#6 Publicis-One-CEO: We had the wrong model

A talk about change

Whether in private or in business: Anthony Gibson, CEO of advertising group Publicis One for Portugal and Morocco, is an expert in change. At the moment he manages one of the biggest changeprocesses and tells us in our talk about the major challenges.

During his lifetime, Anthony has experienced a lot of changes. Born in Uruguay, he completed his MBA studies in Texas and has worked as the CEO for Leo Burnett Germany and the Director of Corporate Affairs EU for Leo Burnett Worldwide. Now, for more than the past 4 years, he has been located in Portugal – and since 2016 he is the CEO of the new Publicis One Group. Despite all this experience, the current task must be one of the most challenging for him. His goal is to create a single identity under the roof of the new Publicis One brand for the employees of eight very different companies who acted independently on the market before: agencies such as Leo Burnett, Publicis and Arc, digital experts like Performics and the media houses Starcom and Zenith.

The special atmosphere

He welcomes us at the entry of the company-owned building in Belém, a nice district of Lisbon, located half way to the Atlantic. At first glance, the building looks more like an apartment house than an office – but that is probably also a part of the concept. Anthony is convinced: “our employees really enjoy coming to work here” and, even in his absence, two young creative employees confirm his statement. One reason for this may be that the agency, although it has more than 100 employees, has managed to keep a boutique-like feeling. Other reasons may be the fame of the Cannes-award-winning creative work of Leo Burnett Lisbon and the BBQ-terrace overlooking the city and the Tagus River – definitely one of the best views in town.

The challenge in change

“We had the wrong model” is one of the first, and surprisingly open, statements made by Anthony to explain the necessity for the change he is engaged in. He well knows that he is just at the very beginning of a longer process, but has already taken quite a few steps. The challenge lies in forming the desired unified entity – a conglomerate of companies – while keeping the diversity and strengths of the different company mentalities. This difficulty can be seen at the front desk, where the lions of the Publicis logo seem to compete with the brand heritage of Leo Burnett’s apples.

The logos of all companies at the entry.

During our talk, Anthony mentions three key areas of change that are vital for the future of his agency:

1. A change in the organization

“I do not like to talk about digital – all disciplines have to think digitally today,” Anthony drew states. He also sees no limits to creative thinking: “Media planning can be creative, and so can PR or strategy.” That’s why he has been tearing down the walls of the “silos” in which the various experts had been sitting, meeting only at a point that he feels was far too late within the creative process. “That’s what creates egos and unproductive rivalry. I want everyone at one table right from the first brainstorming session on, so we can really find great ideas for our clients.”

As a result, a lot of relocation has taken place within the building: where every agency used to have its own floor, the creative individuals of different agencies now share rooms, and the account people also have offices on the same floor. While this kind of transformation often also means the reduction of working staff in order to reduce costs, Anthony plans on keeping the number of employees the same – he is not motivated by saving money, but rather by doing a better job and meeting the expectations of his Clients.

2. A change in clients expectations

“If agencies do not change, the big consulting agencies will soon be buying creative experts and delivering a full-service-package to their clients without the need for such a thing as a classic advertising agency.” Anthony sees no use in complaining about the “good old times,” but acknowledges that the clients’ expectations have definitely changed. It is not about pure creativity anymore – the jobs are driven by figures – even more so since detailed analytics are available through digital channels. It is a field in which number-crunching consultants definitely have an advantage – one of the reasons why they are able to charge daily rates most agencies can only dream of.

Another pressure is the growing influence of client purchase management. And last but not least it seems that the long-term process of building a brand is valued less and less, which may partly be a result of the influence of short-term ROI-expectations and shareholder value driven decisions made by some job-hopping marketing managers. But, despite all the numbers, a deep understanding of how to build fascinating brands is the home turf of advertising agencies that have a long history and years of experience in bringing together different types of strategic and creative brand experts.

3. A change in employee expectations

“Our employees just enjoy working here” is repeated by Anthony. As mentioned above, there may be many reasons why Publicis One does not have trouble finding good employees. The high quality of life possible at low cost surely makes Lisbon an attractive place to work – not only for people from nearby Spain or language-related Brazil. Also, the ongoing economic crisis in Portugal makes it easier to find young people to work for an agency with a good reputation – although a creative individual in Lisbon will, on average, have to live on only 700-1000 Euros (after tax) per month. Competition from “funky startups” as possible employers is also less threatening here than in many other places – due to a lack of investors.

But money is one thing. Based on Anthony’s stories (and also on the creative employees we met), we really got the feeling that this company has managed to create a great team spirit. Employees at Publicis One are involved when it comes to hiring new team members – so the candidates’ personal qualities can be as important as their qualifications. Such strong team spirit has one particularly great advantage for the company’s management: it can turn down control and build much more on trust, since the peer pressure  itself will ensure high quality results.

Anthony gives us a question for our next interview.

“How can companies today build and strengthen a great team spirit?”

Read the answer of Trina Roach in interview #7.


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