Opinion

Has history come full circle at Havas?

Two decades ago, ad agencies unbundled their media departments. Two weeks ago, the creative and media arms of Havas moved into the same building in Singapore, as part of a push to become “the most integrated of all the communications groups”.

Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks paid a visit to the nearly refurbished ‘Havas Village’ on Robinson Road to ask Havas Worldwide Southeast Asia boss Naomi Troni and Havas Media Singapore and Malaysia CEO Melvin Lim how the move is working out.

Just because you’re now physically closer together, does this really mean that you have a more integrated offering?

Naomi Troni

Naomi Troni

Naomi Troni: Yes, it does. I used to come in to catch up with Melvin maybe once every three weeks. Now that he’s next door, if I have a question to ask, I can pop next door in seconds. It makes a huge difference in terms of how we communicate.

Melvin Lim: We’ve only been in this building for a few weeks, and even though the common pantry is not ready yet, we’re already starting to see human osmosis between the two agencies. Our people are talking about their clients’ business and starting to bond.

Even though you work in two different disciplines, could client conflict be a issue now that you’re physically closer together?

ML: We have firewalls that separate conflicting clients’ business, and media and creative have separate P&Ls.

To be truly integrated, don’t you have to have a single P&L?

ML: I don’t see us having separate P&Ls as an issue. On the media side, we have a single P&L across all of our brands, and both creative and media ultimately report into the same global P&L. But it’s really about a relationship. Naomi and I get on together; we work well as a team.

So beyond co-habiting, how do you work together as agencies?

ML: We share back-end systems, research and a social consultancy. But we looked at it from the client’s point of view. When a client talks to me about media and says by the way, can you help us with creative too, it’s an easy conversation to have.

NT: Clients hate taking on new agencies. It’s like changing banks. Taking on an agency that offers everything under one roof is an attractive solution.

ML: Agencies have made it harder for clients. There are now so many different disciplines, and clients have to call a number of different agencies to get what they want. The reason we rebranded [Havas Group dropped the creative agency brand Euro RSCG, and media brands MPG and Media Contacts, rebranding to Havas Worldwide and Havas Media] was to make things simpler. We have the different capabilities clients need, but no longer such a confusing array of agency brand names.

Can you give an example of how the integration might work for a single client?

ML: NTUC Fairprice [a large supermarket chain in Singapore]. That was one case study where our integrated model really worked in a pitch. The key ingredient in wining that piece of business [Havas won the account in June this year] was complete confidence and trust in the other team. I built a media plan around Naomi’s ideas.

The client separated out creative and media in the pitch, and our ideas and strategy were central to winning. But it was a bonus for the client to know that they could take on both media and creative together as a bundled proposition.

There is still a wall separating creative and media. Why don’t you knock it down?

Melvin Lim

Melvin Lim

ML: I won’t say that won’t happen. We’ve going in that direction. But we’re mindful of doing everything too quickly, otherwise we could face organisational shock. We need to make sure our staff are happy with the changes we make, and phase things in gradually.

What we’re not doing is going back to the old days when media was just a department in the basement. Things are more equal now. Besides, we’re having conversations with clients now that go beyond media plans, as the lines blur between the two disciplines.

We see this most keenly with digital, which is where our new model comes into its own. As an industry, media and creative agencies fight over digital. But here, we can pool our resources through the Havas digital group offering.

When will the Havas Village concept be rolled out across Asia?

NT: We are going to implement it in China, India and Indonesia next. But with a move like this, there will be advantages and also new challenges. The learnings we get from Singapore will be passed on to the other offices, so it makes sense to roll out in stages. We’re only the third office to do this globally – after Paris and New York.

What sort of challenges have you faced?

NT: Searching for the right office space. Melvin and I were like a married couple looking for a new home together. Because there’s no one leader of the Havas Village, you have to compromise and find somewhere that makes both parties happy.

What about cultural hurdles? Media and creative people are different. Has it been tricky sandwiching them together to create a unified culture?

ML: I’m not sure we are that different, just because the disciplines are. Media people tend to be more empirical by nature, creative types more conceptual. For true integration to happen it’s not about a single P&L, it’s about sharing a common culture.

So how would you define your culture?

ML:  As we are the smallest of the holding companies, we’ve a embraced a challenger brand mentality. We like to scrap. That feeds into our positioning of simplicity, client centricity and entrepreneurialism.

Do you share any people who work across both agencies?

NT: Beyond the receptionist, we haven’t created a position yet where we both pay half a salary yet. But that could well happen in time. We’ll see…

What about an HR manager? Many of the big holding companies such as WPP and Omnicom have heads of talent that work at a group level.

NT: We’ve talked about talent management, but we think that should come from the both of us. I interview everyone, from an intern to a head of strategy, to ensure that they understand my vision and our culture. That is not an HR person’s job, in my view. That’s my job, and it’s Melvin’s job.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months?

ML:  I have a three-year plan, which I base on four Cs. Consistency, in retaining and delighting clients. Courtship. We are still going after new business. The third is capability – enhancing out products, services and talent assets. Last is culture, which is built around our mantra of growing meaningful brands.

NT: I Have 5 Cs! No, for me, I’ve been here a year and a bit, and this year has been about trying to reinvigorate and rearchitect the Singapore office as hub for Southeast Asia. We had regional clients, but curiously not in Singapore. Now we have the likes of Seagate, Total, Merck and Danone baby food. We won a big pitch for NTUC Fairprice. There’s a ten per cent chance of the incumbent winning a pitch, but we won.

Now I want to bring a bit of life and fun back into the office. We spend a lot of time here, more than we do with our family or loved ones. We need to look out for each other, bring back the fun into the business, and make sure that we love what we do.

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