I cannot have been alone in wondering why Publicis Groupe made such a hullabaloo over its acquisition of French CRM site Pour Tout Vous Dire at the beginning of the month. Coming after the $530m Razorfish acquisition, it’s a drop in the ocean. Worse, so much publicity seemed to magnify a potential conflict of interest.
Let me explain. PTVD – roughly, “Everything You Need to Know” – is a customer relationship project aimed at mothers, which has been developed by Unilever – although only in France. A magazine, which accompanies the site, comes out three times a year, but reaches 2 million people. PTVD is a tiddly operation, with no more than 15 staff. Indeed, this seems to be part of its problem: it is under-resourced and Unilever does not have the capacity to develop it further. Publicis has agreed to take it off Unilever’s hands for an undisclosed sum (for which read peanuts) and relaunch the site next year.
Let’s reel back here for a moment. Unilever selling a site to Procter & Gamble’s bulwark agency group? All right, client conflicts are not what they used to be. WPP, for example, now handles both P&G (at Grey) and Unilever (at JWT). And Publicis Groupe has long since managed to ringfence Unilever business through its 49% stake in BBH. All the same, call me old fashioned…
Light has been shed on these mysteries in an interview given to AdWeek by Nicolas Zunz, co-president of Publicis Dialog in Paris. Zunz has been named chairman of the new acquisition; Muriel Hayat, a former Unilever CRM manager, will be his chief executive. The interview raises as many questions as it answers.
It seems that Unilever was in over its head. It had developed an interesting property, but lacked a sufficiently wide portfolio to create traction for the site. Publicis’ plan is to create an open-architecture site, which will be supplemented by content from some of its other packaged goods clients, such as Nestlé, L’Oréal and…P&G. Zunz sees no problem here: “The contract with Unilever is very clear about this. We can have some brands for Procter & Gamble if they’re not (direct) competitors with the brands of Unilever. So, it’s a huge opportunity for P&G…”! And Unilever? Well, Unilever may eventually find itself written out of the script, once its five-year licensing deal comes to an end. It will be “a privileged partner”, of course, but the Unilever logo is to be dropped with the next iteration of the site. Zunz talks confidently about taking the eCRM concept abroad with the collaboration of “a Nestlé or with Procter & Gamble”. No mention of Unilever there.
Curiouser and curiouser.