Is Vivaki revolution just a smokescreen?

Stuart%20SmithSay what you like about the point of Vivaki, the very act of setting it up shows the master jongleur at Publicis has lost none of his old legerdemain. Is it truly “nothing short of a revolution” as Maurice Levy claims? Or is it simply more smoke and mirrors, which is what the competition believes?

The verifiable facts are that Vivaki is a new organisation that will overarch all Publicis Groupe’s digital operations – including Digitas, Denuo and elements of Starcom and ZenithOptimedia. Rather like WPP’s GroupM, it will be a centre of expertise (albeit including creativity as well) standing above the hurly burly of the daily pitch. It will jointly report to Jack Klues, Publicis Groupe Media chairman and Digitas chairman and ceo David Kenny (of whom more later).

Slightly more speculatively, it appears to serve two immediate functions. On the one hand, it is an attempt to better integrate the Digitas network, bought for $1.3bn (£650m) by Publicis in 2006. On the other, it aims to rationalise the various group-wide deals forged with Google, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

It is here that opinion begins to sharply diverge on the actual merit of Vivaki. While no one can doubt Levy’s just strategic appreciation of digital’s importance to his clients, plenty believe that Vivaki is little more than rhetoric – or, at best, work in progress.

The evidence, of course, will only emerge over time. Either Levy will prove himself a visionary leader who, more than anyone else, has demonstrated the way forward for traditional agency behemoths grappling with the digital challenge. In which case, he will be feted in Harvard Business School case studies of the future.

Or the project will implode under its own weight. For example, a discernible management issue with Vivaki is that it creates another layer of group bureaucracy with potentially confusing reporting lines. Will it really “integrate” Digitas group-wide, or is that just a pious hope for something that is not proving easy to manage? Will it actually activate cost savings or, just as likely, generate new overheads?

Then too, there is the curious top management structure. Klues and Kenny are both perceived as rivals for Levy’s crown when he finally steps down (some time in 2010/2011, so it is said). It is entirely understandable that both should wish to be intimately involved in creating a solution to the most strategically difficult challenge facing the agency world, not to mention the most exciting. Just as it is that Levy should be playing off the two major contenders in a succession battle. What’s less apparent is whether the divide and rule ruse is a recipe for sound management of Vivaki. Aren’t the two bosses likely to differ on every legitimate issue, just to prove a point?

An interesting test of the new organisation’s resilience may be coming up quite shortly. Both Publicis and WPP are bidding for the Performics search business, which Google has decided it must dispose of as a result of acquiring DoubleClick. In some ways, Publicis is the more attractive recipient, since its technology is already aligned with Google. But we’ll have to wait and see.

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