Monday, August 31, 2009

Is Publicis Groupe a dead brand? The Wild Wild East Goes West IX

As my parting note from Paris, please read the following post from Seth Godin here, and then my non-encounter with Publicis Groupe afterward. Seth Godin is a best selling author on marketing and regularly conducts seminars with Fortune 500 marketing staffs.

Brands that matter

In this era, there are two questions every marketer answers:

Do I want people to interact with me and my brand in unexpected ways (as opposed to just quietly consume it)? When they interact, do I overwhelm people with delight worth remarking about?

If you think about dead brands like Tide or United Airlines, the answer to both questions is clearly 'no'. On the other hand, vibrant growing brands manage to answer both questions with a resounding 'yes.' It's not an accident and it's not easy, but if you do it right, it may be worth it.

Paris, Publicis,  Groupe, Marcel Blaustein-Blanchet, Seth Godin, Charles De Gaulle, Harry S. Truman, Leo Burnett, Saatchi and Saatchi, On our trip through Paris I had it clearly marked on my itinerary that I wanted to stop by Publicis and talk with one of their International directors about the concept of Infinite Wisdom and how we might work together in Asia and other markets. For those who may not be aware, Infinite Wisdom is our combination of a marketing partner with a traditional management consulting firm providing market research, in-depth brand analysis, brand design and marketing solutions to clients and agencies alike. It's a concept that neither traditional agencies nor management consulting firms have been able to bridge and I thought that certainly someone there would be interested in exploring at least the idea. It's a client-centric idea that pairs analysis and marketing execution together in a way that makes executions the direct result of the marketing plan.

In any case, we could be producing rubber stamps that you use to make cost effective Post-It note business cards and if nobody has ever done that before it seems that someone at the world's third largest communications holding company might be interested in that idea - if you could find them.

So off I went, on a personal visit to the groupe to see if I could find an international director, regional director or discipline specific director to speak with.

Cut to the offices of Publicis Groupe on Avenue des Champs Elysées in Paris, just a stone's throw away from the Arc de Triomphe . They're a fairly faded retail glitzy affair complete with a coffee shop and multiplex movie theatre that at street level, if you didn't know it, could pass as a rather non-enticing mall effort, anywhere in middle America. A museum like display of the founder, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, tones things down a bit once in the lobby and one of the desk attendents finishes a cigarrette outside to come in and care for my request, which in English, befuddles the attractive female receptionist behind the actual counter. A baffling display of company owned logos including Leo Burnett, Saatchi and seemingly all their subsidiaries try's in vain to explain what the company actually does but it's plain to see that the founder's black and white photographic relationships with everyone from Charles De Gaulle, to Harry S. Truman carries the weight around there not to mention the more than toney address that more than undermines the cheesy facade that was certainly not designed by Frank Gehry, let alone the country's design L'enfant Terrible, Philippe Starck.

"Tell me again he says", as I try to explain the nature of my business and that I certainly do not have an appointment but am simply looking for the right person with which to have an appointment with. He then tells me in no uncertain terms that they are not able to give out the names of anyone who might be working in the building and then relays to me a telephone number that I should call on a yellow sticky note. I ask with whom should I speak and he says he doesn't know but just to call it. Later, I learn it is the general number listed in the phone book. Thank you.

The next morning I call the number and, unless I made a mistake in thinking they were an "international" firm was reasonably baffled by the succession of non-english speakers I was forwarded to in response to my request. And if you're wondering why I just didn't send an email, so am I. The parent company website succeeds in being a company brochure but seems to let interactivity and any shred of real information fall by the wayside. They even show the most cursory form of professional disrecpect to anyone interested in the firm by listing "webmaster" as the primary email contact for the firm. Embarrasing for a communications company? You tell me.

After the parade of operators who most certainly had decided that the best English speaker could do the best job, they settled on a Mr. Robert Fridovich, Director of Marketing Communication. With all due respect to Mr. Fridovich, because I really did feel he was a nice man, he seemed perplexed with the idea that anyone would call the company looking for anything. I asked for his email and said that I would send a detailed note of my request as well as my full background and contacts - and I did not forget to mention my previous association with Leo Burnett.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a bit of a detail geek and certainly a good salesman so I did feel confident that the note I sent would give him the information he needed to make a recommendation. But it didn't. So I sent yet another detailed note with some possible working scenarios in which his company and mine might benefit. And then, a two day wait.

In the end he came up with nothing.

The reason I was given was that there were no cross agency brand responsibilities assigned to any one person and that I might do better searching the individual agency websites for contacts - so basically, back to square one. In essence, despite a trip to Paris, and indeed a trip to the home office, I had failed in coming up with anyone I didn't already know in the organization.

Thinking of Jana O'Brien's (our Nintendo research head at Burnett in Chicago) encouragement that I, "Just keep on trying", I chided myself with the fact that I had failed to ask for a meeting with Mr. Fridovich himself, knowing that a face to face meeting is always the best way to make an impression and encourage a conversation between both parties - until I realized that that was his responsibility, or at least the brand's and not really mine. In terms of interactivity, the brand itself should have reached out to this consumer and made the experience easier. And both parties could have benefitted - and the brand would have been reading another blog post entirely, instead of this one.

Mr. Fridovich, if you're reading this, thanks for giving it a shot - because it seems that in this case, you didn't fail - but your brand did. Take a good clean, objective look at how your web presense, your front desk demeanor and your telephone response deals with interactivity - and ask yourself, and your superiors, if Publicis Groupe couldn't be doing a better job. Brands die daily in the face of Web 2.0 and beyond, because if interactivity and pleasant brand experiences don't start at the communications company, how are you ever going to instill those disciplines in the consumer brands, your agency brands represent?

Thanks to Seth Godin for the motivation here. I was just going to let this one pass but thought again after reading Seth's post.

For more in the WWE Goes West Series check here:

I) The Wild Wild East Goes West: Onward Ho!
II) Frankfurt
III) C'est Si Bon
IV) Bon Jour Paris!
V) Les Picassos en Paris

VI) Nothing Much Happened en Paree Today
VII) Paris Wallpaper: Sometimes The Best Prayers Have No Words
VIII) Au Revoir Paris
IX) Is Publicis Groupe a Dead Brand?


  1. brilliant insight. And funny, in that sad sort of French way.

  2. Although it scares me to death to know that there are at least IV Garland Pollards on the planet, I thank you!

  3. David, we love our French cousins (being a good European gotta say that), so back to WWEGW reality, well your reality for a check that life is still interesting even in Paris, Rome or even Houston. Long live Brands well at least if your not living on the Champs Elysees ... it is a rather dull place isnt it !

  4. Oh come on. I think you would have got the same reaction from almost any large company in New York (or anywhere in the world) if you had shown up unannounced at Security to talk about "in-depth brand analysis, brand design and marketing solutions". And why should the speak English? I am willing to bet you a Euro to a cent that if you showed up to a US company no one would speak French.

  5. For someone with such an impressive career (much at a Publicis Groupe company), this post screams more of personal hidden agenda than perceptive musings of an well-travelled Brand Provocateur. Time for that French language course, perhaps?

  6. Dear Mr. & Ms. Anonymous;

    Am I a bit presumtuous rocking up to a big company and expecting to get an audience? Certanly no more than Michael Moore was in Roger & Me, showing up at GM and asking for the CEO, Roger Smith.

    And about my hidden agenda? It's certanly not hidden behind an anonymous title. My agenda is to simply wake a sleeping giant who now owns a company I used to work for, but didn't own during my tenure, and let them know that every brand contact makes a difference. In this case, I think they could have done a better job, in any language.


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