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What Publicis’ Maurice Levy learned from the failed Omnicom merger

Chairman of Publicis Groupe Maurice Levy speaks during the 'Can Creativity Change the World?' seminar during the Cannes Lions Festival 2017
Richard Bord | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Chairman of Publicis Groupe Maurice Levy speaks during the 'Can Creativity Change the World?' seminar during the Cannes Lions Festival 2017

Over the course of 30 years, French multinational advertising and PR firm Publicis has achieved a lot with Maurice Levy at its helm. However, it wasn't always smooth sailing.

In July 2013, U.S.-based advertiser Omnicom and Publicis announced their intent to establish a "merger of equals" and create Publicis Omnicom Group, a group that would have been one of the world's largest advertising agencies, with a combined market capitalization of $35.1 billion.

But the grand merger was not meant to be.

Less than a year later in May 2014, the companies announced that they had terminated the proposed merger.

In a joint statement, the groups said that a level of uncertainty had emerged which was "detrimental" to the interests of both groups, following difficulty in overcoming certain challenges as well as the struggle to complete the transaction in a sound timeframe.

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Speaking at Cannes Lions, Publicis' now former CEO Maurice Levy told CNBC that he learned "many things" from the failed merger, saying that even if you speak the same language as another company, it doesn't necessarily mean you understand one another.

For Omnicom and Publicis, Levy said it was as if the two groups were "saying the same thing but putting a different meaning behind" it.

"I think it was too bad that it didn't come to a conclusion and fortunate, because we had such a different point of view; that at the end of the day, it could have been a nightmare," Levy told CNBC's "Life Hacks Live" series.

"So it's good that we have been able to come to an understanding that we are not exactly 'singing the same song,'" Levy added.

Looking back, Levy said Publicis and Omnicom terminated the merger on good terms and wished Omnicom's CEO John Wren the very best, adding that the U.S. competitor was "doing extremely well."

"I think you can't win all the time and you learn more from the failures than from the successes," said Levy.

"So I'm not saying that I'm happy to have faced that failure, but I'm happy that I have avoided the bigger one, which would have been the merger."

"Sometimes, having the courage of looking at (a) situation which will not be good, and we see that we are definitely going to pass the cliff and then have a free fall. It's much better to stop, before falling."

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