Publicis Canada becomes world model

Truly integrated communications services are the Holy Grail for which agency groups have been searching the past several years. Publicis Canada is one of them, and one of the few that actually sees itself on the threshold of making integration work. In fact, the operational structure of Publicis Toronto has been so successful that it was recently adopted as the model for all of the Paris-based network's offices around the world.

Truly integrated communications services are the Holy Grail for which agency groups have been searching the past several years. Publicis Canada is one of them, and one of the few that actually sees itself on the threshold of making integration work. In fact, the operational structure of Publicis Toronto has been so successful that it was recently adopted as the model for all of the Paris-based network’s offices around the world.

Late last month, agency heads and strategic planners from Publicis offices in 15 countries gathered in Toronto for a three-day session to experience the operation, and discuss any barriers or challenges they face in implementing the model into their own agencies.

Serge Rancourt, president and COO of Publicis Canada, says Publicis has been able to get closer to integration in Toronto because of its move to new offices at the beginning of this year. This has allowed the agency to build an operational concept, not just office space, something Rancourt likens to building a house rather than just renovating.

The new open-concept office has grouped all of the creative talent across all disciplines – traditional, direct response, promotions, interactive – together in one area under one creative leader, executive VP and CD, Duncan Bruce.

Publicis Toronto has also been built with some ‘planned inefficiencies’ to encourage more collaboration between disciplines. For example, while most agencies would locate the creative department next to the studio, Publicis creative people have to walk through account services to get there.

Publicis Canada introduced its brand director concept last year. This new level of management was set up to make the agency more client-centric by having independent, multi-disciplinary managers to act in the client’s best interest – not the interest of one specific communications discipline – within the agency. They are remunerated by Publicis Canada not a specific discipline within the agency.

Today Publicis has 13 brand directors across Canada running 60% of its business. The brand managers have mainly come from the client side of the business, since agencies have traditionally encouraged specialists rather than exposing staff to all facets of the business. Publicis is initiating a training program that will help it form its own brand directors by giving them experience across all disciplines.

But the new Publicis operational structure takes integration even further. The agency’s P&L (profit and loss) is not set up according to line of business, such as direct marketing or promotions, but is integrated into one.

‘We have one fee that covers all aspects of communications, and clients really like that. It’s more in line with the reality of this business,’ says Andrew Bruce, the Toronto office’s executive VP and COO.

The agency is also working towards developing a consolidated report that covers off the various communication channels, he adds. ‘Right now we talk about integration, but mass media companies will come back to us with post analysis of the media buy, and it won’t be connected with the direct marketing efforts at all.

‘Why aren’t we going to our clients with one full program that says, here’s your communications in market, here’s how it’s performing and here’s a consolidated report? We’re not there yet but we’re working on it.’

Although the open concept design of the new Toronto office isn’t mandatory for true integration, Rancourt says it is very important for all of the communications group’s disciplines to be under one roof. The independent silos structure of most agencies and separate locations for various disciplines are real barriers to integration.

He says Publicis New York has taken its cue from Toronto and will be moving all of its divisions under one roof this month.

The Publicis integration project began as a way to fix the fundamental barrier to integration inherent in the traditional agency model, while at the same time trying to regain the role of being the client’s most valued partner.

Rancourt says, ‘If you ask the chairman of a client company who its most valuable partner is, agencies won’t be at the top of the value chain. That’s the position we had 15 to 20 years ago. Agencies were what the consultants are today.

‘[The industry] lost that position and is responsible for doing so. We eroded our business from being added value to being a low-cost, high-efficiency supplier – delivering communications at lower-cost, lower profit for agencies with less chance to invest in people and process.

‘Our integrated concept and the brand director model that is part of it has answered a lot of questions about how we regain that position in the future.’

While Publicis Canada has provided the structural model for the Publicis network, Rancourt says, it has also picked up some tips and tools from other Publicis offices that it will be integrating into its operation. One is a software tool for brand managers developed by Publicis in the U.K. called Compass, which allocates budgets for integrated accounts.

‘When a client says I have to launch this product and this is my budget, the computerized model helps you determine the optimum allocation of budget between the different areas of communications,’ says Rancourt.

‘That is very unique to the industry and something we will have fully implemented in Canada in about six months.’

To take that to the next level, Publicis Canada is looking to add another new role to the agency, that of strategic integrator. Rancourt sees the integrators, which will come from the media planning/buying or non-traditional advertising sides of the business, helping brand managers plan the budget and the vehicles to take creative messages to market.