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Publicis to focus on digital deals post Omnicom collapse

LONDON (Reuters) - Publicis Chief Executive Maurice Levy said he would shift the French advertising group more quickly and deeply into digital following the collapse of the merger with Omnicom.

The 72-year-old Levy said this would be his main focus, while the company starts to tackle the issue of who will replace him later this year. The group could also consider raising its dividend, he said.

"I am 100 percent focused on the future, I am not very much interested in the past, it is the end of the story," he said of his failure to create the world's biggest ad group. "I am focusing on how we are going to sharpen our strategy."

Levy said he would focus on smaller digital deals and he put the possibility of another merger on the scale of the Omnicom tie-up at "zero". The group's business on digital devices like tablets and smartphones and on platforms like Facebook accounts for 40 percent of revenue, and Levy said it would be more than half by 2018.

Publicis is hammering out a new direction after the failure of its merger with its U.S. rival.

The $35 billion deal, unveiled nearly a year ago, would have created a group bigger than industry leader Britain's WPP, and better placed to compete with technology rivals like Google and Facebook. Levy and his U.S. counterpart John Wren had planned to share the CEO role for the first 30 months.

Levy said the two sides realized they could not implement the merger so that it delivered the benefits promised to shareholders. Cultural differences between the French and U.S. groups had become a real issue, he added.

He said that Publicis as an independent company would now look at the possibility of leveraging the group's balance sheet, which could result in more rises to the dividend.

He added that the board would start to tackle the question of who will succeed him at the end of the year.

On current trading, Levy said he still expected the second quarter to be weak, and an acceleration to come in the third.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Kate Holton)

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