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Power of One: Michael Rebelo

Headquartered in France, Publicis Groupe is the world’s largest communications company in terms of market capitalisation. It employs more than 1,600 people in Australasia and owns industry-leading creative, media and digital brands including Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Starcom, Zenith, Spark Foundry, Digitas, Publicis Sapient and more.

Michael Rebelo, CEO of Publicis Groupe Australia & New Zealand

With its incredible bandwidth comes even more impressive capabilities, making Publicis Groupe a stand-out in the region. “Publicis Groupe’s capabilities span across communications, media, commerce and digital business transformation,” Australia & New Zealand CEO Michael Rebelo tells The CEO Magazine.

“The integration of the Epsilon and Publicis Sapient business globally, along with our local acquisition of leading ecommerce company Balance Internet, means we are the only holding company in Australia and New Zealand that can genuinely deliver end-to-end marketing and digital business transformation solutions to clients.”

A multiplier effect

The company also has a unique single-country profit and loss model, Michael says, which is quite different from traditional holding companies. “Our P&L model works to ensure that connection within our business is encouraged and rewarded because leaders are not financially or operationally penalised for sharing clients or talent,” he explains.

“What this ignites is a multiplier effect. That is, when a client works with two or more of our agencies, they see supercharged benefits around growth, creativity and capability.”

And the results speak for themselves: currently in ANZ, its top 10 clients work with four to five Publicis agencies. “The business outcome is about being able to capture more opportunities and solve more problems for our clients by offering genuine end-to-end marketing transformation capabilities; that in turn grows our market share,” Michael points out.

“While others may claim their agencies are collaborating, we go even further by working as one.”

“We’ve been able to successfully see growth by cross selling between our agency businesses. While others may claim their agencies are collaborating, we go even further by working as one.”

This strategy has seen an expansion in the number of Publicis agencies working with Australia’s biggest advertisers: think Toyota, Westpac, Johnson & Johnson and Subway. “We’ve been working with The Arnott’s Group for almost four years through our ‘Power of One’ model,” Michael shares as an example.

“This sees key talent from across our agencies working together to deliver creative, media planning and buying, digital, public relations and shopper marketing solutions for a portfolio of brands, including Tim Tams, Shapes, Jatz, TeeVee Snacks, Vita-Weat, Campbell’s Real Stock and many more.”

Connected culture

Michael brought 25 years of international leadership experience – spanning building, repurposing, starting up, acquiring and integrating businesses to deliver growth through creativity – when he took on the role of CEO in January 2019. At the helm, he works with clients by bringing together the best of the Group’s capabilities to help them solve their transformation challenges in fundamentally new ways by connecting the dots between creativity, media and technology.

On arrival, he rolled up his sleeves and implemented a new strategy, arming the company’s agencies with new guiding principles. “When I first started, I asked each of our agency businesses to focus on three guiding principles: to specialise, weaponise and connect,” he shares.

“Our approach allows us to create careers not jobs, retaining the best talent in our industry as well as growing people to create their best work and deliver impactful solutions for our clients.”

“To specialise means creating a focus and clarity in the key area of marketing transformation specialism that the agency offers clients. To weaponise means ensuring the agency is the best in market at its specialty; something achieved via leadership, positioning, product, talent and performance. And finally, to connect means creating a connected culture for our agency brands that allows for seamless integration and modularity in the way we come together to solve for our clients.”

To Michael, culture is even more important than strategy. “As Peter Drucker says, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast,’” he says. “In my role, I have worked to create a ‘connected culture’, which starts from the leadership team driving a culture of collaboration and integration.

“Together we have built a connected culture where roughly 20 businesses collaborate and create to give our clients the best possible marketplace to scale, transform and grow. Our approach allows us to create careers not jobs, retaining the best talent in our industry as well as growing people to create their best work and deliver impactful solutions for our clients.”


The game-changer

Michael also shares how he’s been integrating a special X factor into the culture of the business, making it increasingly more adaptable – something he claims is just as important as IQ or EQ. “The ‘adaptive gene’ is a concept I have been instilling since becoming Group CEO,” he says.

“Flexing our adaptive gene means thriving in an industry facing tremendous change, being resilient and instinctively collaborative. Across the Group, we have a broad church of creative businesses, so the adaptive gene mentality allows us to unite these teams culturally while allowing freedom in the creative process.”

Having this unified belief has paid off in spades in creative genius, he reveals. “It redefines creativity as a product for our business by ensuring the way we approach creativity is not static.

“It’s about how we fuse the world-class creative ideas our teams are known for with data, culture and technology to deliver more connected and transformative ideas. This approach ensures that everyone across the business can look to solve clients’ problems in a creative way, irrespective of functionality. It’s the game-changer we bring to the table.”

Publicis Groupe leaders helping to drive the company’s connected culture include (from left) Robbie Bempasciuto, Prodigious Managing Director; Imogen Hewitt, Spark Foundry CEO; Michael Rebelo, Publicis Groupe ANZ CEO; Nick Keenan, Starcom CEO; and Skye Lambley, Herd MSL CEO

Working as one

To continue fuelling this creativity, Publicis Groupe – at the height of the pandemic in March 2020 – opened the doors to its new office in Pyrmont. It was an 18-month project that saw nine of the its locations around Sydney come together into one Publicis hub.

“In our new home, we wanted to create an interior that blurred the boundaries between workplace and wellbeing; commercial office and hospitality space; and brand and authenticity,” Michael explains.

“Our vision was focused on further embedding our connected platform approach, and creating unique agency spaces connected by a Publicis ‘Power of One’ membrane. With our agency homes spread across four levels, each floor is seamlessly integrated to encourage collaboration between individuals and agencies, bringing together Publicis people as one tribe to connect and leverage differences and strengths across marketing, communications and digital transformation.”

“My job has been to create a collective true north for all of our businesses and brands to operate under and pull towards a common purpose, common values and common objectives.”

Essentially, Michael created all this connection from scratch. When he came on board, the CEO role didn’t exist in the region, nor did the company’s current organisational design and culture. Each agency brand and business was going to market in its own autonomous fashion. Despite the dissonance, many were doing well.

“My job has been to create a collective true north for all of our businesses and brands to operate under and pull towards a common purpose, common values and common objectives, achieving sustainable peak performance across the portfolio,” he says.


“Publicis Groupe’s market momentum, growth and progressive reputation are all areas that I’m very proud of. And creating our ‘connected culture’ will be the legacy I leave the Group.”

What War on Talent?

Publicis Groupe was named an Employer of Choice winner by the Australian Business Awards and the HRD Awards in 2021. It’s something Michael credits to the its behaviour-based, flexible working framework. “It’s called Publicis Liberté. We implemented it in 2019, and it’s based on behaviours rather than strict policies and a one-size-fits-all approach,” he explains.
“Along with our people initiatives, it’s based on finding ways to help our people fit work into their lives, not the other way around. Earlier in 2021, we relaunched and evolved Liberté further to ensure we remain an adaptive employer that creates a progressive, safe and supportive workplace.”

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