Publicis bets on further growth in 2022 after digital ad boost

The logo of Publicis group is seen at the high profile startups and high tech leaders gathering, Viva Tech,in Paris, France May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Feb 3 (Reuters) - Publicis Groupe (PUBP.PA), the world's third-biggest advertising agency, on Thursday forecast organic sales growth of 4% to 5% this year, after its 2021 earnings exceeded their pre-pandemic levels to reach new records.

The French company said growth had been fuelled by its digital and data-driven businesses Sapient and Epsilon, and that it was expecting to maintain this year's record 17.5% operating margin and 1.4 billion euro ($1.58 billion) cash flow in 2022.

Publicis posted organic growth of 10% reaching 10.49 billion euros in revenue last year, beating the 9.1% forecast by analysts in a company-provided consensus. The group's 2022 guidance also landed above analysts' 3% estimate.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

After spending some 300 million euros last year, Publicis is planning to double its acquisitions budget to up to 600 million euros as it looks to buy medium-sized firms with expertise in new digital media and first-party data.

Chief Executive Arthur Sadoun said the company's 2019 acquisition of Epsilon, which has access to its own database of consumer data, had helped Publicis navigate a global shift in advertising trends as Google (GOOGL.O) looks to phase out use of third-party tracking cookies. read more

"Today we are able to tell our clients that with our solution, they are no longer dependant on cookies," Sadoun told journalists during a call.

Regulators are paying close attention to Google's plans, which have sparked fears among advertisers that their removal will make them more reliant on buying ads from Google and Facebook (FB.O) because of their vast user databases.

Sadoun added that the automotive sector - which represents 16% of Publicis sales and has been badly hit by component shortages - had cut less ad spending than expected and benefited from data that helped predict consumer demand.

It proposed a 2021 dividend of 2.40 euros per share and announced a salary bonus for its employees.

($1 = 0.8843 euros)

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Sarah Morland and Valentine Baldassari Editing by Marguerita Choy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.