I cocked up admits Publicis boss Maurice Levy – but where does Omnicom’s failed suitor go from here?

Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Levy (left) has admitted that the failed $35bn merger attempt with Omnicom has derailed his company as he announced just one per cent of organic growth in the third quarter of 2014. Revenue was €1.75bn, which puts it on a par with Interpublic – and we all thought Publicis was bigger than that.

MAURICE LEVY, INVITE DU BUZZ MEDIA ORANGE-LE FIGARO.Levy (left) says: “management was too focused on other plans (the failed merger) and not enough on the short-term performance and growth”.

Rivals Omnicom and Interpublic have reported just over six per cent organic growth in Q3.

In most circumstances this would have led to Maurice, who’s been at Publicis for about 40 years, announcing his retirement and departing to his chateau in the French countryside.

Not so apparently, he recently announced he’s staying on for an as yet undefined period to choose his successor – and may still stay on in some role or other after that.

Which is all very peculiar – but also quite French. PG, although a quoted company, is controlled by the Badinter family, chair of the holding company is Elizabeth Badinter, daughter of Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet. She seems committed to Maurice (74) even though he – still – has no succession plan in place.

And he’s still banging on about the proportion of digital business PG does (just as Sir Martin Sorrell does at WPP). Levy says it’s now 42 per cent – but so what?

Digital is not very profitable and everybody does it these days, whether they call themselves a digital company or not. PG still has to make sense of the gaggle of digital brands it’s bought – Razorfish, Digitas, Rosetta, LBi (about $3bn worth) – and their relationship with its media holding company VivaKi.

You don’t like to hammer Levy; he’s charming and open and, over the years, has built Publicis into a major force. No doubt it will recover as he still owns some of the world’s better agencies: Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Publicis Worldwide (maybe) and BETC, definitely (update – BETC is owned by Havas, of course).

But someone needs to have a word in his ear. Is Ms Badinter up to it?


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