needing," he said.

Clients, for their part, often ask for integration but encourage the silo approach by hiring separate agencies, he said. "This has to come to an end because we have to face this new world."

Publicis has responded by reorganizing the holding company into four groups, and assigning chief client officers to work on accounts across agencies and disciplines.

Mr. Levy showed a chart illustrating the deliberate overlap between the Publicis digital and technology network Sapient and Publicis Communications, the newly formed network that houses the group's creative agencies. Mr. Levy announced what he described as another step toward more integration, the creation of Sapient Inside, but did not go into detail.

Broaching another issue bubbling through the ad industry, Mr. Levy called for paying agencies fairly. "Fairness in the relationship starts with fair compensation and mutual respect for the work we do with our heart and our brain," he said.

While 4A's President-CEO Nancy Hill earlier on Tuesday said agency executives must fight harder for gender equality, a hot topic since a lawsuit on that score forced JWT's global CEO from his post last week, Mr. Levy downplayed gender discrimination.

"I don't believe what happened at JWT is an example of what's happening in our industry," Mr. Levy said during a Q&A with New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg after his keynote. "It's a one-time mistake, a huge mistake, a huge fault. But it's not a fair representation of the industry."

"Maybe it is because he learned from Trump," he joked.

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