We are the fittest: Yannick Bollore on Havas

26 Mar,2015


By Amit Bapna


Outdoor hoardings are expensive and mostly used to make a political statement. Chief executives of ad agencies are rarely accorded that privilege. Possibly why Yannick Bolloré, chairman and chief executive officer, Havas group was surprised and self-confessedly embarrassed to see his mug-shot, over half a dozen hoardings, en-route from Delhi airport to the business district of Gurgaon, also the stronghold of the group’s India operations. It gave the 35-year-old Frenchman a taste of the famed Indian hospitality on his maiden India trip.


He is here with a clear agenda: sharing his vision and plans for Havas with Indian employees who make up nearly 450 of the 16,000 people that the Paris-head quartered group employs. In attendance were both creative and media operations headed by Nirmalya Sen and Anita Nayyar respectively. In India, currently both the creative and media businesses are nearly of the same size, according to Bollore.


In a world dominated by big-daddies like WPP, Publicis and Omnicom, the Paris-headquartered company does have a challenge when it comes to size and clout. Bollore is quick to point out, “Havas has the ideal scale. We are the fittest group in the industry today and our size is the key to our current success.” He avers that scale is very important but has its riders. For instance, if you give me another 10000 people – for free – I would not know what to do with them, he says. “It’ll just make us slower. I do not want to be the biggest. This (obsession) is nonsense, and for what?” The group’s organic growth is 5.1 per cent for 2014 without the impact of acquisitions or the exchange effect. Some of the sizable global business mandates include LG Electronics, Paypal, Disney, Emirates, Telefonica, Iglo etc.


Havas being part of a fully family-owned group, there are constant allusions to the dynastic approach and the inability to attract and retain talent. It’s not something that Bollore is too bothered by: “What makes Havas so different is precisely the fact that we are family owned. Being part of the Bolloré Group enables us to assert our independence and it even gives us a little more soul!” The ownership allows benefit from a long-term vision and huge resources as well as helps attract top-talent, he adds.


Closer home Havas in recent times has been known mostly for solid work on Reckitt Benckiser (RB) brands like Dettol along with output on Max New York, Red FM etc. Typically, the agency’s evolution in many markets including India has been characterised by over dependence on one major client. In India the business, at different times, has been pillared around Philips, Microsoft, Dell and RB. RB’s pre-dominance – it accounts for over one-third of the agency’s revenues for India – has also meant the agency adheres to a certain kind of functionally coded work. It’s delivered for Reckitt but not necessarily won plaudits for its creative partner. A definite quandary for an agency when its biggest client is not particularly known as among the most creative. It is changing, assures Bollore with the new global CEO taking charge at RB. They are becoming deliberately creative and pushing us harder, he adds.


Overall, he agrees that while good at working on communication for clients, Havas needs to work on itself. Moving forward, one of his key objectives is increasing the creative awareness of the Havas brand in all markets, India included. To be fair, Havas Creative, (formerly Euro RSCG), is amongst the youngest agencies in India – just about 20 years old in an ecosystem where the Top 5 have been around for perhaps 50 years or so, points out a former Havas senior executive on condition of anonymity.


In media, the brand has around 5 per cent market share in India and some of the key relationships include Parle Products, Hyundai, Quikr, LG Electronics, Tata Motors, Voltas India, etc. According to Bollore, “Since we have a more centralised organisation there is much more leverage with the media. We do not feel any problem of scale – we have the minimum scale on the local basis and on global basis we are one of the most high performing media networks, armed with all the programmatic and social tools as well as the partnerships with tech companies.” There are specialised offerings like Artemis (the global data management network), Mobext (mobile network), Socialyse (social networks) and Affiperf (global trading desk). Bollore cites the example of the Global Music Data Alliance set up with Universal that would enable the billions of data points that UMG and its artists generate through music, ticket and merchandising sales, streaming, social media and airplay to be aggregated and contextually analysed by the data scientists at Havas.


One weak spot on the group’s report card has been the lack of activity on the acquisition front especially in a world that is going ballistic acquiring companies, both globally and in India as well. Closer home, Havas is known to have been in talks with Rediffusion -Y&R and 22 feet, as per sources, with an acquisition agenda but neither of them eventually worked out. Bollore is not a great believer in acquiring companies just for the heck of it since, according to him, “it’s much more about how to integrate new companies than just acquiring.” The strategy is not to buy and collect companies but be integrated. For instance, the acquisition of the biggest crowd sourcing agency, Victors & Spoils in 2012 and its relevance. “We are now living in a sharing society. Consumers love to be part of the conversation and contribute to the brand experience and development; therefore we’ll see more and more open source campaigns”, he adds. “I’m not saying that the future of advertising will be in the hands of crowd sourcing agencies but it is very important to have one in-house in order to anticipate and understand the mechanics.”


One of the biggest tasks that Bollore has earmarked for himself is the creation of the ‘Havas Village’ – “essentially a place where we integrate all the teams from across the functions of creative, media and digital to deliver a unique experience and service to the client”, he says. The walls are being broken to foster collaboration, a process that was started two years ago and is being rolled out at most of the offices. The Gurgaon office is also getting set to move to a swankier Havas Village sometime next year, we are told.


While the blue-print of the village is being prepared, it is work as usual for Bollore as he goes about meeting local clients and also shares his plans to sneak off for a quick weekend-trip to Udaipur and Agra with his wife.


Source:The Economic Times

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