Publicis' Levy gets bullish on India

MUMBAI: If the chairman and CEO of a multinational advertising and public relations company comes to India, then canards are definitely going to gain currency.

And that CEO happens to be Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Levy, who signed the deal with the Omnicom Group to create a $35 billion mega-agency, journos would not be faulted for wondering why. To everyone’s dismay, Levy told a select group of the media that his current trip to India falls in the category of a "regular visit".

“I was here last in 2011 and thought it’s high time I visited again. I have always said that India is a major market for us and we want to build the group here,” said Levy.

Industry has been speculating whether that "building" includes possibly picking up equity in the fiercely independent Sam Balsara run Madison World who has recently stated that his agency is open to collaborations. Levy very intelligently deflected this question by saying that that the group has made investments in the country and will continue to do so as there is a cesspool of talent here."

Among the agencies Publicis runs in India include: Publicis India, Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, Starcom, ZenithOptimedia, Razorfish and Digitas.

Levy further elaborated that “according to the World Bank, India will have the largest number of middle class income group members by 2030, surpassing even China. Hence, we have to strategically make moves. India is a very strategic country for us.”

He believes that since the country has a great deal of knowledge in IT and digital, it should take advantage of that skillset rather than just become an ‘outsourcing’ nation.

When asked about the importance of digital media today and in the future, Levy quipped, “Publicis was the first group to invest in the sector. In 2006, we had said how digital is going to be one of the most important pillars of the emerging markets and started investing in it.”

He pointed out that a large share of Publicis' revenue comes courtesy the digital space and that the firm is heavily invested in it already. “In 2011, there were 100 people working in the digital sector in India and now there are around 1500 people. Globally, there are over 20,000 people devoted to the sector.”

He also highlighted that "emerging markets contributed roughly 25 per cent" to the group’s turnover and his aim is to bring it to "35 per cent by 2017."

As everyone waits for the Publicis-Ominicom merger to get the official nod from the EU, the US and China, Levy too has big dreams and expectations from it. Without revealing too much on how progress the fusion process has made and who will head the combined entity in India, Levy said that it will only benefit the clients of both the companies.

“The law doesn’t allow me to speak about it unless and until all procedures are done. And till then we will work as competitors but the future will be all about offering a wide range of platforms to the client. For me, it has always been how can I make it more valuable for the client. And it will continue to be so.”

When asked if there have been any ‘disagreements’ with Ominicoms’s president and CEO John Wren, Levy laughingly responded by saying, “Yes of course. He’s American and I’m French.”

He further added, “A French poet has written that boredom comes from uniformity and it will be true for me as well. Over and again, I have always said that collaborations is the way forward though they can be challenging. When we acquired Saatchi & Saatchi, all we had to do was cross the channel but it turned out to be a major challenge because of our differences. Such things are bound to happen but there is no fun if there aren’t such challenges.”

However, the group’s number one competitor WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell has been very vocal about the merger and even gone on to call it the merger of ‘unequals’ and that it won’t last a long time. On it Levy responded that he only comments on what he knows best and that’s his company and work. “From the way he (Sorrell) has been speaking about it, it seems like it has become a part of his job!” he added wittily.

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