Havas grasps digital nettle

2 September 2014

PARIS: The successful move of the Havas advertising group to embrace digital was in part a consequence of the planned merger between Publicis and Omnicom, according to its top executive.

While that union eventually fell apart, chairman and CEO Yannick Bolloré told the Financial Times that it had kept him awake at night. "It made me think a lot about scale and it forced us to accelerate the pace of change," he said.

The change he referred to has involved shifting the emphasis of the group towards digital and fully exploiting the volume of data that are now available to marketers. "There has never been so much data out there," he stated. "But what is the point if you cannot use it to give business insight to your clients?"

In evidence, he claimed that recruiting increased numbers of mathematicians to crunch the numbers had led to higher online conversion rates.

The other plank of his strategy has been to foster greater internal teamwork, and that has meant the integration of its creative and media-buying operations.

As Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Worldwide, recently told the Wall Street Journal: "Our clients don't de-couple creative and media when they're thinking about driving their business so we're trying not to as well."

As regards scale, Bolloré suggested that Havas already had sufficient reach – with 16,000 employees and a presence in more than 100 countries – to deal with global clients.

His colleagues offered alternative views of the arguments around size. "Big is great, big is beautiful, but agility and speed is better today," said Dominique Delport, global managing director for Havas Media Group.

Benett came back to digital: "As long as we're a leader in technology, which we're doing in many ways, scale becomes almost irrelevant," he said.

Data sourced from Financial Times, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff