Upside down – Q’s with…Maurice Lévy, chairman and CEO, Publicis Groupe SA, Paris

The medium before the message - that's what agencies must tackle if they plan to connect with the consumer, says Maurice Lévy, who joined Publicis 35 years ago and has since led it to become the fourth largest communications group and the second largest media group in the world.

The medium before the message – that’s what agencies must tackle if they plan to connect with the consumer, says Maurice Lévy, who joined Publicis 35 years ago and has since led it to become the fourth largest communications group and the second largest media group in the world.

Publicis now owns ad agency networks Leo Burnett, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi, Fallon and 49% of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, as well as media orgs ZenithOptimedia and Starcom MediaVest Group.

Among Lévy’s most impressive accomplishments? International expansion, including a move into Canada, and the acquisition of a full range of marketing services and specialized communications companies, including the Denuo futures practice headed by Rishad Tobaccowala.

We caught up with Lévy while he was in Toronto recently to keynote the Canadian Media Directors’ Council conference.

How can agencies best deal with the fluid media environment of today?

[At Publicis], we work much earlier on the way to communicate to the consumer rather than the message itself – because the message can be different according to the nature of the media you are using. We don’t believe that the structural approach of our operation is relevant. What is relevant is how we can get the message to the consumer in the most efficient, effective way, at the cheapest price with the best return for our clients. If for this we have to turn our organization upside down, we will. Definitely and immediately.

There has been some talk [at the CMDC conference] that although media agencies are doing well, the creative side is slipping. Do you agree?

We consider that strategy is very important, creative is very important, media is very important. Sometimes just a leaflet can make a difference. And a leaflet shouldn’t be given to juniors because at the end of the day, the consumer will see it and read it. So it is important that it is treated with the same attention that we are giving a TV spot.

Clients are putting more dollars into non-traditional media. How is the agency business coping financially?

The reality is that consumers are everywhere and nowhere, and to track them is very difficult. So we have to work on all aspects of communications and there are some that are more rewarding [monetarily] than others. We have to figure out how to change our business model and we are changing. If you looked at the way ideas travel within the Publicis Groupe and the way people share information, you’d be very surprised. We don’t hesitate to hire different kinds of people. We are revering efficiencies, cultures and differences. We don’t hesitate to put our organization upside down.