Will Jean-Yves Naouri be the next ceo of Publicis Groupe?

February 24, 2010

It looks as if Maurice Lévy, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe, is finalising plans for his succession – which must be in place before 2012. Senior group executives are putting their money on Jean-Yves Naouri as the new ceo.

Currently, Naouri is associate managing director of group operations, and was also placed in charge of Publicis Healthcare (PHCG) after the departure of John Farrell in mid-2008. He’s one of five who sit on the group executive board, the others being David Kenny, ceo of Digitas, Kevin Roberts, ceo of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, Jack Klues, chairman of Publicis Groupe Media, and of course Lévy himself.

Naouri, about 50, is a typical product of the fast-track French grande école system. A graduate of the Polytechnique, he began his career as a nuclear physicist. The important point to note, however, was his secondment to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, when he was minister of industry and international trade – a connection which will have put Naouri at the heart of the French politico-economic web. As a political insider he was of course invaluable to Publicis, which he joined in 1993 as the head of a newly minted corporate communications and ‘sensitive issues’ subsidiary (Publicis Consultants). He was elected to the Publicis executive board at the same time as Kenny, and was presumably given the same four-year contract. Klues, Roberts and Lévy renewed their own contracts at the same time: early 2008.

All of this may shed some light on persistent rumours swirling around the upper echelons of the Publicis empire. Roberts, for example, is said to be quitting at the end of this year – which makes sense if the French ‘insider’ has indeed won out. Kenny is being linked with General Catalyst, a Boston-based private equity company, and Klues is also rumoured to be eyeing the exit.

Any succession would have to be rubber-stamped by the shareholders. Although Publicis is about 70% publicly held, it has some extremely powerful private shareholders as well. Dentsu, of course; but more influential is Elisabeth Badinter, the soignée French feminist and philosophy professor who also happens to be daughter of Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein Blanchet – and owner of a 10%+ stake. Whatever happens in the run-up to 2012, we are unlikely to see the departure of the ‘Silver Fox’ himself. Will Lévy retain the chairmanship of the executive board, or perhaps take a ‘life-time’ presidential role? Or both?

Nadhim Zahawi – from pollster to politician

February 23, 2010

So, market research guru extraordinaire Nadhim Zahawi has finally made it into the political big time with the promise of a safe Conservative seat at Stratford-on-Avon.

About the only thing Zahawi has in common with the stereotype of his profession are his signature specs. Actually, even those are a slightly misleading cue. For a start, their style, far from being document-grubbing dull, often tends to mimick the flamboyant wraparound frames found in our more fashionable ski-resorts. And more importantly, they give the wrong impression about the kind of person Zahawi is. The very last thing you could accuse him of being, in his life or career, is short-sighted.

He’s a vision rather than a detail man; entrepreneurial rather than strictly methodical. The fact that he arrived in market research at all seems to have been an accident. A keen amateur showjumper in his youth who went all the way to Hickstead, Zahawi seemed cut out for a career in politics after graduating from London University. The early excursion into marketing was just a ramp to get Zahawi – in an echo of John Major – into local politics as a prelude to the ‘real’ thing. Disappointment followed, with his rejection at Erith in the general election of 1997 (or, as the eternally upbeat Zahawi put it, “I forced the Liberals into third place.”) Then came political disaster: he volunteered to be Jeffrey Archer’s campaign manager in the 1999 Mayoral election. Fun it may have been, but Archer was already tarnished goods and shortly to do time for perjury and obstructing the course of justice.

Anyone else might have slunk off into the wilderness to lick his wounds. Not Zahawi. No, here in the jaws of disaster was opportunity staring him in the face. Mix a passionate interest in politics and marketing savvy together, and what do you get? A polling organisation. A third vital ingredient, Stephan Shakespeare – his key collaborator in the Archer campaign – was what turned that combination into a winning number. Shakespeare was the bit of serendipity that Zahawi needed. He was – and is – the ultimately complementary business partner: measured and thoughtful where Zahawi is flamboyant and enthusiastic; cerebral where Zahawi is dynamic. YouGov was born in 2000.

YouGov’s subsequent success is often attributed to a series of stunningly accurate poll predictions – starting with the 2001 general election result. But it’s a bit deeper than that. Polling is the cream on the cake of market research. It can make you famous (if you get it right) but rarely brings in the money. YouGov’s true significance is that it was the first market research operation to fully grasp the implications of the internet and export them globally. It started in the right place – Britain is seen as a centre of methodological excellence – and at the right time. No need for the expensive bureaucracy, the delayed feedback panels and telephone teams that encumbered traditional market research brands. This was a new, legacy-free, overhead-light, lightning-swift, margin-rich operation that soon captivated the City and was catapulted onto the  world stage.

Once again, Zahawi’s excellent sense of timing has come to the fore in guiding him to a safe Conservative seat in the coming election. The rest of the market research world is catching up with the YouGov business model. Time to move on, perhaps. Commercial life, even life as exciting as the YouGov adventure, has been no more than an entertaining and temporary diversion from his destiny. Or so it seems.

Maxus wrests £75m BT media account from Starcom

February 17, 2010

Starcom has just lost the BT media account – probably its biggest in the UK outside Procter & Gamble and worth about £75m in billings – to Maxus, a subsidiary of GroupM.

The account has been something of a grudge match between media buying agencies owned by Publicis Groupe and WPP respectively. In a see-saw sequence of events, Starcom retained BT in a difficult pitch against Mediaedge:cia in late 2007, only to cede it to its adversary now.

Maxus, formerly BJK&E, is run  by MindShare UK’s old boss, Kelly Clark. I shall say nothing about fee negotiation, nor ‘Dutch auctions’, as I have little insight into the internal machinations involved in acquiring or losing this account. I do know, however, that Nick Theakstone and his UK team at GroupM, the nerve centre overseeing WPP’s media planning/buying agencies, spent over a year teeing this account up for Maxus. Suffice to note that BT is a big feather in the cap of whoever holds it.

GroupM is on something of a roll at the moment, having just won the long-running pitch for £250m-worth of consolidated media at COI and the £500m worldwide Bayer business.

Agencies go on strike over client approach to pitch process

February 11, 2010

Agencies are in revolt over clients’ increasingly arrogant approach to the pitch process. The rebellion has started in Belgium, where 20 different agencies have suspended their websites to post a message of protest. What’s nifty is that the message forms a continuous web across the competitive divide, each agency posting a paragraph or so of the complete manifesto and giving a link to the next section. Representatives of all the big names, as well as local hot shops, are there: Publicis, McCann, BBDO, JWT, Ogilvy etc.

This is the worm turning. Agencies are sick of a commoditisation process which has led to up to 10 agencies vieing for a single piece of business, simply because the client believes it will get a better ‘deal’. Short-term financial gain for clients; but long-term suicide for the industry as a whole, as agencies buckle under the pressure and creativity is squeezed out.

See for yourself here. This rebellion could well have transborder legs.

Wheldon on the way out at Vodafone?

February 9, 2010

All change in the world of chief marketing officers, it seems. Another CMO-type who appears to be heading for the exit is David Wheldon, global brand director at Vodafone.

Certainly, the headhunters have been alerted.  Cause of imminent departure? It would be guesswork, but guesswork along the same lines as Simon Clift’s situation at Unilever. New brooms do like to sweep clean.

In Wheldon’s case, the new boss is Wendy Becker, group chief marketing office and a member of the Vodafone executive committee. Becker joined last September from TalkTalk – a subsidiary of Charles Dunstone’s Carphone Warehouse – where she was managing director.

CMO Simon Clift to quit Unilever

February 9, 2010

Word reaches me in Austria that Simon Clift, chief marketing officer of Unilever, has quit.

The reason for his departure remains unclear,  but may stem from an uneasy relationship with Unilever chief executive, and ex-P&G and Nestle man, Paul Polman, to whom Clift reports directly.

Cambridge graduate Clift has spent his entire career at Unilever, which he joined as a management trainee in 1982. He has held senior positions right across the world and covering all Unilever’s categories.

He was Unilever’s first global chief marketing officer, responsible for how Unilever develops and executes marketing across all categories – including worldwide advertising agency policy, market research, media buying, marketing capability, recruitment, training and career development.

He is also a non-executive director of BBC Worldwide.

The news of Clift’s departure broke as Unilever appointed MindShare to about $1.7bn media planning and buying, after a lengthy consolidation review.

UPDATE: Unilever has now confirmed Clift’s departure. Officially he is retiring from the company, in several months’ time.

Tamara Minick-Scokalo resurfaces as Kraft’s European confectionery chief

February 4, 2010

I’m reliably informed that the “senior role” at Kraft being taken up by former Cadbury European chief  Tamara Minick-Scokalo is head of European confectionery.

She will therefore be the pivotal figure in integrating Kraft’s existing product range – principally Toblerone and Milka – with the newly acquired brands at Cadbury.

Readers of this blog may recall that she left Cadbury in slightly mysterious circumstances at the beginning of last July. An American with 20 years experience in Procter marketing, Minick-Scokalo moved to Europe a few years back (she is based in Geneva) and took on the top marketing/general management roles at US wine maker E&J Gallo, then Elizabeth Arden. Two years as head of global commerce at Cadbury Schweppes followed. She afterwards became European president of the demerged Cadbury confectionery operation, in January 2009. As such, Minick-Scokalo sat on the Cadbury executive board, reported directly to chief executive Todd Stitzer, and had control over Cadbury’s confectionery operations in both East and West Europe: that is, over 10,000 employees, €1bn annual sales and numerous factories.

But Stitzer, up to this point her champion, let her go after only six months in what appears to have been a selective senior management cull designed to cut costs.

How fortuitous then, that Kraft should launch a takeover bid for Cadbury in September and, having sown up the deal a few days ago, hire Minick-Scokalo to mastermind the brands’ integration from March 1. Whatever else may be wrong with the corporate “merger” (Warren Buffett is the expert on that matter, not me) integration of the two confectionery operations in Europe looks like an obvious fit. Cadbury, outside the chocolate-gobbling UK, is a patchwork quilt in need of further rationalisation; Kraft, on the other hand, already has strong Euro brands in Milka, Toblerone and Terry’s.

I do hope the senior managers who stay on at Cadbury (the top three having already quit) were nice to Minick-Scokalo before she left. Ignasi Ricou, who succeeded Minick-Scokalo as Cadbury president of Europe, and Phil Rumbol, UK marketing director, will no doubt be polishing their CVs just in case.

I imagine she will also have a hugely enhanced fan club in the marketing services world. Ogilvy, for example, handles the Toblerone brand and JWT does Kraft corporate advertising. Fallon need not lose all hope, however. Minick-Scokalo championed the ‘Gorilla’ advertising campaign.

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