Building a culture of success: Publicis’s Bassel Kakish

Bassel Kakish reveals his superpower behind 81 Lynx wins in a conversation with Jalaja Ramanunni and Austyn Allison

By Jalaja Ramanunni and Austyn Allison

Since he took over as the regional CEO of Publicis Groupe, whose agencies include Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, Starcom and Publicis Sapient, Bassel Kakish hasn’t shied away from hiring big – it was his first move. And it is probably this move that got Publicis 81 awards, including 11 Grands Prix at Dubai Lynx.

“Our recent success at Lynx is owed to our exceptional team of creative wizards, master strategists and innovative thinkers who consistently push the boundaries of creative excellence. They are not only passionate about their craft, but also deeply committed to delivering impactful work for our clients. Collaboration is key  and recognition must be given to our valued clients who believe in the creative process, and trust us to take their brands to new possibilities,” Kakish says.

Publicis Groupe has made some bold and exciting hires recently. Jennifer Fischer, Tahaab Rais, Kalpesh Patankar, Nathalie Gevresse, Sebastien Boutebel and Gautam Wadher are just some of the names added to the Publicis Groupe over the last two years. It reflects his vision of a ‘talent-first’ organisation. 

When Campaign asked him to describe Publicis Groupe’s work culture in one word, “Intrapreneurship,” he replied without any hesitation. “What we’re proud of is the fact that we were able to attract and maintain such talent within the group.  We are in the talent business and need to ensure we have the best in the market,” he says. Some of the new roles were created and shaped by individuals. He states, “We don’t have a job description while transforming specific products or processes. We would look for a person who understands our work’s future and has the EQ and IQ to manage various stakeholders. We also know that it is about what we need to give them – every single talent has their own ecosystem.”

 An alchemy of tech, finance and creativity

Kakish’s other area of focus is technology, considering his background: Kakish worked with the Publicis Groupe Middle East for 20 years across various strategic capacities – as the chief financial officer and integration officer and co-managing director of Publicis Sapient. His experience gives him a unique vantage point. 

“I’m lucky to have played those roles as it gave me insights into the various solutions of the group and when to integrate them. It gives us a unique proposition. Regarding finance, you need to understand the areas you need to focus on and the factors within your control. Our industry’s core product is talent, and finances are a byproduct.” He adds that it is crucial not to lose your core focus – creativity as far as the agency is concerned. He believes that when you start shifting your focus towards other priorities, you lose your talent and then your product. He adds, “As an agency, we ensure that the clients are getting the best ROI because, at the end of the day, we are custodians for our clients’ investments.” Success can look different through each client’s lens. Some consider success as the number of units sold; some look at it from the brand health perspective, while others look for a creative ad.

The umbrella approach

Publicis Groupe now identifies itself as a ‘connecting company.’ Kakish says: “Client simplicity is at our core as we need to support clients in a modular way. Today, the client deals with many variables. We simplify it with one common objective, and we work with one set of KPIs for all our solutions; we’re extremely conscious that we should never drop the ball on it.”

Kakish’s varied background has helped further proper the group’s ‘Power of One vision’, which puts clients at the core by seamlessly connecting all expertise into one offering. This approach prioritises clients and enables them to access all of the holding’s expertise quickly.

Globally, Publicis Groupe has been transforming from a ‘holding network’ to becoming a modular ‘platform’ lending ‘plug & play’ access to its services. It’s the direction every network agency seems to be taking – almost like an unravelling of the 1990s.