Annette King, the UK chief executive of Publicis Groupe and one of the most senior figures in UK advertising, is leaving to take a global role at Accenture Song.
King’s new job will be global lead of communications for Accenture Song where she will oversee all of the creative agencies, including Droga5.
Parent company Accenture has aggressively moved into agency services through dozens of acquisitions and King’s decision to leave Publicis Groupe is likely to come as a shock because it is a sign that consulting giants are competing head-on with established agency groups — a trend that began before the pandemic.
Publicis Groupe has responded quickly to the sudden news of her exit, saying it will not replace King in the UK, its second biggest market.
Accenture Song, which described itself as a “tech-powered creative group”, welcomed King’s appointment, saying: “She’ll be responsible for leading Accenture Song’s global brand, content, engagement and activation, and media practice, which includes The Monkeys and Droga5 globally.
“Working across Accenture Song’s suite of creative and tech offerings, King will partner with the company’s leadership to unlock new pathways to growth for clients.”
David Droga, the chief executive of Accenture Song, who founded Droga5 and sold it to the consulting giant in 2019, said: “I’ve known Annette for more than 20 years and have admired her journey every massive step of the way. Her commitment to culture, DEI and client impact is evident in everything she does.
“I’m thrilled to have her join our leadership team and have her unique voice help architect our future.”
King, who is British, has been UK chief executive of Publicis Groupe since 2018 and previously worked at WPP’s Ogilvy for 18 years when she served as EMEA CEO of direct agency Ogilvy One and UK CEO of Ogilvy Group.
She will be based in London in her new role and report into Accenture Song’s recently announced global capabilities lead, Sean Lyons, another new recruit, who joins in May after quitting as global CEO of R/GA.
She replaces Sarah Thompson, the former global CEO of Droga5, who stepped down as global lead of communications at the end of 2022.
Accenture Song operates a matrix-type structure, with specialist functions such as commerce, marketing, growth and product innovation and sales and service for clients, and it draws on four, main capabilities — communications, design, intelligence and build.
Dropping UK CEO role will come as surprise
Publicis Groupe’s decision to get rid of the UK CEO role, following King’s exit, will come as a surprise because the French agency group created the job for her as part of a global move to a “country model” in its biggest markets.
Publicis announced it had hired King from Ogilvy in September 2017 and she formally joined in mid-2018.
She had a mandate to bring its different agency disciplines together as part of a “Power of One” strategy and the UK division increased revenues 22% in 2022, thanks to growth at consulting arm Publicis.Sapient and media wins such as Lloyds Banking Group.
The group has had less success in winning Power of One accounts and missed out on Centrica’s big integrated account review in 2019. However, Publicis agencies, including Leo Burnett and Zenith, have been performing well and won a string of top awards at Campaign’s UK Agency of the Year Awards in March.
There have been signs that power has been shifting regionally at Publicis Groupe as it promoted Loris Nold to EMEA chief executive and recruited Demet Ikiler to EMEA chief operating officer — two new, powerful roles — in the last six months.
At the time of Nold’s appointment in September 2022, Campaign reported that he would have direct responsibility for the UK’s P&L.
Nold praised King’s contribution following the news of her departure.
“I truly want to thank Annette for her years at Publicis Groupe. She has been a wonderful partner to many of us and I know we will all miss her. She will not be replaced in her role as CEO of Publicis Groupe UK,” Nold said.
“Over the last six months, with our UK comex [executive committee] and the arrival of Demet Ikiler [from WPP], we’ve progressed our transformation in our second largest market and our ambition to make the UK a platform for Europe.
“Thanks to the strength and strong momentum of our agencies, combined with the recent leadership appointments, as well as the current outstanding dynamic of Publicis.Sapient led by Nigel Vaz, I am very confident in our ability to further accelerate in the UK.”
It is understood that Arthur Sadoun, the global chief executive of Publicis Groupe, remains committed to its country model, including in the UK, where its biggest clients include BT, McDonald’s, Meta, Procter & Gamble and Tesco.
People familiar with Publicis Groupe’s thinking said their priority is for the UK is to win more integrated business across different disciplines— with a particular focus on collaborating with consulting arm Publicis.Sapient — and to work more closely with other markets on international and global clients.
The power clash between agency groups and consulting firms has been one of the biggest themes in advertising in the last decade.
Accenture has been the most acquisitive of the consulting firms, buying dozens of agencies including Karmarama and Fjord – most of which have been rebranded as Accenture Song.
The consulting giant has more than 700,000 employees globally and a stock market valuation of about $190bn (£153bn) — far larger than the biggest agency groups such as Publicis, which has close to 100,000 staff and a valuation of $20bn.
Accenture said at its last earnings call that Accenture Song grew at a double-digit rate but also announced plans to cut 2.5% of its workforce because of a global economic slowdown.
Publicis Groupe has also been growing strongly, with organic revenues up more than 10% in 2022, ahead of all of its main rivals.