Forecasts may be showing decline in advertising spends in the Middle East, but Publicis Communications has a different story to tell. Backed by its power of one strategy, the agency has bucked market trends and registered growth, a direction that CEO Raja Trad expects to continue in, in 2018.
The year 2016 was a rough one for businesses globally. 2017 ushered in further uncertainty. Had you asked Raja Trad, CEO, Publicis Communication Middle East, at the beginning of 2017, how he sees the year panning out, his answer would have been “God knows”. With nearly two quarters down in 2018, Mr Trad is of the view that 2017 exceeded expectations for the region, particularly in context to the performance of Publicis Communication.
He attributes this to the incremental growth coming in with the introduction of Sapient Razorfish in the region, new revenues from Prodigious, which is also a new offer, and the business wins for its agencies including Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi and across the Publicis board.
Despite the fact that 2018 is cautioned to be tougher than 2017, the CEO feels the year, for his team and as a group, bears better tidings than the year gone.
“We are expecting to register growth. It may not be in double digits, and it is still too early to indicate by what percentage we will grow, but the fact that we would grow is in itself positive, especially since the market is forecasted to decline,” explains Mr Trad.
No Communication Breaks
The Middle East has battled rough times in the recent year. The war in Syria and Iraq, the free fall of the oil prices, the devaluation of Egyptian currency –– all took their toll. Mr Trad expects the problems in the region to come to an end. Oil prices will go up, and there will be more stability. In the wake of the reforms and growth plans that the governments have initiated, Middle East economy will grow.
The key to keep the chin up in the meantime is to keep communicating. Some brands look at advertising and communication as a cost. Mr Trad reminds that marketing should not be categorized as an expense, but instead as an investment. No matter how tough the market is, some of the multinationals advertisers keep spending, ensuring they keep their consumers engaged without taking any breaks.
“People have to understand that no matter how tough it is, you still need to communicate. If you decide to take a break, people out there in the market will take a break from using your brand. They will go elsewhere and use an alternative brand. Don’t take a break,” he says.
The ‘Power of One’
The year 2018, started on a good note for Publicis Groupe. It won the consolidated GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) business for McDonald’s. The Groupe has designed ‘Power of One’, an operating model that integrates service offerings with the ‘no solo, no silo, no bozo’ rallying cry. It’s under this model that the Groupe leverages the seamless potential of its agencies and services from across Publicis Communications, Publicis Media and Publicis.Sapient. It allows it to provide strategic planning, creative, media, communication and digital marketing services –– all from the same team –– to the fast food giant that had put its entire portfolio up for the pitch.
According to Mr Trad, this was “one of the best demonstrations ever in the history of the group,” where all forgot who belongs to which agency, and went with the thought, “We belong to one McDonald’s”.
The Groupe created for McDonald’s, a physical space, dubbed as Studio M, which has people from Starcom, Sapient, Leo Burnett, MSL and Arc the retail marketing agency, sitting together.
“So you have social dynamic content, investment, technology, performance marketing, retail engagement, communication strategy, ecommerce, customer relationship management (CRM), creative brand development, PR analytics and that dimensional ad business transformation. All these are sitting in one place thinking, living, day and night, one thing –– McDonald’s, and servicing them and giving them all the offerings that they need in their marketing activities,” Mr Trad informs.
The practice of ‘Power of One’ has examples such as Mercedes-Benz, Ferrero and Campbell’s Soup, globally.
It is also under the ‘Power of One’ model that the Groupe merged two of its biggest digital agencies –– Razorfish and SapientNitro –– to create SapientRazorfish, in November 2016.
“The merger, in one year, has achieved great results. We have a very high double-digit growth and it’s contributing to the well-being of SapientRazorfish and of Publicis Media and Publicis Communication as well,” Mr Trad states.
Prodigious, the production platform that was launched in mid-2016 in Dubai and later in Beirut in Lebanon, has also followed a similar path. “We started with a very shy introduction; 2017 was the active year when we went heavily behind supporting Prodigious and again the results were amazing,” says Mr Trad.
Prodigious brought AV Production, post production, pre-press print production, digital and photography production to the scene in the entire UAE, to all the advertising agencies and the brand agencies within the group and beyond.
In 2017, Prodigious did 162 post production projects, 15 digital projects, 75 video productions, 30 visual illustrations and CGI projects and 51 photo shoots. It further enforced the ‘Power of One’ strategy.
The Rise Of ‘Digital Social’
Mr Trad says that no one in Publicis Communication is allowed to talk about traditional media, digital and social. Specifically, he sees ‘digital social’ as an area of significance.
“We cannot classify media in traditional or digital anymore. The questions we must focus on are how can we connect with people, how can we create a dialogue and how can we reach out. In some cases, no one talks about TV anymore. We talk films. Films can run in cinema and online. The digital social component of any activity that we do for our clients is primary,” the industry veteran points out.
In some of the pitches that took place in 2017, around 80 percent of the work that SapientRazorfish presented in the Middle East was digital social. His advice to his team was to accept the reality of the agency’s transformation and the significance of this growing channel. The digital focus, whether it is the work or transformation solutions, is not limited to SapientRazorfish alone and extends to Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi as well.
The Together Approach
Publicis Communication’s ‘one’ model has had advantages beyond just seamless delivery of services. It has also helped in dealing with market dynamics such as the increased pitch activity. “Sometimes, we receive three invitations for three pitches – same time, same delivery time, same everything. If we can do the three, we do it. If not, we apologize,” Mr Trad remarks, adding that he does not pursue anything that is detrimental to quality.
Much like it is the case for other holding companies, all three agencies receive invitation sometimes. “When we receive in all the three agencies, we sit and decide. Is it smart to send the three agencies for the pitch or a unified approach? In some cases, we send all the three agencies, in some other cases, we pick up two agencies, in some cases we say only one agency will pitch, depending on the opportunities, the pressure, and commitments that we have in each agency. This fluidity is also the power of Publicis Communications. Since it is one management, we are able to take a call and decide what is good for us, and our clients,” Mr Trad explains.
Mr Trad’s approach has hit the nail on its head on one aspect at least –– marketers no longer care about the name of the agency that is delivering the service. At the end of the day, the conversation is about delivering integrated services.
With the official launch of its artificial intelligence platform, Marcel, Publicis Groupe has undertaken the journey of evolving from a holding company into an 80,000 people strong enterprise platform. This development can be seen as the ultimate articulation of its ‘Power of One’ approach. Mr Trad asserts that marketers are “very happy and engaged” with this story, asking to know more. And he believes that these steps have empowered Publicis Communication to stay relevant to the changing marketer needs.