Fee income for Publicis Dialog as a whole in $40 million, but almost half that comes from non-PR work, including direct marketing and sales promotion and web site development and other Internet business. Still, recent growth has been impressive—PR revenues were just $11.5 million in 1998—and its clear that more acquisitions are coming following the acquisition of New York’s Lobsenz Stevens in 1999 and Chicago’s Selz Seabolt in 2000. New business wins have included assignments from Bay View Bank, McCain Foods, Nestle, Principal Financial Group, and VoiceStream Networks.
The old EvansGroup was strongest in the west, with offices in Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. After its acquisition by Publicis—which also gave it a Dallas office—it expanded aggressively into New York and Chicago, acquiring long-established firms LobsenzStevens and Selz Seabolt and strengthened its San Francisco office with the acquisition of technology PR specialist Purdom. The firm is also in Indianapolis, if anyone cares. The problem is that it lacks serious critical mass in almost all of these markets—it’s not a top 10 player anywhere but Seattle.
Publicis, which last year acquired Saatchi & Saatchi, is strongest in France and Germany, and is developing into a leader in Europe as a whole, but it remains to be seen whether the U.S. operations can take advantage of the European connection. Publicis—like the other French holding company, Havas—has not shown the same enthusiasm for developing international accounts as its U.K. and U.S. based counterparts.
EvansGroup was best known for its work in two disparate categories: food (representing major commodity groups such as the United Soybean Board) and technology. The technology practice has expanded most rapidly over the past two years, more than doubling thanks to the acquisition of San Francisco boutique Purdom Public Relations and assignments from clients such as Cellmania.com, Eoutdoors.com, IMX Exchange, and Xtera. The food group has expanded, with the addition of a food testing, tasting and photo studio in Seattle. The firm has also developed an impressive financial services capability. But if its marketing capabilities are expanding, it lacks gravitas in the corporate communications and public affairs arenas.
Publicis Dialog president Andy Hopson is an Ogilvy & Mather veteran and one of the bright young leaders in the public relations field, and deserves the chance he has been given to build a top-tier agency. His former Evans Group colleague Steve Bryant is one of the best creative thinkers in the industry. And the acquisitions have brought in some grizzled veterans: Art Stevens and Bob Keating in New York; Paul Fullmer in Chicago. The firm has also picked off a couple of big agency players, including Rose Ann Anschuetz, late of Cohn & Wolfe to head the Chicago office; Madonna Walsh, formerly of Edelman, as managing director of the consumer practice; and former Women’s Wear Daily reporter Mort Sheinman as editorial director. The question is whether there’s enough depth there to grow on.
The Publicis culture is still emerging. The firm has an exceptional benefits package, a flexible attitude toward telecommuting and other perks, and enlightened leadership, and the early indications are that the culture will be collegial and refreshingly free of bureaucracy. But when an agency is built by acquisition—as Publicis will largely be—there are always cultural issues to surmount.
Alone among the majors (or would-be majors) Publicis Dialog has hitched its wagon to the integrated marketing concept. While it continues to win business as a stand-alone public relations firm, the agency’s management believes its key competitive advantage is its ability to deliver seamlessly integrated programs with other Publicis units. It will be interesting to see whether clients—many of whom rejected the way ad agencies packaged integrated marketing in the past—will buy the concept.
As one of the smallest of the multi-office, multidisciplinary agencies, Publicis has not handled the kind of high-profile assignments that define a firm as a front-rank player. Still, it boasts a handful of blue-chip clients, including American Express, Lilly, Nestle, Petsmart, and Whirlpool, and it has successfully implemented its integrated approach for a handful of key clients, such as optical IP network provider Yipes, which first approached Publicis Dialog as a PR client. The firm helped position the company in front of editors and analysts. But as the relationship developed, the agency also produced print and advertising, helped the client develop its website, and developed sales collateral and a “digicard” direct mail piece. The PR effort generated 89 million impressions, and the entire program helped Yipes secure a round of additional funding.
Not surprisingly, given that the agency name is a relative newcomer on these shores, Publicis doesn’t have the recognition of its competitors. In individual markets, the acquired agencies are still better known, although adopting a common identity obviously makes sense if the brand is to thrive. Those who do know Publicis know it as an advertising agency, so the public relations operation will need to work extra hard to emerge from its parent company’s shadow and establish itself. Hopson will have to decide what Publicis stands for, and communicate that effectively to both prospective clients and prospective employees. The good news is, he has a blank piece of paper; the bad news is, there’s a long way to go.
When Publicis acquired Saatchi & Saatchi, it created an interesting situation, because the U.K.-based holding company also owned Rowland Worldwide, a much better recognized brand that has been in decline—at least in terms of revenues—for several years. A merger of Publicis-Dialog and Rowland would create a combined agency with the critical mass to compete at the top levels in the U.S.; provide Publicis with a brand name that has widespread recognition and international operations in key markets; and bring together a strong leadership team with strategic credentials and the ability to execute national programs.