Publicis Spine CEO Lisa Donohue Dishes On The Holdco’s Latest Data Centralization Strategy

Publicis Groupe on Wednesday launched Publicis Spine, a technology and data platform that gives its agencies access to a universal ID and a centralized team of engineers, analysts and strategists.

Led by former Starcom Global Brand President Lisa Donohue, Spine is the backbone of Publicis’ goal to make business transformation a core service for clients.

The platform consists of a universal ID that pins client first-party data to second- and third-party data owned by Publicis, as well as a People Cloud, which helps agencies plan media around opportunities for growth. Clients can license components of the People Cloud as needed.

In her new role, Donohue will oversee 3,500 analysts, engineers and strategists across the group – most of which come from Publicis Media and Publicis.Sapient. Some of those employees will work at a central unit, while others will be embedded on agency teams.

“We’re in a unique position because of Sapient,” Donohue said. “We have the right focus and business model: the linkage of marketing and business transformation, and data and tech’s ability to service that.”

In addition to launching Spine, Publicis will organize its business transformation units under vertical practice areas led by Nigel Vaz, who will also retain his role as CEO of Publicis.Sapient in EMEA and APAC. And DigitasLBi will move under Publicis Media to give the agency “seamless access to additional scalable data and media resources,” the company wrote in a release.

Donohue, who will be replaced at Starcom by former global client President John Sheehy, spoke with AdExchanger about what the reorg means for Publicis.

AdExchanger: Why did you launch Spine now?

LISA DONOHUE: Pick a category that isn’t going through transformation. You can’t find one. [Business and marketing] transformation are underpinned by the consumer journey to the sale of a product or service. The ability for data and tech to [facilitate that] is at an all-time high. We want to provide the best advice to our clients in those situations.

We benefit from the acquisition of Sapient and having that asset in our portfolio. It’s time to unify our assets.

What data, technology and talent is now available to your agencies, and how can they access it?

We work with clients first to understand their first-party data, then augment that to the data we have. We have data kicked off from the media we run, but we also have been doing strategic partnerships with media entities that have data streams, like Google.

The platform is spread across all of our agencies, whether it’s communication or media. It’s a universal Publicis ID that everybody can access. As it gets married to client first-party data, that’s owned by the client and resides with them.

[For the talent piece], we’re going to see which of those people make sense to consolidate and which make sense to stay close to the client. It depends on the work stream.

How will you measure success? 

Our clients’ business performance is the ultimate litmus test. Did we improve their business, whether that’s against a target audience, a new product launch or a certain market? Individual KPIs might go with that, but it’s all in service of helping clients grow business by identifying new sources of growth.

Publicis tried a centralized approach to programmatic with VivaKi, and then broke up that model. What’s to say that won’t happen again with Spine?

The market is different than it was when we launched VivaKi. There’s greater receptivity and understanding on the client side to the power of data than existed even two years ago. Clients understand the impact data and technology is having on their business. They’re building their own tech stacks, but they also understand they can’t do it alone.

Clients’ businesses and ours move faster today. We are smarter and can be nimbler as an organization when [data and technology is] centralized rather than fragmented across different business units. We need to be a siloless company focusing on the client. That’s different than it was a year ago.

Your competitors have launched similar data platforms tied to PII. Are you able to back up your data with consumer IDs?

We have been a little bit less focused in [the PII] space, but that’s something we’ll continue to explore. More to come in that space.

This interview has been edited.

Correction: this story previously said Nigel Vaz is the former CEO of Publicis.Sapient in EMEA and APAC. In addition to his new role as business transformation lead, Vaz will retain is duties as CEO of Publicis.Sapient in EMEA and APAC.

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