Bloom Steps Down at Publicis

Bob Bloom likes geology. Loves it actually. And if you can believe it, his interest in geological engineering led him into advertising, the only career the outgoing chairman and chief executive officer of Publicis in the U.S. has ever known.

“The history of the world and how land was made and changed, I enjoyed that creatively and learned that’s what I had a better talent in,” said the 68-year-old Dallas native.

“Not creative itself, but finding a way to achieve something creatively. I’ve applied that to this business in the sense of how you take what was once a middle-size agency into a U.S. agency of real scale and then to transform it into a strategic and creative resource that is respected in a short period of time,” he said. “That to me is the combination of discipline and geology that says all these transformations can be possible.”

Bloom’s 45-year career in advertising began at the firm of his father, Sam Bloom, who founded the agency that carried his name in 1952 and was posthumously inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame in 1991. The younger Bloom joined The Sam Bloom Agency in 1957 following a two-year stint as a U.S. Navy gunnery officer.

When Bloom joined the young agency that would become the foundation of the U.S. Publicis empire of today, it had only about a dozen employees. The first client, Irving, Texas-based Zales Jewelers, remains among the top three accounts of Publicis in Mid America, Dallas.

When the elder Bloom offered his son control of the shop in 1962, both men had doubts about the younger Bloom’s readiness. Yet, out of what Bloom calls his father’s “generous spirit,” the transition took place nonetheless. “I think he recognized my future was ahead of me, and in order to give me the room and the opportunity to achieve what I wanted to achieve he would have to give me the latitude to do it,” Bloom said.

The agency that began as a creative boutique serving the region began shifting its focus into packaged goods with the addition of brands like BC Headache Powder and Block Drugs (the first incarnation of GlaxoSmithKline), which remain with Publicis today.

“It was a fun place to work,” said David Hadeler, president and CEO of MARC USA in Dallas, who worked at Bloom in the early ’80s. “You’d be sitting in meeting with guys in suits and others wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and sandals.”

Bloom, of course, wore more formal attire, said Hadeler, who has never forgotten his former boss’s rule about giving the client more service than they expect. “He liked to make sure there wasn’t a chink in the armor in terms of how we were serving a client,” he said.

In 1982 Bloom acquired New York-based Mathieu Gerfen Bresner, which brought such clients as Scott Paper (it merged with Kimberly-Clark two years later) and IPCO Corp.’s Sterling Optical. Billings rose the next year to $153 million from $120 million.

Billings steadily increased over the years and by 1991 Bloom had built a $185 million agency. It was time to sell.

He credits the decision to be acquired by French agency network Groupe FCA to two trends affecting the industry: globalization and clients’ increasing need for more ad resources. “It became obvious to me the role of agencies in the future would be different,” Bloom said. “I could resort to a player that couldn’t compete, or I could join in this trend and compete in that space.”

Chairman Bloom moved the headquarters of the new agency, Bloom FCA, to New York following the acquisition. In 1992 the shop reported billings of $215 million. Publicis Groupe acquired FCA in 1993, and Bloom became chairman and CEO of Publicis Bloom, which had total billings of $155 million.

As the transformation of the new Publicis begins, Bloom does notconsider himself entering retirement. He will be a consultant to the holding company, making himself available to key clients “who feel [he] can add value,” he said. His view: why stop working while still jogging three miles daily, lifting weights twice a week and traveling extensively.

Bloom, who wants to be remembered as an entrepreneur, said he expects Publicis’ entrepreneurial culture to differentiate it from its agency competitors.

“I think this business today doesn’t have enough entrepreneurs, enough visionaries, people with a passion to achieve what [Publicis Groupe CEO] Maurice [Lévy] has achieved and what he’s helped me to achieve,” Bloom said. “I think that’s why we will outdistance our competitors.”