Digital Stars Rise At Publicis Groupe, VivaKi Bifurcated

stephan-rishadThe first half of 2014 was sobering, to put it mildly, for Publicis Groupe and its CEO, Maurice Levy.

In the wake of the holding company’s failed megamerger with Omnicom Group and its weak second-quarter earnings report, Levy needs to show digital strength. Some structural changes announced Tuesday may help it do that.

Among the key changes: VivaKi has formalized a divided structure with two CEOs, digital agency Rosetta has been absorbed into the Razorfish brand and Rishad Tobaccowala, who once led strategy for VivaKi, has ascended to become chief strategy officer of the global Publicis organization. (Press release)

And Maurice Levy will postpone retirement until 2017, at which point he will be 75 years old.

Below is a rundown of the most important changes pertaining to data-driven media.

VivaKi In Two Pieces

VivaKi now has two divisions, with two CEOs. VivaKi Exchange reports to Simon Pardon and focuses on media trading, negotiation and execution. This arm is dedicated to leveraging the media investment clout spread across all of Publicis’ media agencies to get favorable rates and placements.

The other division, VivaKi Data, reports to CEO Stephan Beringer and includes the VivaKi Audience On Demand (AOD) trading desk. Beringer had been chief growth officer for VivaKi and president of AOD for the past several months, so the changes are not likely to be perceived as a big disruption.

Beringer and Pardon will report up through a chairperson, a role filled alternately by Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond and ZenithOptimedia CEO Steve King. The two will trade places annually, with Desmond taking the first one-year shift.

With the co-CEO appointments, previous VivaKi CEO Frank Voris will move to oversee Publicis Groupe’s shared IT and production resources.

Razorfish and Rosetta

Razorfish is increasingly the center of gravity for Publicis’ digital agency services, and so it makes sense that Rosetta will now shelter under its umbrella. Both companies focus on digital experience design with capabilities around commerce.

Back in 2002 that meant building websites with transactional capabilities, in 2008 it meant building apps, in 2012 it meant building retail integrations and in 2014 it means “commerce everywhere.” Two months ago, Razorfish acquired Crown Partners to further build its omnichannel commerce chops. Rosetta adds global reach to that core competency.

Taller Tobaccowala

The promotion of Indian-educated Tobaccowala to lead strategy for all of Publicis is notable for a company whose management ranks have often been geographically insular (i.e., French execs tend to run the show). Tobaccowala is an outsider, relatively speaking, and digitally savvy. In his most recent role he has led strategy and innovation across all of Publicis’ media and digital agencies.

According to one source, Tobaccowala has steadily gained stature at Publicis in recent years, and was named to the inner circle of management advisers known as the P12. By putting him in charge of strategy for all of Publicis Groupe, Levy is making a bet on digital and, in some ways, on globalization.

Lately Tobaccowala has taken to his blog to decry the pummeling that the storytelling discipline has taken at the hands of data-driven targeting, or as he puts on his blog, “Too much plumbing. Too little poetry.”

But as strategy head, Tobaccowala will be hard-pressed to fix this problem in a world where Publicis’ data-driven media-buying activities (where the data fun happens) are strictly sealed off from its creative agencies, such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Bartle Bogle Hegarty (where the storytelling happens). For plumbing and poetry to come together, the walls around VivaKi may need to become more permeable than they are today.

Still Confused?

For those still flummoxed by the distinction between VivaKi Exchange and VivaKi Data, here’s the quick explainer: VivaKi Exchange may sound like a programmatic division, but it’s really the joint media-trading arm of SMG and ZenithOptimedia. VivaKi Data, meanwhile, is where the programmatic trading desk (VivaKi AOD) resides, along with related tech and data assets.

The two groups – VivaKi Exchange and VivaKi Data – have always operated in separate worlds, but the new structure tries to clarify their difference. The goal, presumably, is to get them working more closely together as Beringer, Pardon, Desmond and King aim to better integrate programmatic buying across all Publicis media and digital agencies.

Part of the reason that VivaKi’s media investment activities and its trading desk people have not aligned more closely in the past is that VivaKi Exchange operates somewhat autonomously in each of the 16 markets where it has operations, while VivaKi AOD has been single-mindedly focused on global growth and expansion, said a source close to the company.

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