Susan Gianinno: Chairman, North America of Publicis Worldwide

My NativeAdVice:


Susan Gianinno is Chairman, North America of Publicis Worldwide, a new post created in December 2013 after the merger of Publicis Worldwide in the USA and Canada.  In her role, she oversees all Publicis North America operations, including Publicis, Publicis Kaplan Thaler, Publicis Hawkeye, Publicis Modem and Riney.  She is a member of the Publicis Worldwide Executive Committee (COMEX) and the Publicis Groupe Strategic Leadership Team.

How did you get into the advertising industry?

I started out in Academics as a Research Psychologist at the University of Chicago.  My husband and I were about to receive a grant and positions at the National Institute of Education in Papua New Guinea, where we were to complete our Ph.D. Dissertation research.  As it happened, our very young daughter had chronic tonsillitis, making the living conditions for us in Papua (doing field research) a threat to her health.  So we turned down the grant and began to course correct.  During this time a former University of Chicago Professor who was running all of the strategy and research for a large advertising agency contacted me.  He believed that social scientists would make great advertising professionals.  I am always up for a big challenge and took the job.  I went from studying psychological well being to worrying about why the magical Burger King had surpassed Ronald McDonald in tracking studies!  The truth is that all my degrees in Psychology turned out to be an incredible background and platform for success in advertising.  For someone like me who loves challenges, solving problems and living in a world of ideas that get inspired by a combination of Insight and imagination… I have never looked back.

Tell us about Publicis Worldwide North America.  What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

Publicis Worldwide in North America is unique in many ways, most notably by our parentage and heritage as an iconic company in France.  We were founded in 1926 by a pioneer in the Advertising world and a brilliant entrepreneur who founded the company and the culture on three, driving, principles:  people first, innovation always and in all we do, and unreasonable loyalty to our clients.  The company is still in the family with our Publicis Groupe Chairman being the daughter of the Founder.  We have had only two CEO’s in our history.  Publicis Worldwide, the namesake of the Holding Company is the largest creative agency in the Groupe, and we are the ones who carry the responsibility for keeping the namesake brand growing and prospering into the future.  Publicis Worldwide in North America has exported this anchor culture and adapted it to this incredibly important North American market.  We are the largest region for the company and a highly respected top tier company in the world and in this region.  Our clients include premier marketers in the world such as P&G, Citi, L’Oreal, Nestle, Pfizer and Cadillac.  Our vision is to be the preferred CREATIVE partner in our clients’ marketing transformation.  This puts innovation, technology and creativity at the forefront of our enterprise.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Publicis's success?

Publicis was the first of the largest worldwide creative agencies to embrace digital as central to all that we do.  We have always been more holistic in how we approach marketing, having multiple capabilities INSIDE and integrated into our operations.  This holistic thinking led us to acquire and develop digital capabilities and to make this capability pervasive across all of Publicis and not just residing in specialist units.  We integrated two digital companies, Dialog and Modem into Publicis.  Recently, we have acquired Hawkeye and Nurun and are continuing our priority to lead the change in digital integration with these innovative digital agencies.  This foresight in building digital capabilities has led to major client successes.  We have won major consolidated assignments with clients such as P&G, Citi and Cadillac where we lead as ONE TEAM to build the brand with coherence and optimal impact and over 35% of our revenue comes from digital work.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

To this point, the biggest trend in the industry is for companies to reinvent themselves to keep up with and take full advantage of the ONGOING transformation in every aspect of marketing, media and communications.  All companies need to be faster, smarter, more agile, more attuned to culture, adept at new skills across social, search, content, connected devices.  And they need to do all of this in a way that is focused, coordinated, choreographed and coherent. Our job is to be an indispensable partner in this transformation… leading the change with technology, innovations and creativity.  Two other trends that are fueling the need to transform are the influence of shifting demographics (in the USA this is being driven by Millennials, HEALTHY aging Baby Boomers and the new challenges of a population where the majority are “minorities") and the extreme gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Both these trends create big challenges but also opportunities to bring forward new ideas and new approaches.

Life Motto?

My life motto is founded on a desire to lead a purposeful life in all I do.  It is: “Always know what matters (REALLY MATTERS) and let that understanding drive all action.”

Publicis's Motto?

Publicis motto is ‘Viva la Difference” and our mission is to Lead the Change.

Your greatest success as Chairman of Publicis USA?  Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

Publicis in the USA confronted an enormous disruption as well as a BIG opportunity when in 2002 Publicis acquired what was then known as B/Com3 (including D’Arcy Worldwide, Leo Burnett, StarCom Mediavest, MS&L, Medicus, Arc and a host of other specialist companies).  In order to build the Publicis brand and business in the USA (prior to 2002, Publicis was quite small in the USA and was pretty invisible in this market) the decision was made to retire the D’Arcy brand and to transfer many of the D’Arcy people and clients into Publicis in the USA.  Maurice Levy asked me to lead this merger and transition and to “make Publicis a huge success in the USA.”  I became the Chairman and CEO of Publicis USA.  This was a life-changing event for me, which called upon all of my background as a Psychologist, my skills, my accumulated good will with clients and employees and my personal tenacity, stamina and ability to stay focused.  We emerged with all the clients in tact, with most all the employees happily placed, with a new team assigned and a new mission… in a new location (within a month).  This all started us on a path to year over year growth with new clients, award winning work, and an ability to attract and retain some of the best talent in the industry.  Publicis is firmly established in the USA as a force in the industry.  We continue to grow and prosper.  I learned that you could make anything happen and get anything done if you constantly stay focused on what really MATTERS!

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

I have had the opportunity to mentor many aspiring entrepreneurs.  My advice to them is consistent.  Stay focused on an overriding mission or purpose.  Let that purpose be your guiding and enduring principle.  Once you know your purpose, then make sure you have two key components to success: the right capabilities; and, support from all critical stakeholders.  Also, be prepared to face the “miserable middle,” when everything seems to be losing steam and where you inevitably begin to question yourself.  Don’t give up at this stage.  Everyone faces this.  How you get through this miserable middle is what makes the difference between flash in the pan and a sustainable enterprise.  It usually requires reinventing your capabilities and engaging new support.  It should NOT lead you to change your purpose and mission.  Your commitment and passion for the purpose and mission is what will ultimately sustain you.

How do you motivate your employees?

Motivating people is all about understanding them and helping them be all that they can be.  It is about providing them with big challenges and then ensuring that they have the skills, capability and support to meet these challenges. Personal mastery is an unbeatable motivator.  The other key to motivating people is to really appreciate what they bring and what they do.  Everyone wants his or her efforts acknowledged.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

I would have great cheese, a beautiful, ripe tomato and fantastic country bread… probably with an amazing craft beer.

What literature is on your bed stand?

I am a Harvard Fellow in addition to my job at Publicis.  So, I would scare most people away with the heavy reading I do.  But two of my most enjoyed books recently are Nick Kristoff’s book, “A Path Appears” and Howard Gardner book, “The App Generation.”

Role model - business and personal?

My father is a wonderful and inspiring role model.  He is a 98-year-old physician who finally retired at age 93 from a 40-year job in Sports Medicine at a University in Boston (after an amazing career in Family Medicine).  He continues to teach me life lessons.  He keeps in touch with medicine and his very, very large family through the Internet, including daily Facebook postings.  He has taught me the importance of integrity, honor, caring, being brilliant at diagnosing problems before “treating,” being humble, being loyal.  He knows how to laugh and to continue to learn, always.

Current passion?

Beyond my passion for family, including three stupendously bright and always entertaining grandchildren, I have two big passions: 1) making sure Publicis North America is ready for all the changes that will confront us in 2015; and 2) using my Harvard Fellow experience to come up with a life project idea that will change the world for the better in some important way.

Most interesting headline you've read this week?

I am sad to say that the most “interesting" headline I have read this week was not a positive one; it was about the horrifying brutality inflicted on innocent young children in Pakistan.  The fact young children and education are the targets for these killers’ brutality just underscores how powerful education is in helping us create a just and peaceful world.

What's next for Publicis?

What’s next for Publicis is our own continued transformation as we lead our own changes to stay ahead in the ever-changing landscape.  As they say at Facebook, when it comes to change “we are only at 1%.”  So we need to stay open, flexible, resilient and focused on our own purpose and mission… to be guided only by what WE know really matters.

Susan joined Publicis Groupe in 2003 as Chairman and CEO of Publicis Worldwide in the USA.  She was previously Chairman and President of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles Worldwide; and prior to that was CEO at J. Walter Thompson New York.  Susan joined JWT from the position of EVP, Worldwide Client Managing Director at BBDO, where she was the executive in charge of global clients.  She spent twelve years at Young & Rubicam, where she was EVP, Worldwide Client Managing Director.  As a pioneer, Susan was the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors at all four companies.

Susan has been a Trustee at Boston College since 1991. She is currently Chairman Emeritus of The Advertising Council’s Board of Directors, where she has been on the Board since 2003. Susan is a Board Member for R.R. Donnelley.  She is a member of the Visiting Committee for the Division of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago.  

Susan started in advertising while working on her Ph.D in Comparative Psychology from the University of Chicago. She has a Master’s Degree with high honors in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago, a Master's Degree in Psychology from Northwestern University and a Bachelors Degree with honors from Boston College.  She is an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University.

The recipient of numerous industry honors, Susan is a member of the YWCA's Academy of Women Achievers and was selected by Advertising Age as one of the best and brightest "women to watch."  She was honored with the MATRIX Award for Women in Communications and has recently been recognized by Advertising Age as one of the “100 Most Influential Women in Advertising”.  Susan served as a non-partisan advisor to George H.W. Bush’s Task Force on Terrorism from 1985-1992.  She has published articles in professional journals focused on several psychological topics including the contributors to well-being and happiness.  Susan is a Founding Member of Boston College’s Council on Women and received Boston College’s Excellence in Commerce Award.