Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun’s decision to announce, in the middle of last week’s Cannes Lions festival, that his network’s agencies would skip all awards shows and trade events next year in order to create an AI platform called Marcel, was either a brilliant move or a big mistake.
The announcement was met with confusion and skepticism among both competitors and Publicis employees, most of whom had no warning.
In order to clear things up, Sadoun promised to join Twitter for the first time at Jack Dorsey’s urging. When his promised “clear up the noise” Q&A session happened today in Paris, one thing quickly became apparent: confusion remains among many of the 80,000 people in Sadoun’s network around the world. In response to the first question about creatives looking to start families, Sadoun wrote:
Yet, as a Leo Burnett creative director then wrote, “Award entries start in Jan and end in May 2018. Marcel prevents us from entering until 1 July 2018. We will indeed be missing out on awards.”
When another Publicis staffer brought up the fact that employees were not consulted about the move, Sadoun provided a new origin story for Marcel and sarcastically wrote, “It sounds like you missed the film … “
He also insisted that Marcel will serve each of his network’s agencies, not the other way around, adding that Publicis.Sapient co-CEO Chip Register will lead the development of the platform.
Sadoun then clarified that Marcel will be a platform, not a bot, and claimed that his database will include “a rich profile with [every Publicis employee’s] skills, experience, super powers, passions” in the interest of matching these staffers to appropriate projects for clients around the world.
But the chairman continued to receive pushback from staff members who said they’d never asked for an AI assistant. One creative director asked how he could keep his team inspired in the absence of awards submissions, to which Sadoun responded by calling Marcel “a game-changing tool that will multiply creative opportunities and give anyone a chance to stand on the global scene.”
He also acknowledged that the awards show decision did amount to “a sacrifice” before arguing that Publicis would return “even stronger” after July 2018, starting with next year’s Clio Awards. In the meantime, he wrote that a creative should “send your best work to your Global Creative Director and we’ll make sure it gets recognized” but did not clarify what that meant.
Keeping the tone light, Sadoun promised to eliminate any confusion between Marcel the platform and Marcel the Paris-based Publicis agency and offered one skeptical tweeter an image of the Q&A team.
He then restated that any creative reps with questions should call his personal cellphone number.
Despite Sadoun’s apparent eagerness to engage, it’s hard to review the exchange without concluding that many in the Publicis camp remain very deeply unsatisfied with the developments of the past week.