Publicis pulls out of Russia and hands control of agencies to local management

Publicis Groupe: handing control of Russian operations to local management (Getty Images)
Publicis Groupe: handing control of Russian operations to local management (Getty Images)

French agency group, which employs 1,200 in Russia, exits over Ukraine war.

Publicis Groupe is pulling out of Russia and passing ownership of its agencies to local management – with immediate effect.

Sergey Koptev, a former founding chairman of Publicis in Russia, will take charge of the Russian agencies “with the clear contractual condition of ensuring a future for employees there”, Publicis Groupe said.

The decision to stop doing business and end its investments in Russia affects 1,200 staff. It is thought that Publicis Groupe owned its agency operations, rather than having a joint venture with a local partner.

Publicis Groupe is the third of the big agency holding companies to cut ties with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

WPP announced it was shutting its wholly owned operations in Russia on 4 March. Interpublic, which has joint ventures with local partners and an affiliate relationship for media-buying, suspended its operations in Russia on 14 March.

Arthur Sadoun, chief executive and chairman of Publicis Groupe, said the French agency group had not wanted to make an announcement until it had done its best to protect the interests of local staff.

“Since the start of the invasion, we have been working on exiting Russia as we strongly condemn the unilateral aggression against Ukraine,” Sadoun said in a statement.

“We were committed to taking strong actions that fully respond to the gravity of the situation. But we were determined to take the necessary time to come up with a solution that was truly people-first, because our 1,200 employees in Russia are our people, too.

“We couldn’t just abandon them. By ceding control of our Russian operations to Sergey, we are securing a future path for our colleagues while immediately stopping all of our operations, engagement and investment in Russia.”

Sadoun added Publicis Groupe is in “daily contact” with its 350 Ukrainian staff and “doing everything we can to support them” – “from security alert systems, to psychological and mental health support, to help with visas, or guaranteeing salaries for everyone for the entire year”, he said.

Sadoun released an internal video for staff in which he spoke about the difficult decision to part ways with staff in Russia – some of whom “have been with us for decades”, he said.

“Of course, they didn’t ask for this war. And they are actually preparing themselves and their families for what are going to be dark days. So let’s be clear: We have a duty to protect them and I wasn’t ready to abandon them with a short email and a few roubles in compensation. Those are not our values.”

The crisis is “beyond business” and “beyond borders”, he said.

Agency holding companies have joined a growing number of brands that have stopped operations in Russia, including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Unilever, which that have paused or significantly scaled back their business in the region.

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