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Havas APAC turns focus on North Asia in bid to ‘scale quickly’ in Japan and Korea

Havas Group Asia-Pacific has set out plans to “scale quickly” in Korea and Japan, and pledged to invest more regional management support to achieve its ambitions, Mumbrella has learned.

An internal memo penned by Havas Asia Pacific chairman and chief executive, Mike Amour, spells out the need for additional resources in both markets – collectively referred to as North Asia – with acquisitions, new ventures and partnerships key to driving growth.

The plans emerged as Havas admitted to playing catch up with competitors in Asia Pacific.

In an email seen by Mumbrella, Amour described Japan and Korea as “two of the most important advertising markets in the world” that needed “top APAC management support” to ensure “long term success”.

Mike Amour: Acquisitions and partnerships will allow Havas to “scale quickly”

“Acquisitions and new ventures/partnerships in both countries will be central to our ability to scale quickly, smartly and profitably and we are currently very active in this area,” Amour wrote.

The operation will be overseen by Havas APAC chief growth officer Levent Guenes, who has taken the role of chairman and chief executive of North Asia. He will continue in his Singapore-based mergers and acquisitions role for the wider Asia Pacific market.

Havas Korea CEO Joseph Rhee, who is based in Seoul, and Havas Japan’s Tokyo-based CEO Steve Cox, are now reporting into Guenes.

Mumbrella understands, however, that Cox is soon to take a wider vice chairman role for North Asia, while a yet-to-be-named senior appointment is expected to help drive the business in Japan.

Levent Guenes: shifting focus to North Asia

Guenes confirmed Havas was placing greater focus on North Asia and told Mumbrella one of the key opportunities lay in its ownership by Vivendi, which he said could create a “powerful” force in the region.

“The Vivendi infrastructure, Havas included, is quite big in those markets and we just need to channel that power and make sure we find the right sweet spot to create something new out of that,” Guenes said. “I think we could be quite powerful, especially in Japan where, for example, Universal Music has 800 people.

“When you look at Universal Music, when you look at [Vivendi-owned] Gameloft, these are two significant companies that Havas has the opportunity to leverage and see what we can do. One of our objectives is to significantly reinforce our Vivendi structure.”

He added that Havas was prepared to invest “significant amounts of money in North Asia”, with projects already underway including a “particularly big one in Korea”.

“My focus has been on Australia and India but we will be shifting some of that focus to North Asia which coincides with my appointment as chairman and CEO for that region,” he said.

“Japan and Korea are the third and sixth largest markets in the world…..and there is big market share that is up for grabs. With what we have in terms of infrastructure, what we could leverage, and when you add in acquisitions, there is huge potential there.”

Guenes, a 16-year veteran of Havas who became chief growth officer for APAC in March 2017 when Havas merged its creative and media businesses, acknowledged the agency has been “late to the game” in Asia but was preparing to ramp up operations with “a quite significant acquisition pipeline”, including some already in due diligence.

While strong in Australia and China – but with the latter “nothing compared to what we should be” – Havas has not yet replicated its global presence in Asia and has “not been up to par with other networks”, Guenes admitted.

But that would change through acquisitions, partnerships and possibly joint ventures, he said, echoing the words of Amour.

Guenes cited the acquisitions of Australian conversion rate optimisation company, Catchi, and in India of healthcare agency Sorento as examples of its acquisitions strategy.

Another deal in India is expected in the next few months.

Joseph Rhee: Making progress in Korea

In the email, Amour noted the “recent success” in Korea under CEO Rhee and highlighted the addition of the BMW Korea creative account “that took our tiny operation to a now thriving staff of over 60 people”.

He added that Japan was “progressing well” under Cox and managing director Toshio Naka.

“However Japan and Korea continue to be 2 of the most important advertising markets in the world and I made a commitment to our local CEOs that we would invest more of our APAC top management support and time there in 2018 in order for our businesses to be positioned correctly for long-term success,” he wrote.

Amour said Guenes will bring his “experience of finance, business and people” to the North Asia role having “successfully created a unified Havas Creative South East Asia sub region across 9 disparate markets” prior to his current role.

Gurnes said his expanded remit was about “adding support” for the existing leaderships teams rather than “control”.

“That was a very important message that everyone understood,” he said.

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