Is Publicis being lined up for full or partial sale?

Is Publicis Groupe up for sale? Seems unlikely but Campaign reckons it’s held talks with private equity – believed to be Luxembourg-based CVC Capital Partners. CVC has fingers in lots of pies, it controlled Formula 1 until 2016 when it sold its stake to John Malone’s Liberty Media.

Any such deal would not necessarily be for all the company, of course. Publicis, helmed by CEO Arthur Sadoun (with former boss Maurice Levy in the background, both below) may feel it needs extra cash to carry on expanding, particularly in tech-based consultancy where it now has Sapient and $4.4bn acquisition Epsilon.

Key to whatever Publicis may do is Elizabeth Badinter, daughter of the Groupe’s founder and chair of the supervisory board with a stake of around eight per cent. Badinter, a noted author, is now 78. Publicis has so far declined to comment.

A decade ago Levy, then CEO, tried to engineer a merger with John Wren’s Omnicom.

The agency-based groupe (it owns Publicis Worldwide, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, BBH and a gaggle of media agencies among others) has recently performed better than expectations in an ad market blitzed by Covid-19.

But shareholders expect growth on top of survival and it’s hard for any of the biggies to achieve that as investors worry about the continuing pandemic and the growing dominance of the likes of Facebook and Google in the digital ad market. It’s easy for advertisers to sidestep media agencies in particular as they deal directly with these behemoths.

A break-up bid is always a possibility: separating Publicis’ consultancies from the agencies. With a market capitalisation of €10.4bn Publicis could easily be bought by a big player.

So far the shares have not moved much on the speculation, a sign, maybe, that it’s wishful thinking.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.