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April 21, 2015, 1:47 a.m. EDT

Publicis posts 32% jump in sales

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By Ruth Bender

PARIS-- Publicis Groupe SA Tuesday reported a 32% jump in first-quarter sales, boosted by the strong dollar and its latest digital acquisition as the advertising company works toward a recovery after a tough past year.

Publicis said first-quarter sales rose to EUR2.1 billion ($2.3 billion) from EUR1.6 billion in the same period last year as the group benefited from the strong dollar and pound sterling compared with the euro.

Publicis is one of the most dollar-exposed companies on the CAC-40 index, with over half of its sales alone stemming from North America.

Stripping out acquisitions, disposals and currency swings--sales grew only 0.9%, slightly better than expected, but still far away from the company's historic growth levels.

"Our first-quarter numbers are encouraging for the rest of the year and make us confident that we are on our way back to performing more like we used to," Chief Executive Maurice Levy told reporters.

The French owner of agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi had warned that first-quarter sales will be weak as the company is still contending with the consequences of its failed merger attempt with U.S. rival Omnicom Group Inc., which weighed on performances last year, as well as a sharp drop in revenue at its digital agency Razorfish. In the first quarter, a sharp drop in organic sales in Russia and Brazil as well as a slight decline in China also dragged.

Publicis has been focusing on recovering lost ground. It is betting that the recent addition of U.S.-based digital agency and consultancy Sapient to its roster of digital agencies will make Publicis become the vanguard of the digital transformation that is upending the ad industry and help the group reclaim its position as one of the industry's fastest-growing agencies.

Mr. Levy said the integration of Sapient is running as planned so far. The company is midway through a first 90-day strategy plan aimed at laying out the new organization and way of working with Sapient, he added.

For this year, Mr. Levy said he still aims for Publicis to post sales growth "at least" in line with the average of the advertising market, which he expects to be around 3% after ad forecasters recently downgraded their outlook for the year, due notably to the difficult economic climate in Russia.

Publicis--the world's third-largest advertising company by revenue--works for clients including consumer-goods giants such as Procter & Gamble Co., car maker Renault SA and pharmaceutical company Sanofi SA.

Write to Ruth Bender at Ruth.Bender@wsj.com

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