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Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Levy says Rosetta buy is bold leap into consultancy market

At first glance Publicis Groupe’s agreed $575m bid for US-based Rosetta Marketing Group looked like the addition of a third leg to the company’s VivaKi digital media group which already includes big buys Digitas and Razorfish.

Not so says boss Maurice Levy, Rosetta isn’t going into Vivaki but instead will be a standalone consultancy business competing with the likes of Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey.

“Rosetta has a culture of consulting,” Levy told the Financial Times. “Strategic insights, strategic advice, helping the client think much broader than just applications and just doing an execution of a plan – this is something I believe is very important.”

The view is echoed by Rosetta founder and CEO Chris Kuenne, a former senior marketer at healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson.

“We really built Rosetta to be the agency a number of us who came from the client side would have wanted when we were clients. We start with the underlying business problem: What is this brand trying to accomplish?”

Kuenne says the company, formed 13 years ago, spent its first six years providing “high-level business strategy” before beginning to acquire digital agencies to develop what it calls “personality-based segmentation”.

The consultancy focus starts to make the fancy price ($575m plus significant add-ons depending on performance in the next two years) look a bit more understandable. Rosetta’s revenues are around $250m but a lot more of that will stick in a management consultancy than it would in a media or advertising agency.

Muscling into consultancy has been an elusive holy grail for ad agency-based groups for years as they have watched their former role as the client’s right hand man supplanted by the big consultancies.

The problem has always been that clients are wary of taking too much strategic business advice from companies whose main source of income is execution, be it advertising, public relations or digital media.

Marcoms groups have tried to get round this by creating their own brand consultancies such as The Brand Union within WPP and Dave at Engine Group but they lack the firepower of the really heavy hitters like Boston and McKinsey.

But the market is undergoing a shake-up at the moment as McKinsey is reeling from the revelations of insider dealing between Galleon hedge fund owner Raj Rajaratnam and senior executives at the consulting firm.

So Levy’s move into management consultancy is not just bold but timely.

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boston consulting group Chris Kuenne dave digitas engine group galleon Maurice Levy mickinsey publicis groupe Raj Rajaratnam razorfish rosetta marketing group the brand union vivaki WPP

About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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