Publicis Groupe is seeking to steal a march on its rivals by consolidating its digital offerings into umbrella unit Vivaki.
Group chief executive Maurice Levy says it marks “nothing short of a revolution”, although critics question the substance and client benefits that Vivaki says it will deliver.
Some observers see the venture as a confusing publicity stunt – designed to showcase Publicis Groupe as a forward-thinking outfit, and question its benefits – while others see it as a major step forward.
Reading Room chief executive Margaret Manning says: “It sounds to me like a great marketing ploy. It will create a lot of interest, but I can’t see any huge customer benefits. It may be a way of getting their digital agencies to work closer together, so structurally it could be beneficial, but I’m sceptical.”
Vivaki will overarch the group’s digital operations – including Digitas, the digital consultancy Denuo and units at Starcom and ZenithOptimedia – acting as a consolidated buying and expertise point, similar to WPP’s GroupM media-buying point, but with the addition of digital creative agencies, and will not pitch for business itself.
One observer points to the announcement as proof that Publicis is “finally” looking to integrateits Digitas network, bought for£660m ($1.3bn) in December 2006, across the group. Industry eyebrows were raised at the scale of the acquisition, although one Publicis insider suggests that deal now looks like”a bargain”.
Certainly, it has helped Publicis raise its digital profile. Good Technology creative partner Marc Giusti says: “Publicis has evolved to gain impressive digital credentials over the past year. Yet it seems unclear whether Vivaki is actually an idea or just corporate chest beating.”
Meanwhile, MRM Worldwide chief executive Alastair Duncan says it is a move in the right direction, although he warns it will be hard to operate. “If this is a service that delivers value, it has the potential for cost savings. Otherwise it could be another cost.”
Publicis Groupe Media chairman Jack Klues and Digitas chairman and chief executive David Kenny will run Vivaki as joint managers.
Vivaki has already forged group-wide agreements, such as the online media-buying network it has set up with Google, AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
Rival RMG Connect chief executive Tim Hipperson suggests the Vivaki launch is a “clear marker that the new world can’t be trusted in the old world”. He says it provides management of accountability, technology and media.
But Levy says Vivaki is about gathering expertise for client benefit. He says: “If a client wants something sophisticated it can be supplied here. The goal is to give access to the right parts, optimise cost, provide maximum exposure to the audience and to be creative.”
The idea of networks launching branded holding units is not new. Vivaki’s rival Omnicom createdZulu in October 2005 to bring Agency Republic and Claydon Heeleycloser together, while GroupM launched in 2003, drawing together the buying points for WPP media agencies, although insiders argue that Vivaki is of a different scale.
Yet, although GroupM is still going strong, Omnicom scrapped Zulu in March after it failed to make an impact. Meanwhile, Vivaki is the first time a group has pooled all digital advertising and media together.
Duncan says one problem traditional agencies and networks have had is knowing how to engage with technology. “It’s sensible to have a place that deals with this,” he says, adding that changing a culture focused on TV advertising will be difficult. “Is this sprinkling a bit of magical digital dust across and hoping it changes everything?”Vivaki’s launch may be a legitimate effort to put digital at the heart of operations, but for an industry weary of such pledges, Publicis must prove this is more than just a superficial, headline-grabbing stance.