Maurice Levy, chief executive of Publicis Groupe and (some observers believe) an even foxier strategist than WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, warned on Tuesday that a merged Publicis-Bcom3 will find it difficult to achieve targeted operating profit margins for 2003.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Levy also invoked the spectre of layoffs arising from the takeover, which will create the planet’s fourth-largest agency group and is scheduled for completion September 20.

The enlarged group will encompass such network giants as Bcom3’s Leo Burnett, D’Arcy and Starcom MediaVest alongside Publicis’ Saatchi & Saatchi, Fallon and Zenith Optimedia (in which Cordiant Communications also holds a stake as junior partner).

Levy intends to keep each of these agencies discrete, insisting: “Where you destroy value is where you destroy the culture of an agency.” But he also admitted that layoffs are inevitable, albeit that most are likely to be at holding company level.

Although business in general remains “difficult”, Levy wants the combined holding company to achieve a 15% operating profit margin by 2003 – a level yet to be attained by either group, although Publicis is currently shooting near to that bullseye with a projected 2002 margin of 14.1%.

He is also confident that clients both of Publicis and Bcom3 are relaxed about the merger, the more so having hosted James Stengel. global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble, in Paris last week. The latter is on record as saying he has no worries about channelling so much of his ad budget through the enlarged Publicis as he trusts Levy to act promptly if problems occur.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff