Publicis Launches Digital Ad Platform

As Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL rush to build far-reaching ad platforms, Publicis Groupe has reorganized its digital operations to more effectively navigate the current interactive landscape dominated by such technology giants.

The French communications company has launched VivaKi, a cross-agency initiative led by David Kenny and Jack Klues as managing partners. The unit draws on the digital operations of Digitas, Starcom MediaVest, Denuo and Zenith Optimedia.

Publicis CEO Maurice Levy said VivaKi, which replaces Publicis Groupe Media, represents more than just another way of organizing its agency networks.

“My contention is that until now, what we were trying to do was provide our clients with services — marketing services, media services or creative,” said Levy in an interview today. “We have to move from that idea to another idea: we need to build with them an approach that is based on value creation. This can lead — and it will take time — to a different approach of fees. As we are creating value, we can share in that value.”

VivaKi includes a technology arm, VivaKi Nerve Center, tasked with creating tools and crafting partnerships with the likes of Google to help Publicis agencies more easily run digital marketing campaigns at scale.

“If you look at the digital space, what’s important is scale because you can have tools to scale and have an efficiency that is much better than the one you have with classic aspects,” said Levy.” You have the possibility of negotiating the right access, not only price, which is the old story of media.”

The first initiative from VivaKi Nerve Center is Audience on Demand, a targeting network that will plug into ad platforms built by Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL in order to reach specific audiences. Publicis shops will use the network — built on technology provided by Google’s DoubleClick — to gather client campaign data.

The move illustrates the distinctly different approach Publicis is taking to the incursion of big technology companies into advertising.

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group, has expressed misgivings that Google in particular is getting too powerful, and has said far-flung ad platforms threaten to “disintermediate” agencies. Publicis, however, has welcomed such developments, having already struck a partnership deal with Google.

“We have the digital mentality,” Levy said. “We’re thinking digital, which our competitors are not. Many of our competitors in the world of yesterday.”

In an interview last week during the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, Kenny said the rise of ad platforms and exchanges would reshape the marketing industry along the lines of the financial services sector, which underwent a similar high-tech revolution in the 1970s. As it stands now, Kenny noted, it is hard for clients to efficiently run large ad campaigns online.

Yahoo! has established deals with Havas and WPP to allow its agencies to more easy synch with its ad platform. Publicis and Yahoo! have also said separately they would work together to make it easier for the holding company’s shops to buy mobile ads and tailor them to user interests.

Since buying Digitas for $1.3 billion about 18 months ago, Publicis has used the Boston-based i-shop as the cornerstone of its attempt to build up digital services as a greater share of its business. Digital now accounts for 18 percent of Publicis’ business, and it hopes to push that to 25 percent in short order. Digitas has developed cross-agency tools, such as Navigator, a dashboard that brings performance data into the creative process.

With Kenny’s move to VivaKi, Laura Lang moves to CEO of Digitas. She was already CEO of Digitas in the U.S. Curt Hecht, formerly chief digital officer at Starcom MediaVest, will join VivaKi to lead Nerve Center. Renetta McCann, on sabbatical from her role as CEO of Starcom MediaVest, will head its talent initiative, designed to fill the need of Publicis agencies for digital experts.