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This is how Publicis Groupe’s Marcel platform will work

Publicis Groupe has revealed details of how Marcel will work when it launches in January 2019.

Marcel, you may remember, is the reason Publicis Groupe hasn’t entered any awards over the last year. At Cannes 2017, CEO Arthur Sadoun got a big reaction when he insisted that Publicis was better off spending its awards budget on developing an internal AI platform called Marcel.

Steve King, Publicis Media’s CEO, made it all sound eminently reasonable when he explained at a Publicis investor day that Marcel is all about making the whole organisation more attractive to a new breed of talent.

King (below) said, “It’s tough to attract talent. We found that one of the main frustrations was the lack of tech. It just doesn’t have the same place for them at work as it does in the rest of their lives, where they expect to use tech to order taxis, go on holiday, pay for stuff, and order goods and services.”

Bear with him here. Publicis wants to create a platform that connects people at work in the same way they can connect in the rest of their lives.

What does this mean in practice? Twice a day, when Publicis employees log on, Marcel will offer them six tailor-made propositions. This might be making an introduction to someone whose work is relevant to their own, or a training programme tailored to the individual. It could be a new piece of work to share, a comment on how you are using your time based on your time sheet, or one of Arthur Sadoun’s famous video messages.

It might sound a bit big brother, but Emmanuel André, the chief talent officer who is leading the Marcel project, stepped up to explain, and in doing so he cleverly linked the platform to the human rather than the tech side of the business.

As well as alerting employees to what’s going on, Marcel’s other big role is to help Publicis connect everyone across the group, so that opportunities are spread more evenly throughout the network.

“It’s nothing more than crowdsourcing made smart and easy,” André explained. “Where it gets intelligent is it can creatively assemble people of a different nature, find different brains that were not supposed to work together, and put them together to solve a problem. This is how Marcel is going to help the organisation be more creative.”

Marcel sounds like it could be a practical tool, as long as it doesn’t get stuck in the kind of algorithms that might box employees into a filter bubble and limit their potential.

No holding company initiative would be complete without a money-saving angle. The plan is that Marcel will cut down on the number of freelancers by making sure that every employee is utilised more fully – or “augmented” as it is being called. Marcel should also cut down on duplication by making knowledge and resources more accessible to all, and it should help productivity too, by making everything more efficient.

Publicis has already been using the prototype Marcel with Walmart and Heineken, although there was no hint of how it’s been working out. New York is the base of the M Lab, where the Marcel experience is being iterated as they go along.

On a more philosophical note, André talked about the future of work. He said, “If I boil it down to one guiding thought, I would say this: people don’t work for companies any more. Companies – the good ones – work for their people.”

That kind of talk is pretty powerful in the light of the industry’s problems with attracting new talent, who either prefer to be doing their own thing or are more naturally drawn to tech companies.

When Arthur Sadoun made his announcement at Cannes last June, the move was declared a sure fire way to haemorrhage talent, but Publicis haven’t had a bad year of it. They’ve attracted some great people from rival networks, including Annette King from Ogilvy as UK CEO, Nick Law from R/GA as chief creative officer, and Agathe Bousquet from Havas as president of France. They’ve also won a lot of significant business from the likes of P&G, Campbell’s, Carrefour, and Mercedes-Benz.

Arthur’s initiatives – particularly his “power of one” – seem to be working out, so perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt here. Marcel has been described by cynics as a “high level form of intranet,” but if it helps to attract talent, cut costs and boost productivity, then it will have been worth sacrificing awards for a year.

Here’s one of Arthur’s videos. This one explains more about what went on at the investor day in London.

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