Publicis Says Inequality Doomed the Company’s Union With Omnicom

Maurice Lévy cites difficulties in a planned merger of equals

Omnicom Group thinks that cultural differences doomed plans for Omnicom and Publicis Groupe to merge, but Publicis Groupe believes inequality was the culprit.

In an interview with CNBC today, Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy said he went into the deal with the goal of being an equal partner with Omnicom but came out with the realization that it couldn't be done.

“One of the principals was that there will be equality in the management team,” Lévy said. “This has not been the case in the proposal of Omnicom and I was going back and forth to try to convince them that we should have equality. And it was impossible to get that equality.”

In retrospect, the CEO acknowledged that a garden variety acquisition—as in one company taking over another—is much easier than the so-called “merger of equals” that Publicis and Omnicom had sought.

“An acquisition—you are the master, you make your decision, people are acquired and they have nothing to say,” Lévy said. “A merger of equals—you have to share, to discuss almost every single decision. It’s more complicated.”

The CEO also spoke up for his company’s business model, which is built around the concept of shared services and platforms across all units. He suggested that the model is essential to delivering high margins, and would have been diluted under a combined Publicis Omnicom Group.

When asked how he feels about the merger collapsing, Lévy insisted that he was fine and felt supported. Still, he added, “It is disappointing to see that it’s not happening. And I’m feeling very disappointed for my team, who worked very hard.

“I’m not bitter. This is not my style,” he added. “I’m looking in the future. I'm looking forward and I’m focusing on the future. I think that Publicis has a bright future.”