‘Collaboration is bullshit’ says PR agency boss in swipe at Publicis Groupe restructure he says has commoditised agency brands

A restructure by the world’s second largest holding company, Publicis Groupe, to simplify its offering has commoditised the company’s agency brands in the process, a prominent PR executive has said.

Alan VanderMolen

Alan VanderMolen: “Collaboration is bullshit”

In an interview with Mumbrella, Alan VanderMolen, the head of independent PR agency WE’s APAC and EMEA operations, was asked for his view on the popular trend of collaboration between agencies and disciplines, which in the context of holding companies the outspoken American described as “bullshit”.

VanderMolen, who worked for fellow independent Edelman before joining WE but also had a long stint working within a holding company for WPP’s Burson-Marsteller, told Mumbrella: “Collaboration is bullshit. The people who are talking about collaboration are the holding company people who aren’t allowed to swim outside of their swim lanes.”

“Publicis Groupe talks about collaboration, and in the process they’ve commoditised each one of their disciplines,” he said referring to a move by the French group to consolidate its agencies into four solutions hubs at the start of the year.

“Their position is, the discipline doesn’t matter, you guys are going to collaborate. And you’re going to collaborate because all of you, no matter what your P&L is, are now going to report to the advertising people at a country level.”

Publicis Groupe’s restructure has meant that creative agency brands such as Leo Burnett and Saatchi & Saatchi now fall under the banner of Publicis Communications, and media agencies Zenith and Starcom have been aligned under the Publicis Media name.

In markets outside Publicis Groupe’s top 20, all agencies are part of the Publicis One brand.

“WPP started the trend when they created Team Ford. They said, this isn’t an Ogilvy client, or a Wunderman client. This is a WPP client, and we’re going to pull all of your people on to this.”

“And you know what happens every day there? They fight over where the money goes. Collaboration is shorthand for, ‘we’re going to commoditise each one of the disciplines’.”

VanderMolen mentioned Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer at P&G, as the first senior marketer to declare that where an idea comes from is not important. “But you have to earn the right to execute,” VanderMolen asserted.

“He [Pritcard] has said I want my brand marketers, my contents people, and my product innovation guys all to sit on the same teams, because I want you to collaborate.”

“I think the agencies that can address that will win. But I think they’ll win as an individual agency, not with a holding company model.”

“As an independent you’re beholden to one person and one person only, and that’s the client. Holding companies are beholden to investors,” he said.


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