Patrick Affleck: everyone doubted why I took Havas job during pandemic

Patrick Affleck: everyone doubted why I took Havas job during pandemic

The Media Leader interview

It took more than a year for Patrick Affleck to meet all of his colleagues face-to-face after becoming Havas Media Group CEO during the pandemic. But what kind of leader is this self-described ‘closet creative’ and ‘digital evangelist’?

Starting a leadership role at a new company can be difficult at the best of times, but Patrick Affleck (known to most as ‘Paddy’) admits his move to Havas Media Group as CEO was a daunting prospect.

Affleck was leaving Dentsu after more than 10 years, having joined media agency Vizeum before it was sold to the Japanese advertising giant, and was doing it in the middle of a global pandemic.

“The Havas job came up and it was that strange one: I accepted a new role in another group and then the pandemic happened,” Affleck says. “So then everyone then thought I was slightly ‘mental’.

“I was just going – genuinely in apprehension – oh my god, how am I going to get to understand this network in these type of conditions? But it’s been really enjoyable.”

Now Affleck is speaking to Mediatel News ahead of Mediatel’s annual Media Leaders Awards, for which the Havas Media boss is one of four nominees for the prestigious Grand Prix Award.

‘Digital evangelist’

It is perhaps Affleck’s baptism of fire at Havas that has motivated his leadership style. He joined the business during the summer between lockdowns so he could go into the office and meet his management team before the winter restrictions came back in.

However, it was not until August 2021 – more than a year later – that he was able to address the whole group in person in a company event in Regent’s Park. This gathering including 126 people who joined during the pandemic and had not had a chance to meet each other.

Affleck was finally able to do what he says he loves: bringing people together rather than appear to his employees as “a floating head” on Zoom.

“Everyone feeds off [each other’s] energy. Without actually being able to bring people together like that every now and then; I just don’t think people feel that they’re connected to anything.”

Not that he wants everyone feel obliged to come back in to the office all the time: “We’re keeping it two days a week for the foreseeable and giving people absolute flexibility. But when people are together, and when they’re in these big sessions as an agency, I think they understand a bit more about what they’re actually part of, which is really important.”

Affleck came into the media industry through a digital route, describing himself as a “digital evangelist”, joining a tech start-up straight out of university that went bust a few months later, moving to a search agency on to Publicis Groupe and then finally Dentsu for 13 years.

In his time at the group he worked across agencies and continents with roles at Vizeum, 360i, Fetch and Dentsu X but decided to leave to move to Havas Media Group in July 2020.

What makes a good leader?

On the subject of leadership, Affleck remembers advice that Gerry Boyle, now global chief media officer at Publicis Groupe, gave him 15 years ago but has stuck with him ever since.

“You’ve got to remember that there are a lot of things that you will do to make people better in their job and you can’t necessarily take responsibility or claim for that. You’re almost a silent partner because you’re trying to raise the floor of everyone.”

“Good leaders ultimately need to just make sure that they are enabling people to do much better work. What they shouldn’t be doing is to try and take the claim for all of that stuff as a result of it. Identifying the need to actually bring individuals in and empowering those individuals and utilising their particular skill sets that is, in my eyes, a really good leader.”

Affleck highlights constantly listening, reacting and giving people a sense of shared ownership rather than being “too authoritarian and top-down” was important for leadership and productivity.

He stresses prioritising employee wellbeing, a sense of community and balance, especially throughout the pandemic.

Some initiatives with this focus included setting up a representative group of employees to feed back to leadership, organising a “goal-setting day” last February and having “a proper ear to the ground” with the Havas Media leadership team made more available than ever before. All of which helped the business and productivity.

Affleck also points to Havas Boost, an initiative to fund and support media and tech start-ups run by underrepresented groups, as a positive outcome of this communication. It was actually Havas’ finance team that first came to the leadership team with the idea, he says.

Metaverse: ‘we’ve been here before’

On changes coming to media this year, Affleck says with a laugh: “It is funny at the moment we’ve got all this stuff going on with the Metaverse. It’s just a repeat of where we were 10 years ago with Second Life – it’s just it’s moved forward a little bit more, but we have been here before.”

While these technological innovations can feel “a little bit circular”, other things to watch out for for Affleck this year include bridging “the disconnect” between creative and media and pushing conventions in the industry on subjects like ethical media, sustainable behaviour, transparency and diversity.

Describing himself as “a closet creative at heart” he comments that with the rise of technology and opportunities to deliver more creative experiences across a range of connected paid media and owned platforms, both sides need to think about how, what and why they are delivering for the consumer and need to work in “a much more synergistic way” where that makes sense for the client.

Not just building but also promoting ethical media ecosystems for everyone, not as “a box-ticking exercise” is also “essential” for building trust with brands and consumers, and for the health of the industry, Affleck says.

See the full shortlist for Mediatel’s Media Leader Awards 2022, with the winners to be announced on 23 February.

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