Publicis Groupe, the world's third-largest advertising group, has made a gratifying gesture to its senior staff members, who voluntarily took a pay cut in trying times of COVID-19 pandemic. The advertising and communications giant announced that it would repay the salary sacrifice made by its 6,000 managers and has even set aside a higher bonus to reward.
The decision taken by Publicis Groupe follows a solid quarter. The group recorded a strong Q4, better than the market and expectations at -3.9 percent. Further, the advertising group exceeded industry average this year despite the economic crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic. Publicis reported growth of -0.9 percent in 2020 and organic growth was recorded at -6.3 percent.
Publicis also gained sizeable market share. Its top 200 client base grew by 1.8 percent and added new businesses, including Kraft-Heinz, Reckitt Benckiser, Pfizer, Visa, L'Oréal in China, TikTok and Sephora.
Arthur Sadoun, Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, said that the decision to repay salary sacrifices of its employees was important to thank staff and "show we care."
Here's the full text of Sadoun's statement:
In the tough context of 2020, Publicis posted solid performance thanks to our transformation. Our long-term investment in data and technology, our country model, and our platform Marcel, have enabled us to stay strong by containing our revenue decline and maintaining best-in-class financials.
We outperformed the industry average in this year of exceptional crises by delivering a published growth of -0.9% in 2020 and organic growth at -6.3% for the year, with a Q4 ahead of market and our expectations at -3.9%. This is the result of our ability to capture the shift in our clients' investment towards digital channels, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer, which intensified throughout the year.
It is particularly visible in the U.S. where Epsilon delivered growth of 5.5% in Q4, enabling our most important country to be slightly positive. This was also the case for Publicis Sapient. We gained market share by growing with our top 200 clients by 1.8%, and recorded a continued new business momentum with wins like Kraft-Heinz, Reckitt Benckiser, Pfizer, Visa, L'Oréal in China, TikTok and Sephora.
Last but not least, we continued to post the best financial ratios of the industry with an operating margin rate of 16% and a free cash flow of close to 1.2 billion Euros while significantly reducing our net debt at around 800 million euros at year-end.
Today, our solid results mean we are able to propose a dividend of 2€, slightly below our pre-pandemic level, corresponding to a payout of 46.8%.
It is important to note the sustainability of this performance, which was achieved with virtually no benefit from government schemes, including in France where we decided not to take advantage of any state aid. When we saw at the beginning of the crisis how devastating the pandemic could be, we quickly acted to redefine our plans. This included a voluntary pay cut by around 6000 of our managers, and a new set of objectives for the rest of the year. Thanks to the collective and extraordinary performance of our people in these difficult times, we have been able to post results that are above industry averages, allowing us to repay the salary sacrifice and set aside a higher bonus pool to fairly reward and recognize our teams.
I'd like to thank everyone in the group for their incredible efforts and our clients for their confidence and partnership. It is clear now that the crisis did not end with 2020. The world will continue to be marked by the social and the economic effects of the pandemic for some time. So we are going into this new year with a renewed fighting spirit, ready to double down on our efforts to keep our people safe, make our clients win in a platform world and continue to improve our efficiency.
Our transformation helped us stand strong in the storm of the past year. We are clear-sighted about the challenges that lie ahead, but thanks to our assets, our model, our people, and the trust of our clients, we are confident that we will emerge from this crisis as a stronger company.