Senior Publicis Groupe losses take their toll

Stuart%20SmithTo lose one group chief executive may be considered a misfortune, but to lose three in one year, as Publicis Groupe has done, looks like a management fiasco.

Let’s not waste too much time on whether Lee Daley’s original appointment was a good or bad call by Saatchi & Saatchi high command, and confine ourselves to noting that he did not shine in his subsequent four-month stint at Manchester United. Tim Lindsay’s departure, by contrast, was an unequivocal blow for Publicis UK. And now we have Bruce Haines, group chairman and chief executive at Leo Burnett London, throwing his toys out of the pram. Or, more precisely perhaps – since he is one of the most mature and considered agency managers on the London scene – “Haines has carefully reviewed his options and decided to quit”.

Now why, given he is a widely respected figure, would he wish to do that? The immediate answer seems to be that he got into a dogfight with Burnett Worldwide chief executive Tom Bernardin that he could not win.

Earlier this year, when Arc managing director Mike Spicer left as part of a management delayering plan, Haines publicly declared that Arc would “absolutely not be” subsumed in the Burnett brand.

Rumours to this effect had been fuelled by the increasing integration of the account teams of both brands. True, the new management team line-up seems to stop some way short of full integration, with Andrew Edwards, formerly head of Arc EMEA, named group chief executive of Burnett Group in London, and Paul Lawson, previously the agency managing director, appointed his group lieutenant.

But could further integration be in view? Possibly. On present evidence, however, Haines seems to have disagreed on personalities, rather than policy. Burnett, rather than Arc, makes the money, so why is Edwards in the pilot’s seat? And if there were a senior management rejig, what exactly was Haines’ own future role to be?

Whatever the niceties of the situation, this is bad news for Publicis Groupe. It is a loss that should not have happened. After all, top agency managers are distressingly thin on the ground these days, and those that survive are wary of the less-than-seductive charms of running a network. Witness the number of senior clients who are being drafted into the agency management role, and the cracks that are showing as a result.

At Saatchi, a curious watch-tower role has evolved, manned by Robert Senior (as if he didn’t have enough to do with his day job at Fallon). While at Publicis, Richard Pinder – the consummate senior network apparatchik – may find minding Neil Simpson in his new role a considerable demand on strictly rationed management time.

Thank goodness things have been going more smoothly at Publicis Groupe’s other UK outlet, the 49%-owned BBH. Although, come to think of it, senior management changes must eventually be in the offing there too.

Stuart Smith,†Editor

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