Q&A: Publicis CEO Argues Epsilon Acquisition Is Really All About Powering Creativity

Arthur Sadoun 'on the same page' as Accenture and Droga5

Publicis will enter a partnership with Epsilon parent company Alliance Data.
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Data is the future of marketing—but only when used to enhance the core creative services that agencies sell to their clients.

This is the argument Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun advanced to support the largest acquisition in his company’s history, confirming that it had agreed to buy Epsilon for $4.4 billion.

First, however, he used an internal video to explain what Epsilon will mean to the holding group and to apologize for breaking the news on a sleepy Sunday morning.

After the announcement went live, Adweek spoke to Sadoun to learn more about why he and his board moved to buy Epsilon after eyeing the company for years, how they arrived at a price that is “more than reasonable,” and whether this deal is, in some ways, a mirror image of Accenture Interactive’s recent decision to buy creative agency Droga5.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: Is Publicis a data marketing business now?
Arthur Sadoun: No, Publicis is literally a creative business. [But] the world is changing so fast now. Do you know how many digital interactions someone between the ages of 17 and 75 does on average before buying a car today?

I would guess dozens.
Nine hundred digital interactions. So if we continue to believe that we can manage car advertising in the same way that we were doing it 10 years ago, we are wrong. And the reason why we are doing this deal today is to continue on our strategy to be at the core of our clients’ digital transformations, bringing them, roughly, the best of creativity. In a dynamic world, this is something that is not easy.

Creative is of course still the core of our business, although it is being challenged for the reason I just mentioned. With Epsilon, we have today a clear leader in data and platforms that will, again, accelerate our strategy and boost our creative product.

Every creative will tell you the same: data is a means, not an end. But understanding consumer insights, being able to ideate in this way and deliver dynamic content optimization, will make the difference between convincing someone to buy a car after 900 digital interactions or falling flat.

"We believe you can have all the data and tech in the world, but if the message you're delivering has no impact, you won't sell anything."
Arthur Sadoun

Ultimately, as always, you want to help clients maintain and grow their position in the marketplace. 
When you look at how fast the direct-to-consumer brands are gaining market share, it’s insane. And when you look at the big topics of data regulation, the only way for clients to continue to grow is [by delivering] personalized experience at scale. So we have decided to move on this deal.

At the moment, by the way, Accenture is moving in the other direction with exactly the same goal [by acquiring Droga5].

I think we are taking a stand here for our creative business and our business in general and, more importantly, making sure that our clients can still be relevant.

This deal, along with IPG’s acquisition of Acxiom, seems to confirm that consumer data will underlie all the decisions your company makes.
We believe you can have all the data and tech in the world, but if the message you’re delivering has no impact, you won’t sell anything. And again, this is why it’s interesting to see what Accenture is doing. They are buying a company that is declining by 10% on a very high multiple, because they know that creativity is important. It’s obvious we are on the same page.

Also, Acxiom is only about data. Epsilon is way more. They are, as you know, first in CRM, with an outstanding way of putting together and building ID around first-party data. That is a business that has nothing to do with Acxiom. Every year they are sending 71 billion personalized emails. They can identify 225 million consumers in the U.S. with 7,000 attributes. Last but not least, they have a platform called Conversant, which is a big part of their business, that can deliver personalized messaging at scale.

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