How I Made It featuring Clément Leonarduzzi, President of Publicis Consultants

Hanson Search steps inside the world of Publicis Consultants to interview Clément Leonarduzzi, President, for our inspiring career series. Clément shares insights into how to motivate and foster loyalty in a team, finding the right work-life balance, and the importance of daring to try. 

Why Communications?

At first, it was just by chance. After graduating from the Institute of Political Science, I wanted to go into government, but I was curious about experiencing the private sector. In 2002, I undertook an internship at Edelman to do ‘PR’. I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t know anything about communications, but the idea of working in English appealed to me. 

Here I discovered a job where each day is different, where the unexpected is the rule rather than the exception, and where your to-do list changes by the hour. What started by chance became a passion; I fell in love with this job, and I have never left it. 

Have you had mentors throughout your career? 

I haven’t had mentors as such, but I have had individuals who have provided invaluable support at key stages in my professional career and personal life. This was particularly the case at TBWA and at a professional federation where I led the communications function. I have also been fortunate enough to meet exceptionally inspiring people and entrepreneurs amongst my clients. 

I’ve always admired people who achieve success in their careers whilst remaining true to their values and those who have turned down opportunities in order to remain faithful to a person, company or commitment. With that being said, I also love meeting people who are different to me, the artists and the eccentrics.

Each generation comes with its own societal expectations and imprints. How do you reconcile the evolving needs of your teams?

It is a true managerial challenge and I don’t know whether this is because I’m a young old man or an old young man, but I never anticipated it. That younger generations value a meaningful job with a sense of purpose and a good work-life balance over title or salary is nothing new, it has been spoken for the past 5 to 10 years. But when you work in a big group like Publicis, you realise that it’s not just about being trendy, it is an important day-to-day reality - and that changes a lot.

For example, it changes the way you recruit. You take chances on less traditional profiles. We’ve recruited people who had never worked in communications, people who worked in cyber-security or even lawyers for instance. The way you motivate and foster loyalty is changing. Today we take pro bono briefs, which make no money but add value in other ways. Something which five or six years ago, most people viewed as simply extra work with no financial gain. Today, it’s basically the opposite. When a pro-bono brief comes in with educational or associated upside people fight for the opportunity to add it to their workload.  

What is interesting is that if you’re able to provide for these wants, people are more motivated, you have lower turnover and more engagement with business projects that are commercially viable. That has a direct financial impact. 

The way you’re able to encourage collaboration also changes and is reflected in the evolution of work-space layouts, the way meetings are run, the working hours and the introduction of working from home. Some years ago, if you left the office at 6 pm, you’d hear colleagues joking, ‘you're leaving already!? Are you on a reduced hour contract?’ but those days are gone. 

The biggest day-to-day change though would be how drastically different the workspace organisation is nowadays. When I started, we worked in huge open spaces, but when we moved a couple of months ago, it was our employees who took control of the space. As a result, we have less traditional but more appropriate spaces. We have a mix of quiet areas, dedicated spaces for calls or to brainstorm, different meetings facilities and a welcome reception for clients.

What is positive is that you can see the same changes on the clients’ side. Whether they are directors of communications, journalists or elected representatives, you see younger, more eclectic and more international profiles.

How can agencies better promote diversity of talent?

Firstly, we must be clear and honest about the current state. We have been talking about this topic for years, but in my opinion, improvements are not happening quick enough. 

This is a real issue that concerns us all and whatever the measures we take to encourage diversity in companies and in agencies, we are still far from our objectives. 

We need measures that incentivise, for example like Diversidays, and we need to do them collectively because good initiatives are too often standalone. 

Secondly, people must realise that diversity is an incredible asset and you can’t just subscribe to it in principle, you must live it. Which brings us back to square one – it is a virtuous circle which needs determination and commitment.

Today in the agency, we are ahead in terms of parity, including top management. However, we are far from representing the French society in all its social, ethnic and religious diversity. This is the greatest challenge in the coming years. The reality is simply that if you want to deliver value, you have to stop working with and in the same circles, there’s no doubt about it.

The day the market understands that it is not a box tick exercise or patronising attitude, but that it is an asset, things will take a considerable step forward. 

It’s true in communications, in the media, in television, and in politics, in companies, and in startups. 

Digital has transformed the industry, but does that cause us to miss out on some of the fundamentals of communications?

It all depends on how you see digital. If you see it as a tool, there’s a problem. And if you see it as an end, that is also a problem. 

I can tell you how our agency is structured around such activities today. I run four major departments here: PR, public affairs, change management and social media. When you look at our consumer behaviours, it is everywhere and so it’s also everywhere in our structure and activities which is a great opportunity. Maybe, sooner or later, social media will flood the other departments!

It’s a challenge and a reality but something rather easy to understand. It’s mainly a fantastic data and information accelerator, an extraordinary breeding ground of talents and opportunities. No doubt that this world has only revealed a tiny part of its value. 

In your opinion, what has changed most about your job?

Nowadays, the reputation of a company and its people has become something that is tracked, analysed and measured by the entire industry; current and potential clients, employees, competitors and even consumers in general. 

This is due to the rise in social media, 24-hour news channels and ever-increasing consumer requirements.

With an overloaded job like yours, how do you balance professional and private life?

For a long time, I found it hard to handle the workload, but I learnt that rest and holidays are a priority if you want to be efficient. The big bosses take holidays and even the Presidents of the Republics take holidays. They can because they know to allow themselves to do so.

In fact, when you are clear about your priorities and organise yourself around those, everything becomes possible. 

For example, I aim to be at home most weekday evenings by 7.30 pm, and I dedicate between 7.30 and 8.30 pm to my children and my wife. After that, most evenings I get back to work. 

You must be fair of course. You can’t always be the one leaving the office and relying on your colleagues to compensate – you must be team-minded.

Looking back, what career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self? Would you have done anything differently?

For many reasons, both educational and mental, I think my view of risk was very different. When you are 20 people tell you, ‘challenge yourself, go for it, take a risk’, ironically you say to yourself; ‘you’re right but what about paying rent?’. So, I would say: take risks, take a less trodden path.

I would feel more comfortable with the non-routine nature of this job. I started when I was 22 or 23, at first it looked like a day-to-day job, I talked with the media, companies, elected representatives and so on but in fact, the job keeps on evolving. You must face unexpected things all the time, and that’s great. I am still discovering new things all the time.

Maybe you’ll spend 40 years in the same sector but for 40 years so many things will happen. I would tell him to stand back when making decisions about opportunities. When you are young and you have a job opportunity, sometimes you are unable to see it, or on the contrary, you rush to it just because it’s paid a little better. When I was twenty, I’d never have thought that I’d run a communications agency in a major group at the age of 40. Never. That’s what I like, the non-linear nature of the job, the unpredictability of a career. That’s what I’d like to teach and pass on to the young. 

When people tell me ‘look, I’ve been working here for two years, and I don’t know where I stand ‘, I advise them to open the windows and look outside. Life in a communications agency offers incredible opportunities. If someone tells you he or she has exhausted the subject, they’re wrong. You always talk to different people, handle different topics, you can spend ten years in an agency and never get bored, you just have to look around and have perspective. 

What would you like your teams to say about you?

That I am fair. To direct is to decide and to decide is to cause disappointment. You can’t please everyone. I make a point of carrying out team projects, where people can stand out and to show them respect. When you promise something, do it. When I say that something is not possible, at least, it’s said clearly. No empty promises.

I’m not sure that they would all want to come and have a beer with me, but that’s not a problem. As long as what I say matches what I do and as long as my job as a boss matches what I believe, I can take it all.   

Who’s the man behind the President of Publicis?

A man who takes on his responsibilities with humility and who knows that his personal priorities are perfectly compatible with the new position he holds today. He is also a huge football fan, a voracious reader of detective novels and has a legendary sense of humour that, sadly, is not appreciated by all. 

Any last inspiring words?

Let go! In agencies, the most talented are not necessarily those who have the best qualifications, nor the hardest working. The most talented people are those who dare to try. This job is truly wonderful with the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, take on challenges galore and it’s always changing, sometimes along with society, sometimes even ahead of it. Nothing is more motivating for a head of an agency than to hear his people say, ‘I’d like to’, or ‘can I work on this brief?’, people who step forward and maybe destabilise you a little.

We don’t have to love each other but we do have to respect each other. That’s what I try to do, put different people together with different interests and watch, wonderful things will happen. Sometimes, people who don’t get on very well in private, work together beautifully at work because they have to confront their differences and find common ground. 

Sometimes this job has a negative image but to be paid for coming up with ideas, that’s hugely gratifying, no? 

Posted on 24.11.2019

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