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EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Publicis Media’s Alex Saber

Alex Saber


EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Publicis Media’s Alex Saber

On May 24, Publicis Groupe unveiled Marcel, its AI-powered platform that “advances transformation of the Groupe from a holding company to a platform, ushering in a new era of creativity and innovation,” it said in a press statement.

Marcel was announced almost a year earlier in June 2016. Speaking at its launch in Paris, Arthur Sadoun, Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, said, “Tying the development of Marcel to our one-year industry event hiatus was a controversial decision, but a necessary one. It drew a line in the sand and left no doubt that we are determined to do whatever it takes to reinvent an industry that has struggled to evolve over the past 40 years. So I’m grateful to our people, our clients, and our partners at industry festivals around the world for their support and solidarity during this period, which will end in July 2018.”


Publicis Group teamed up with Microsoft as its technology/AI partner, using the tech company’s AI to “power the knowledge graph behind Marcel and the conversational AI experience that is bringing this knowledge to every employee,” the company explains in a statement.

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It has also partnered Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity as its Learning and Inspiration Partner to access The Work, a digital platform that showcases over 200,000 pieces of award-winning creative work from 2001-2018.

Rollout plan

At launch, a team of 100 alpha users tested Marcel. In June, the Groupe will release a beta version to 1,000 people selected as an exact Publicis Groupe representation, by agency, role and geography. This group will provide feedback that will help refine the app. Publicis Groupe will begin Marcel rollout to its 80,000-person workforce in January 2019 with the aim of reaching 90 percent of its people by 2020.

[Tweet “[email protected]’s Marcel aims to reach 90% of its people by 2020.”]

We caught up with Alex Saber, Chairman of Publicis Media MENA to understand more about Marcel and its regional implications.

Can you break down exactly what Marcel is?

Marcel is a platform for ideation and creation powered by AI and machine learning to connect 80,000 people across Publicis Groupe. It is the first professional assistant platform, based on interest skills and experience data, and uses predictive technology to identify opportunities and meet clients’ needs. It helps unleash creativity while harnessing the data of the Groupe.

Many of our clients ask, ‘How can I work with the world?’ We have done this physically through the Power of One, by creating solution hubs and breaking down silos. Now is the time to boost it with technology and data at the core.

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It gives our individuals more opportunity to shine and an opportunity to express their hybrid skills rather than being siloed into one role or geography and offers them more exposure, more quickly. It creates an opportunity for the 80,000 people to progress their skills and work with a broader range of talent across all of the Groupe. Our industry needs to change to better serve our clients. We have a responsibility to lead this change by doing what we believe is best for them, to transform our relationship, the way we work as an organization, and our industry.

How many people from the Middle East will be part of the beta?

We have several people involved in the BETA from the Middle East, but that is less important than testing the technology across all markets and brands across 1000 people.

What impact will this have on a day-to-day basis in the workings of the agency both globally and in the region?

Marcel will, simply, make it easier and quicker for talents from around the world to connect and collaborate around single, unified client briefs, thought leadership topics, etc. The technology provides the connectivity and the speed. The AI element delivers the proactivity and ability to provide bespoke insights to individuals based on profiles and behaviors.

READ: Auto brands are way more connected with their consumers than social apps

Founded in a belief that an augmented workforce leads to higher engagement, which in turn leads to better work and results for clients, today, Publicis Groupe built Marcel’s functionality to deliver on four key pillars: knowledge, connectivity, opportunity and productivity.

What impact will this have internally on staff and externally on clients?

It has already had an impact on staff. They are excited because this is a unique industry-first approach based on a clear desire and demand from our people and our clients. Our people love the fact that we are a global business, especially in this region that has always had a diversity of talent and geography. Now they see that technology will be able to connect them faster and more creatively. Many of our clients are part of a global network, and all our clients want us to continue to bring in sight to bear on their business from other markets and sectors so are genuinely interested in how Marcel will accelerate this already strong behavior that we show by:

  • Amplifying creativity
  • Operating with greater efficiency
  • Sharing great work
  • People growth and recognition
  • Better client work

Currently, Marcel has partnered with Microsoft and Cannes Lions. Do you plan to have more partnerships that are specific to each market?

Microsoft is the key technology partner but so much of the drive behind this has come from the Groupe, particularly Publicis.Sapient. We will not build a specific Marcel partnership locally. We will, however, always partner locally with smart technology business that can help us unlock greater value for our clients through technology and we have a strong track record of that in the performance marketing and commerce space.

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A lot of the focus of Marcel, other than technology, is on creativity. What does that mean for Publicis Media?

The agencies within Publicis Media have always been driven by creativity. How we design and deliver insight-driven, innovative campaign solutions for our clients across all channels is fundamentally creative. We have a significant content marketing capability that curates and creates digital and social content that lives and breathes creativity. We get more creative everyday as our Power of One solutions for clients such as McDonald’s brings together seamlessly in one team talent from Leo Burnet, Sapient, MS&L and Starcom. Finally, every day we are creating more creative solutions that change consumer behaviors by partnering with our trusted clients to harness stronger individual insights from data. Data has always fueled creativity and that is truer than ever before.

[Tweet “Data has always fueled creativity and that is truer than ever before.”]

What do you see as the future of agencies especially with the rise of consultancies?

Consultancies have a role and we work with many. However, businesses like Publicis Groupe, and Publicis Media within that, have over the last few years been fast and smart at transforming. Building new and broader capabilities around data, commerce and content, for example, whilst reshaping their organizational structures globally and locally to break down the barriers between data, tech and creativity ensuring that clients get the best talents on their business from the Groupe based on their strategic and business requirements. Publicis Groupe has led this and Publicis Media in the Middle East has been at the forefront of these changes. This has allowed us to strengthen and broaden our relationship with clients, to reinforce what we have always been strong at and introduce new solutions that help meet client objectives across many sectors that are challenging and that are being disruptive. This only serves to enforce our position.

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