Late last year, in an effort to break down silos between agency offices, Publicis underwent a major reorganization that brought its creative agencies together under one group, called Publicis Communications.
Now there is a tangible product of that move: Two agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi and Roar, will now effectively share the JPMorgan Chase business. And they’ve named a new “agnostic” executive to lead the group.
Leigh Baker, whose official title is evp and managing director, will work across Roar and Saatchi — both Chase agencies — to effectively steer the shared account.
Until now, Saatchi managed the credit card business for Chase, while Roar did its digital work. But brands have started moving away from a “lead agency” approach that fobs social, digital and PR work onto other shops. As a result, there has been more of a need for brand and digital agencies to work together — or in this case, act as one — according to Baker. “We have to be at a brand-led approach,” he said.
The Chase P&L will be shared across both agencies, and Baker will be ultimately the client contact.
Saatchi CEO Brent Smart said this tack was directly influenced by Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy, who said back in December that he wanted to do away with counterproductive silos. Brands are demanding less complexity in their agency relationships, and at the same time, in an era of squeezed margins, agencies need to do all they can to harness what they already own within their sister agencies. “We used to have an inability to work across the organization and look horizontally,” said Smart. “But we need to start doing that, and this hybrid model is the way we think we can do it.”
It’s a tactic that has been employed by other holding companies. WPP has practiced a “horizontality” approach where many agencies come together as a team to service one client. This often has the added benefit, especially for media agencies, of providing more scale and services — providing a major competitive advantage for consulting companies moving into agency services businesses. A little rarer is an inter-agency approach across holding company lines, such as the union between Victors & Spoils and EVB for JCPenney.
Of course, easier said than done. Team-based approaches have often been unsuccessful, and inter-agency collaborations often end with one shop stealing the entire account away. As Macquarie analyst Tim Nollen wrote in a note after the Publicis changes, “major organizational change also brings with it new potential conflicts, and we can’t judge what effect these will have now, nor what benefits the changes will produce.”
Smart said he doesn’t know if this hybrid approach will work, but said it’s an important step in making sure that his agency and Roar are both making the most out of each other’s capabilties. The model is being based on “interdependence” rather than “integration,” said Smart, so everyone is equally invested in the success. “I’ve seen where you put agencies together and expect them to work together,” he said. “That doesn’t work unless there’s interdependence and there is an agnostic, independent person leading the charge.”
But for Baker, this shuffle is the first tangible evidence of a larger Publicis reorganization — a fact that isn’t lost on him. “Ultimately, I’ll be judged on how well I do with that,” he said.