Mike Rebelo is the head honcho at Publicis Groupe. As such, his time is very, very valuable. However, B&T’s Sparrow is nothing if not persistent and managed to pin him down and ask him 10 very speedy questions.
1. You have worked in Vietnam, Singapore, the UK and New Zealand. However, how did you get your start in advertising? Was it in Perth or when you moved to Sydney?
I’m a Perth boy who moved from Melbourne at a young age, so my first break in advertising was in the Perth market.
I interviewed for an account coordinator role at a local independent agency two days after my last university exam. I didn’t get the job, but the people at the agency must have liked me because they created another position for me. So I was their second pick!
2. Have you mainly been a suit or in account management before moving into a big leadership role?
My career has always been in the account management side of the business. And then I was fortunate enough to go from being an account director to a general manager when I was 27, running Saatchi & Saatchi Vietnam in Ho Chi Min City.
That became the springboard for bigger roles, such as the GM of Saatchis Wellington, CEO of Saatchis Singapore and MD of Saatchis in London.
3. You were with Saatchi & Saatchi for more than 20 years in various markets. Do you miss agency life versus a big global holding company?
I’ll say yes and no to that question. There are times when I do miss being part of an agency culture, really getting involved in the strategy, developing big ideas and working directly with clients. That does still happen but at a high level.
On the flip of that, taking on the Groupe CEO role was probably the next best step for me. I love the scale and complexity. And I’m very fortunate to work for a holding company that has similar values to me in terms of the way we look at the world, our people, clients and business. That’s important because if you don’t have that value alignment, being in a holdco role can be really hard work and not a lot of fun.
4. Your Connected Platform positioning is very powerful and works. How do you continuously ensure it’s part of your DNA?
Our ‘Connected Platform’ has moved from being a strategy, to really reflecting the way we operate and how we live and breathe as an organisation. We’ve come a long way over the past five years. But as we continue on our transformation journey, my job is to ensure that everyone at Publicis, no matter what brand they’re from, understands the potency of our connected platform of companies, capabilities and talent – and how it can help grow people’s careers and bring new solutions to clients.
5. Having connected people and culture are magical, plus you are an Employer of Choice/ AFR Best Places to Work. You must be proud of these awards?
Yes, we are proud because we’re fundamentally in the talent business.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a dynamic talent market where people’s values, standards and the expectations they have of who they work for have really changed. I think at Publicis, our ability to adapt, evolve and remain true to who we are; while providing the right frameworks, policies, programs and culture has been one of our biggest strengths. We have more to do, but we are always striving to do things that are leading the market, and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in meaningful ways.
6. Talking about awards, Publicis has won a swag from Cannes to the Effies. Do clients care?
Clients definitely care about awards, but not all awards are created equal. Cannes is one creative award show that clients take more seriously than others because you’re being recognised alongside some of the best brands and advertisers around the world.
From an agency perspective, great talent comes to businesses that win awards. So it’s good for us to be able to have award-winning agencies that people want to be a part of.
Awards like the Effies are also really important to clients. We were fortunate to win the Grand Effie this year for the work we’ve been doing as a connected platform for our client, Arnott’s. To win an Effie, you need to have demonstrated that you’ve genuinely delivered sales growth, business impact true commercial value. There is nothing more important than that!
7. Maurice Riley was recently promoted to chief data officer. What can we expect in the future in this vital and important area?
To put it simply, Maurice’s role is to be our chief data translator – to present information from very complex ecosystems in a simple way so that our people can then leverage it for strategic thinking or to activate against it and then turn those into meaningful solutions for clients.
He’ll also be working hand in hand with Dave Bowman (our new chief creative officer), to further drive connected data, media and creative ideas and deliver exponential results for our clients.
8. With the current economic headwinds, are we still going to buy the new luxury Lexus and treat ourselves to Tim Tam’s?
Yes, I think they will because Aussies will still prioritise great brands and great products.
Lexus is still manufacturing amazing cars and is hitting record sales. It surpassed 10,000 new vehicle sales for the first time in September, with projections of 14,000 by the end of the year. And the expectations are that this growth will continue as the brand puts an emphasis on personalised luxury.
With Arnott’s much-loved, premium-priced biscuits, as we saw from the Effies win, at a time when household purse strings were being tightened, it still managed to maintain volume, grow value sales and increase share.
9. Arthur Sadoun is very positive about growth and recently raised his guidance to 6 per cent will that translate in APAC and Down Under?
Yes, it will. APAC is a big market for the Groupe, and despite the headwinds, we’re seeing growth across Australia and New Zealand. Whilst SMI figures suggest media investment will contract this year, I’m confident that Publicis will grow.
10. You sit on boards for both the Advertising Council Australia (ACA) and Media Federation Australia (MFA). Is that challenging and fun?
I love the opportunity to be on both boards. I think it gives me a great perspective on the challenges facing all sides of our industry. I like the fact that on the MFA board, I’m only one of two non-media practitioners, and I’d like to think it’s welcomed that I can provide a different view on things.
What I’ve learnt from being on both those boards is that it’s a great industry. We are very collegiate, and we’re also fiercely competitive. But you can sit around a table, with those very same competitors, and align on doing the right thing for this industry as a whole.
Check out the other instalments in the Fast 10 series here:
- B&T’s Fast 10 Questions With Rose Herceg!
- “Awards Won’t Win You A Pitch!” 10 Quick Ones With Initiative’s Award-Winning CEO Melissa Fein
- It’s A Quick 10 Questions With Former GroupM Supremo John ‘Steady’ Steedman
- It’s 10 Quick Questions With CHEP CEO Lee Leggett
- “Adland Has Defied The Doomsayers!” It’s 10 Questions With Omnicom Supremo Peter Horgan
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