Publicis CFO: Hiring Freeze Stays — for Now

Publicis Groupe CFO Jean-Michel Etienne told investors and analysts yesterday that the Paris-based agency holding company reduced its workforce by 6.5 percent (or 2,900 people) from last December, and that the company’s ongoing hiring freeze would remain in place at least until the middle of 2010.

Etienne made his remarks at the UBS Media Conference in New York.

“We will keep it in place at least for the first half of 2010,” Etienne said of the hiring freeze. After that, the company will reassess the situation, he said, noting that its removal would depend in part on how strongly the firm returns to growth from an organic revenue standpoint.

But Etienne stressed that no timetable has been set for its removal.

He said that organic revenue fell nearly 7 percent through the first three quarters, and is expected to begin growing again in the second half of next year. “It will be a slow and gradual recovery,” he said, predicting a “slightly negative” organic revenue decline in the first half of next year, coupled with “slightly positive” organic revenue growth in the second half.

Etienne indicated that digital revenue accounted for 21.3 percent of the holding company’s total for the first nine months of the year, up almost 3 percent from the same period in 2008. With the recent acquisition of Razorfish the company’s slice of digital revenue will surge past 25 percent next year, he said.

The loss of some General Motors business this year caused a 2 percent shrinkage in the company’s share of revenue derived from the auto sector through the first nine months to 13 percent, he said.