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Publicis London (UK)

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Although it maintains a lower profile than some of its peers, Publicis London has steadily developed a reputation as one London's foremost agencies. The local office is now one of the Publicis Worldwide network's main hubs, and a key contributor to global new business pitches. However performance within the main agency has slumped somewhat since the mid 2000s, although there have been repeated signs of recovery since 2010. Instead, the group has chosen instead to bolster its wider offering through acquisitions. In 2011, Publicis strengthened its direct and digital offering with the acquisition of acclaimed independent Chemistry, and it is this unit more than the main advertising agency that now tends to dominate the overall group's output. Another bolt-on was Poke, purchased in 2013.

Clients

Click here for a Publicis client listing from Adbrands Account Assignments

Competitors

See Leading UK Agencies for other companies

Brands & Activities

Former CEO Nigel Jones restored a level of stability to the agency following several turbulent years in the mid 2000s, but Publicis has yet to regain the billings it once enjoyed and the C-suite is still prone to change. Slow but steady growth had established Publicis as one of the UK's top five agencies between 2003 and 2005, before it was crushed by the loss of two of its biggest accounts over the winter of 2006/2007. Long-standing local head Rick Bendel, also COO of the Publicis Worldwide network, quit the agency in Autumn 2006 to join key client Asda, and subsequently transferred the advertising account to sister agency Fallon London. Furniture retailer MFI moved on soon afterwards. Publicis UK chief executive Grant Duncan left the agency shortly after the Asda loss, and was replaced by Tim Lindsay, already UK executive chairman. He too quit the agency in May 2007 to join TBWA.

Neil Simpson was eventually appointed as CEO in September. However the business was already under pressure, with billings steadily on the decline, reaching a low of £139m in 2009 (down from £285m only four years earlier). There was a slight recovery in 2010, but Publicis continued to languish well outside the top ten. Another wave of management changes - including Simpson's departure - overshadowed an otherwise satisfactory performance during 2011, in which the agency collected several significant new accounts including Nescafe and Tourism Ireland.

Publicis kicked off 2012 with the win of the big-budget Confused.com account, although almost a year later it had yet to produce its first commercial for the client. The new campaign when it came - featuring a misguided robot named Brian - was hardly worth wait and the account finally moved on in 2016. The loss of the EE account to Publicis Groupe stablemate Saatchi & Saatchi in 2014 also dented performance, despite the capture of the Morrisons supermarket the following year. Nielsen (in Campaign) estimated a 10% fall in total billings in 2015 to £173m, losing the agency its place among the UK Top Ten. Other key clients include Renault, Nestle, Coca-Cola and P&G.

The main Publicis London agency is accompanied by a group of satellite units, all now operating out of the same building. In 2011, Publicis agreed to acquire independent CRM company Chemistry Communications for around £14.5m. The new unit absorbed the existing operations of the local Publicis Dialog office to form Publicis Chemistry. In 2013, the group acquired digital agency Poke (from part-owner Mother) for an estimated £10m. Customer publishing agency Publicis Blueprint was one of the longest-standing satellites of the main agency. At its peak it was one of the UK's biggest such specialists, largely as a result of client Asda, whose customer magazine was the UK's biggest circulation periodical with 5.3m copies distributed. However, Blueprint lost the Asda magazine account in Spring 2015 to Hearst.

Later that year, Publicis acquired rival content agency August, which absorbed the remaining operations of Blueprint. Shopper marketing agency Vivid Brand was also acquired in 2015.

In Spring 2017, the group began consolidating its various different units in London. Vivid was absorbed into a newly created Publicis Communications shopper marketing specialist entity alongside the former Saatchi & Saatchi X London and Leo Burnett's Arc. The new company adopted the Arc name but works from Publicis offices in Baker Street. Also in Spring 2017, Chemistry and DigitasLBi satellite Kitcatt Nohr were merged into the main DigitasLBi office.

Financials

The agency's main corporate entity is Publicis Ltd. Revenue declined 15% in 2014, and then by another 18% in 2015 to £35.4m. According to the directors' report that was the result of client losses, although billings rose slightly to £89.8m. Just over half of revenue was generated in the UK, 29% in Europe, and most of the rest from the US. Following a net profit in 2014, the company reported a net loss of £2.6m. Average staff numbers were 321 employees. Poke London reported revenues of £7.1m in 2015 and a net profit of £614k.

Background

Publicis first arrived on British shores in 1978 with the French group's acquisition of local agency McCormick Richards. That shop had been established four years earlier by American-born John McCormick, formerly international marketing director for BBDO in the UK. Following its purchase by Publicis it was partnered with the French group's two other agency brands in continental Europe to become McCormick Intermarco-Farner. The agency was rebranded as McCormick Publicis in 1984, but John McCormick stepped down as chairman, establishing a smaller shop, Mallet McCormick, with backing from Publicis. (The French group dropped the McCormick tag in 1988 following his retirement. Mallet McCormick was later merged into the UK office of FCB).

In 1991 Publicis bolstered the UK operation with the buyout of another local agency Geers Gross, which had been established in the mid-1960s by Bob Gross and Bob Geers, two expat Americans who had jumped ship from the London office of Benton & Bowles. Geers Gross established several precedents in its time, becoming the first UK advertising agency to go public (in 1969), and the first to establish an office in the US (in 1978). However its fortunes declined significantly in the 1980s, forcing it to sell its Stateside subsidiaries, and the early death of chairman Bob Gross in 1991 created further turmoil. The merger with Publicis elevated the combined agency into the Top 10, and established former Geers Gross managing director Rick Bendel as head of the enlarged agency.

Nigel Jones joined from Draftfcb in 2008 as UK group chairman and chief executive. He announced his resignation in Sept 2013 in order to return to Draftfcb. He was eventually succeeded by former AKQA international leader Guy Wieynk, but not until early 2015 as a result of non-compete restrictions. Wienyk later added responsibility for the rest of Publicis Western Europe, apart from France. Karen Buchanan, previously managing partner of The Red Brick Road, succeeded Neil Simpson as CEO of the main Publicis agency in 2011. She was promoted in 2017 to group chairman & chief client development officer; Nick Farnhill, co-founder & CEO of Poke was named as CEO in her place. Buchanan announced her resignation from Publicis in Spring 2018. Wienyk departed in Nov 2018.

Last full revision 7th February 2017

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