Publicis 90th anniversary

Maurice LevyMaurice Levy

Publicis, third largest ad/PR conglomerate, is pulling out all stops for its 90th birthday. A smudge on its image is the fact that Mark McClennan of its MSL unit chairs press-boycotting PR Society of America.

CEO Maurice Levy has put up $10.9 million to fund 90 start-ups as part of the celebration. He wants to identify Publicis with innovation and creativity.

Mark McClennanMark McClennan

That’s fine but the main mission of the PR part of the company is ethical behavior. McClennan is supposed to be the spear-carrier for that since the Society’s Code says “ethical practice is the most important obligation” of a member.McClennan’s bio on the Society’s website says he “drove creation of the PRSA ethics app.”

The Society’s boycott against the O’Dwyer Co., after PRSA sold copies of O’Dwyer articles for 16 years, includes barring exhibition of O’Dwyer products at its national conference, barring its reporters from all conference events including the Assembly, and refusal to allow O’Dwyer staffers to join the Society when other reporters and writers are allowed to do so.

Undemocratic Practices Abound at Society

The chief victims of the Society’s undemocratic practices are the 22,000 members themselves.

--Governance has been in the hands of the small minority of Accredited members (18%) since the 1970s. The 2016 board is 16 APRs and one non-APR.

--Members lost their printed members’ directory in 2005 without a vote in the Assembly; lost access to the list of Assembly delegates; lost transcripts of the Assembly; lost the public list of 50+ staffers; lost the single list of 110 chapter presidents; lost the full list of committees and task forces, and their Assembly delegates are deprived each year of IRS form 990 showing pay packages of top staffers.

McLennan Was Dissident

McClennan in 2009 let the battle against the board’s attempt to pull from the Assembly its power to elect board and officers and replace it with a system of direct voting by members.

Members wanted to know what kind of debates or other vetting of the candidates would take place but bylaw chair Dave Rickey refused to supply any specifics.

McClennan was the only delegate speaking against the proposal which was defeated by a vote of 175-103 at the start of the meeting.

Also defeated were proposals to make all directors “at large”; put a board member as nominating committee chair; allow 25 committee heads to vote in the Assembly; allow the board to expel any member “at its discretion,” and let the board create additional classes of Assembly delegates.

McClennan’s opposition to national policies appeared to lessen in 2010 when 61% of members of the Boston chapter voted to drop the APR rule for national office and board.

McClennan, a chapter director, said the board would have to discuss the matter first before deciding how to vote in the Assembly. This flabbergasted Art Stevens of the New York chapter who was co-chair of the Committee for a Democratic PRSA.

Split with PRSA Urged in 2014

This website urged Publicis to direct McClennan to quit as treasurer of the Society in 2014 since it was a further blot on the name of the firm.

Levy had just emerged from a humiliating tangle with Omnicom which had proposed a “merger” that was really a takeover of Publicis.

“OMC wanted their people to fill the CEO, CFO and general counsel jobs,” a crestfallen Levy told Reuters. OMC was twice as big as Publicis in terms of revenues. Publicis, with $8.44 billion in revenues, currently trades at $51, off from its high of $79.40 on April 22, 2015.

Attempts to reach McClennan by phone or email at his Boston office were unsuccessful. An operator said that McClennan instructed us to deal with Laurent Lawrence, PR director of the Society. Lawrence and Society CEO Joseph Truncale have informed the O'Dwyer Co. that PRSA will have nothing to do with it. There is "no relationship," Truncale told an O'Dwyer reporter.

Owner Badinter Is Noted French Citizen

Elizabeth Badinter, who inherited controlling interest in Publicis from her father Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet when he died in 1989, has been called France’s “most influential intellectual” by French magazine Marianne based on a poll of its readers. Jane Kramer of The New Yorker did an 11-page profile of her July 25, 2011.

She is noted for her staunch individualism and idealism. She is opposed to inequality and any policies that limit human rights. She has defended the right of women to work when raising children.

The beliefs of Badinter are at odds with the numerous anti-informational, anti-democratic and anti-intellectual practices and policies of the PR Society.

Publicis Hopes for Millions for Startups

Publicis hopes that clients, partners and media companies will match each investment so that 500,000 euros could turn into millions.

The company is investing between 10,000 and 500,000 euros in each of 90 startups.

Publicis employees, who will be encouraged to enter, will vote for the startups they think best deserve the awards through a Facebook type of system, says the announcement. The projects will be submitted anonymously.

Senior Publicis management will provide a year of mentorship to the winning entries. An internal division led by Maxime Baffert, CEO of Publicis digital agency Proximedia Europe, has been created.

“I believe nobody has dared to do something like this to support 90 projects,” said Levy. “Nobody has dared to go after that big a number. It’s complicated to select and a huge undertaking…we want to do something quite massive in order that it will be noticed both from inside the group and outside…all people who have a project see we are really committed to the tech and digital space and that this is something important.”

Levy feels that Publicis funds will be easier for startups to obtain than funds from venture capitalists. “What we are asking for is less complex than what VCs are asking for,” he said.

The 90 startups will be invited to a new tech expo and conference that Publicis is launching with Groupe Les Echos called Viva Technology Paris from June 30 to July 2, 2016.