For better or worse, 2016 was a landmark year in advertising. To mark its conclusion, Campaign US is highlighting 10 people we believe are essential to understanding how it all went down. We will be counting down our choices starting on Dec. 9, with our No. 1 most essential person revealed on Dec. 22. Click here to see the list as it is revealed.
In a year when "agency of the future" became an inescapable phrase, Arthur Sadoun was at the forefront of one company’s efforts to future-proof itself. As head of the newly formed Publicis Communications, Sadoun took Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy’s grand vision—The Power of One—and implemented it on the ground.
On Jan. 2, Publicis restuctured into four networks, and Sadoun took the reins as CEO of the company’s combined creative resources: Publicis Worldwide, MSL, Nurun, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, BBH, Marcel and production Hub Prodigious—now all under the umbrella of Publicis Communications. It was the beginning of what Publicis called a "year of transition," sandwiched between the bruising media losses of 2015 and the expected retirement of Lévy in the early part of 2017.
But growth hit 2.9 percent in the 1st quarter, and 2.7 percent in the 2nd quarter, shocking industry watchers. And in contrast to 2015, Publicis racked up a slate of account wins throughout the year. "New business being the ultimate judge of an agency dynamic, I do think our wins in 2016 speak for themselves," Sadoun told Campaign US. "We have never won so much in such a short period."
In July, Publicis nabbed the $620 million US Walmart account without a formal review, ending a 10-year relationship between the retailer and Interpublic’s The Martin Agency. Sadoun was picked to lead the creation of a new organization dedicated solely to the retailer’s creative and in-store marketing, a move that won accolades from Lévy. "Walmart is already implementing innovative approaches to reach its customers. Our goal is to leverage all of Publicis' assets—not just the resources of one agency—to help them in these efforts," Lévy said.
Close on the heels of the Walmart win, Publicis picked up the $224 million Hewlett Packard Enterprise account in August, the tech company’s B-to-B entity, beating out Omnicom’s BBDO, Doremus, Rapp and OMG in a review. According to Sadoun, the deal began out of Publicis Worldwide New York, but the integrated nature of the agencies within the Publicis Comms hub quickly led to more. "Before we knew it, we were exploring the potential of a global solution," he said in his internal memo.
But Publicis has seen its share of losses this year, the most ignoble of which was the end of the 35-year relationship between McDonald’s and Leo Burnett in late August. The nearly $1 billion account was lost to Omnicom’s DDB and its offering of—ironically—a new entity wholly devoted to McDonald’s work.
It was a major setback for one of Publicis’ most famous agency brands, but it didn’t trigger any soul-searching about the Power of One. "I think we've got three examples," said Rich Stoddart, CEO of Leo Burnett, referring to Walmart, HPE and McDonald’s. "Two of them went exactly the way we wanted, one didn't, but in all three of them we're seeing the Power of One working a new way."
At the same time, the 2015 media losses finally came to bear, and Publicis posted a disappointing 3rd quarter, but the restructuring continued unabated. In September, Sadoun announced Publicis Comms would have only a single P&L in each country, a marked shift from the more traditional brand-based model that he called "totally revolutionary."
That Sadoun has been given so much responsibility for implementing what Lévy clearly views as the future of the company and the industry has sparked ample discussion about Sadoun’s own future. The announcement of Lévy’s successor is coming soon, so the trials and challenges of 2016 may have just been training to take over at the top.