Publicis invests 300 million to exploit its massive data reservoir

The communication group will accelerate its capabilities in artificial intelligence. And build a unique database accumulated over the years to become an “intelligent system company”.

Between promises, fears and realities, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was on the lips of all the world leaders in Davos. Returned from the heights of Switzerland a few days ago, the chairman of the board of Publicis, Arthur Sadoun, is launching his offensive to accelerate in AI. He will put 300 million euros on the table over three years. “AI did not come into being with ChatGPT, it was already at the heart of our expertise for many years,” explains the leader to Le Figaro. “After breaking down our silos, AI will allow us to move to an ‘intelligent system company’ with a unique and simplified architecture,” he adds.

In concrete terms, the French communication group, the world’s number one in terms of market capitalization, has been working for a few months on building a unique database where all the data accumulated over the years will be pooled. This includes 2.3 billion user profiles worldwide, trillions of data points analyzing the commercial performance of campaigns, the content of its Marcel platform… But also several decades of commercial transformation data and lines of code held by Sapient, its entity specializing in technology and consulting, which was acquired for 3.7 billion dollars ten years ago. “I believe that a company will not be able to reap all the benefits and benefit from AI without having transformed, as Publicis has done in the past six years, its model with proprietary data at its core,” says Arthur Sadoun.

In the race against the British WPP, the world leader in terms of revenue, and the American Omnicom, Publicis wants to strengthen the capabilities of its 100,000 employees by giving them all access to the same resources. “With our new AI base, each employee will be able to become a data expert and code like an engineer,” he affirms. This could disrupt the balance of hierarchical hierarchy and the principles of training and knowledge transfer between senior and junior profiles…

The hundred million euro investment planned for 2024 will be divided between training, team recruitment, and technology through the purchase of licenses, computer software, and cloud infrastructure. It is Sapient, which helps the giant Nvidia design the chips used for training large language models, that is building Publicis’ AI base.

Approaching its centenary, the group hopes to multiply its capabilities in five key areas: from research to media planning, through the creation of ultra-customized advertising films, the development of new software, or the improvement of internal processes. As an example, Arthur Sadoun mentions the potential need for an automotive manufacturer to sell 40,000 electric SUVs in the United States in one year. “Instead of several weeks of research, our employees will be able to obtain in a few seconds an analysis of the major market trends, the key audiences to target in the media, with systems that allow them to see if a campaign is effective at that moment and to change the strategy if necessary. For example, regions in the United States that lack cars or the perception of the product on social networks,” he explains.

In the context of calls for tenders, the ambition is to be able to put together a file in a few hours instead of several days. Publicis’ offensive comes at a time when several senior executives in the sector and analysts have warned in recent months that generative artificial intelligence could challenge the dominant position of established communication groups. Because it would offer their advertiser clients the possibility of carrying out their own marketing activities and advertising creations. On the other hand, the tech giants could also take advantage of this to offer competing services.

Publicis, which generates half of its revenue in the United States, announces an organic growth of 6.3% for the year 2023. On the CAC 40, it has a market capitalization of 22.2 billion euros this Thursday morning. While the group has more than 40,000 engineers and data experts in its teams, and its media business represents only a third of its revenue, it denies becoming a technology company. “We are not a tech company, but a company that has data and technology at the heart of its model, just like Tesla is a car manufacturer or Amazon a distributor,” justifies Arthur Sadoun. “What is certain is that we have moved from a communication group to a privileged partner of our clients in their transformation,” he concludes.

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