It was a good year for the Publicis Groupe CEO. Levy, 61, expects to show a second-half operating margin of 15 percent and says guiding Bcom3's agencies into the fold went "far better" than he expected.
Q. You rank fourth among your holding company peers. How do you feel about your place in the industry?
A. To be very honest, I never cared about the ranking. I always cared about the positioning and the quality of our firm, the quality of our work and what we are doing. For me, ranking No. 4, No. 3 or No. 5 is irrelevant.
What was Publicis' high point this year?
The successful integration of Bcom3. Another thing is that in the most important market of the world, America, we are now recognized as one of the top players. We were a respected outsider, and today we are a strong challenger.
And what was the low point?
The loss of Capital One. And the issues between the U.S. and some European countries as regard to the Iraq war has been something that was worrying me a lot.
What did you learn from the struggle over Cordiant?
It's difficult, because I have always claimed I was interested in only a few assets, and it seems like nobody has believed this. So I was a little bit frustrated and disappointed. When such a thing happens, I'm always blaming myself. I always assume if something is not written correctly, it's because we have not communicated correctly.
What's proved to be the greatest challenge in trying to absorb the Bcom3 agencies?
The most fundamental challenge is that you get the confidence of the people and they consider that this operation is positive to their future. One of the most complex operations in our industry has been the dismantling of D'Arcy and the reallocation of the assets. It did work fantastically well, far better than I could have expected. We have taken our time. We have not rushed. Obviously, there have been people who left, but all in all it has been viewed as something very positive.
What's the smartest business decision you've ever made?
It's difficult, because every time I look at some of the decisions I've made, I feel we have made beautiful progress and we have been able to build a formidable group. But I always feel I have not been good enough.
And what's the dumbest?
My agreement with True North. This [was a] painful period of my life. I felt I was too naive, because I believed what was said and what was the plan. It was a severe disappointment, and I felt betrayed by some people.
What are your plans to build global scale? Is it true you are interested in buying Grey?
There are a lot of rumors. We are looking only for small or medium-size targets. We are not looking at all for the big acquisition. There is nothing that is close to any kind of decision. What has made us successful is, we are always taking the necessary time to make sure the acquisitions we are making are becoming a member of the family. We took the time for Publicis & Hal Riney. We did the same with Fallon and Saatchi & Saatchi. One of the beauties of our offering is, we have agencies that are very different. We have Publicis with French and European roots, Saatchi & Saatchi with its British roots, and Leo Burnett, from the heartbeat of America.
P&G recently picked Publicis for its first Super Bowl spot. What does that do for the network's reputation?
I think there is a momentum at Publicis in the U.S. We are creating ads that are in tune with the consumer, that are spectacular and tell something about the product. It's not just being spectacular for the sake of being spectacular. This is something we are very good at internationally. We were lacking this quality in the past [in the U.S.] because we had not in every city the right size, and we couldn't invest as we wished.
What's your dream account?
I would love to work for a lot of big brands. I would like a small black bottle [Coke] in the U.S. I would like some sneaker in order to run faster. I'd like to enhance our position with Nestle, P&G, L'Oreal and General Motors. My Christmas list would be rejected by Santa Claus, because he would tell me it's too long.
Name one person you're dying to work with.
I would love to work with Steven Spielberg, with Tarantino and with David Lynch. I would have loved to get to know Picasso, Miro and Kandinsky, people who really created some serious disruption.
What's your biggest fear?
To lose my intellectual capacity.
What would you be doing if not advertising?
When I was young, I wanted to save lives as a surgeon. Unfortunately, I can't do that, because it's impossible for me to see the blood. I have spent all my life in advertising. I breathe advertising. I breathe creativity. I love the people in this industry. I love bringing solutions to clients. I love the passion. This is building a bond between brand and people, and changing behavior. This is great.