Publicis Finally Answers the Ad Industry’s Most Pressing Question: What Is Marcel?

It's much more than a task manager, executives say

The group unveiled its new platform this morning in Paris. Publicis Groupe
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“I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and it is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago. Everything else has changed … but we haven’t. Incremental change won’t be enough to save us.”

In a closed press event this week, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun positioned Marcel, the holding company’s new AI platform-slash-task manager-slash social network-slash custom Slack channel, as a first step in addressing the agency world’s failure to enter the present day.

I won’t talk about pressures we are under as an industry; you just have to read journalists’ reports every morning,” added a very blunt Sadoun. 

He hesitated to state whether Marcel is a “right or wrong” approach and acknowledged the imperfect nature of last summer’s roll-out on a slide that featured skeptical headlines from a number of publications, including Adweek. Most importantly, Sadoun said, Marcel represents dramatic change for an industry in desperate need of exactly that. “We want people to work as they live; digital has totally changed the way they live,” he said.

Despite the presentation’s focus on technology, efficiency and a desire to “break” and “reinvent” the “frozen” holding company model, Sadoun and Publicis global CCO Nick Law insisted that the company’s “raison d’être” in developing Marcel was to facilitate a greater sense of creativity across its network.

As if to prove that point, the public’s first view of the platform came via this short film created by BBH Singapore.

Marcel made its official debut today at 9:30 a.m. Paris time in a larger presentation led by Sadoun and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whose company signed on to become Publicis Groupe’s official partner in the Marcel venture this January. Former Publicis CEO Maurice Levy also made an appearance accompanied by a new, very full beard.

The event included a three-minute demo that went into greater detail about the way the platform works.

During this week’s press event, Law quickly dismissed the idea that Marcel is merely a task manager powered by Microsoft tools. He emphasized the potential value of Talent Match, a feature by which employees at Publicis offices around the world can connect on specific projects through a smart filter that helps pair them based on experience, availability and interest.

One slide in the presentation connected the various aspects of the Marcel ecosystem, from work requests to “collaboration walls,” with Microsoft email, calendar and cloud storage services underlying the entire process.

“You will have all of Publicis in the palm of your hand,” Sadoun said.

The demo also included one specific example of the product facilitated by Marcel in the form of an open brief for Walmart that ultimately went to a team of creatives based in Spain who had never even visited the United States.

Law also used the Marcel logo to reinforce Publicis Groupe’s message on creativity and connecting disparate agency networks. “The two eyes represent the connection between all the brands in the Groupe,” he said. “Two simple ways of thinking [combined] to make a third way of thinking. This is one of the ways this platform will power creativity. The [Publicis] brands aren’t working for Marcel, Marcel is working for the brands.”

Company executives downplayed concerns that the new platform could increase complexity within Publicis and repeatedly turned the focus to the network’s 80,000 employees, many of whom were confused by the announcement last summer.

One of the more interesting aspects of Marcel’s launch is that staffers around the world will not be required to sign up—at least not at first. One hundred alpha users across the Publicis network are currently testing the service, and it will expand to an additional 1,000 beta users over the summer.

The idea, then, is that both the AI features and the larger framework will evolve as Marcel embeds itself deeper within the Publicis organization in a way that leaders hope to be organic rather than forced.

Chief strategy officer Carla Serrano described the ultimate effect as “every individual to the power of 80,000” and confirmed that participation will not be compulsory. But employees who do participate will log in to Marcel every morning and log out when they leave the office; they will even receive automated reminders to file their time sheets.

According to attendees at the Paris event, the time sheet feature received “the biggest cheer of the morning.

In the press release, Sadoun also described the Cannes Lions organization as “our learning and inspiration partner,” announcing a digital project called The Work that will showcase campaigns produced from 2001 to 2018. While Publicis initially made headlines for its plans to skip Cannes this year, the group later confirmed that multiple executives will serve as jury heads, telling Adweek that this did not conflict with its earlier announcement “as long as the festival concerned covers costs and expenses.”

Publicis also later stated that its creative work will be considered for Lions this year thanks to investments by clients like P&G, which has submitted 15 of its agencies’ campaigns to the festival.

Toward the end of the presentation Nick Law framed Marcel, again, as a way to gradually push the larger Publicis organization into a nostalgia-free future.

“The young people who work at agencies use Uber and Seamless in their civilian lives … then they go into work and they use these strange antiquated legacy systems,” he said. “Hopefully, in a few years’ time when this is running on all cylinders, it will feel natural.”

Sadoun told Adweek that “we want to be a positive source of change” for the industry while also making sure to emphasize throughout the Monday presentation that Marcel is not a cure-all.

“This is not an easy journey; it will be a tough year, because what we’re doing is extremely ambitious,” he said before citing a quote from Publicis founder and platform namesake Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet: “When you are challenged, it’s the right time to be bold.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.