Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun Tells Employees ‘We Have to Be a Better Industry and a Better Company’

By Erik Oster Comment

Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun dedicated the entirety of his weekly video address yesterday to addressing issues of racism in the wake of widespread protests against racism and police brutality.

Sadoun opened the video by saying that he would like to focus on Publicis Groupe’s “U.S. family,” adding that “the truth is that it’s about every single one of us in every market.”

“In this moment of great trauma and unrest, I believe we are all Americans,” he said, explaining that “we have all been awakened by the devastating death of George Floyd” and subsequent protests across the U.S. and cites abroad.

“We are asking ourselves how and why this racism against Black people has gone unchecked for as long as it has,” he said, adding that he has spent considerable time over the course of the last week speaking with U.S. teams and witnessed their pain.

“The truth is it is very difficult to find the right words and even more difficult to take the right actions, as nothing will truly alleviate these emotions right now,” Sadoun said, a comment that comes in the wake of some Publicis Groupe employees feeling that Sadoun failed to adequately address racism in a previous video last Sunday in which he didn’t directly refer to racism, police brutality or the murder of Floyd.

Stressing that the issue of racism and injustice is far larger than any individual, Sadoun said that Publicis Groupe needs to focus on where it can make a difference.

“I’m talking about our people, you, our company, our own ecosystem” he explained, expressing the hope that by making a small contribution the company could impact the larger world. “Actions mean nothing if they don’t have real and long-term impact and this is very hard,” he said, admitting that while Publicis Groupe has developed a number of initiatives around promoting diversity and inclusion, “the results are not where we want them to be.”

“So we have to be a better industry and a better company. We actually need a fresh start,” he said, by imagining, designing and executing “new ways for Publicis to fight racism and provide more opportunities for the Black community inside our company.”

Aware of his limited perspective as a white CEO sitting in Paris, he called on viewers for help.

“It will take all of us,” Sadoun said. “The truth of our Black colleagues. The white majority that sits in our company today. Our diverse skills and talents. Our ingenuity, compassion, the resilience will help us find a solution that makes a difference. We need to make right what has been so wrong for too long,” he added.

To tackle the issue, Sadoun said Publicis Groupe will need to answer four fundamental questions: how to provide more opportunities for Black people at Publicis Groupe and its agencies, ways of fostering a culture of growth and progress leading to more Black leaders at the top levels of the company, how to ensure white employees become active partners to their Black colleagues’ success, and how to help support all minorities around the world.

“To answer these questions we will need all of you,” he said, announcing that on June 17 Publicis Groupe will host a day dedicated to finding answers to these questions, with employees in the U.S. called upon to “set the foundations for actions,” led by chief diversity officer Ronnie Dickerson and her team.

“The best ideas, solutions and actions will be refined, implemented and measured,” Sadoun explained, calling it a “very important day” for the holding company in the U.S. and around the world. He also asked for all U.S. employees to take one day off before June 17 to take time to think about these issues and ways of addressing them, noting that some agencies have already provided employees with such a day.

He also noted the importance of giving all Publicis Groupe employees a proper foundation and knowledge to begin to understand the Black-American experience, noting that the diversity and inclusion team is providing a list of resources. While most of the resources are free, Sadoun also promised to refund the purchase of any which are not. He also dedicated the holding company’s next leadership Q&A session to preparing for the June 17 session.

Sadoun said that while personally the isolation of social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic was difficult, the current “social crisis” is tougher, “because it is the one … we were most responsible for.”

“We see this moment clearly and we will not squander it,” he promised, “Together with all of you, we will do the right thing in our company, today and for the years to come.”

He concluded by asking everyone to stay close to their teams, check in with Black colleagues and engage in “hard and truthful conversations,” adding that the holding company is “laying the foundation for change, starting today.”

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