Why Hamid Habib is building a team of ‘T-shaped people’
The Media Leader Interview
Hamid Habib straddles Havas Entertainment and Havas Media Group in a dual role. But what made him return to agency life after writing them off as ‘bollocks’?
Hamid Habib jokes that his job title is one of those “stupid titles” where you have to explain what it does, typical of media jargon and acronyms he would love to do away with.
Habib has occupied the dual role of chief experience officer at Havas Media Group and deputy managing director at Havas Entertainment since November 2021.
He explains to me that there are three elements to Havas Media Group: Havas Market, Havas Media and Havas Entertainment.
But what’s the difference between them and why make the distinction?
Havas Market is all of the commerce clients who “lean” into Amazon and the like.
Havas Media, is for clients that have traditional brands and performance needs and like to “spike in culture every now and again”, while Havas entertainment is designed for clients that “live in culture”.
For example, a more traditional fashion brand may sit with Havas Media, while a brand like Puma goes better in Havas Entertainment, Habib says.
On top of that, Havas Entertainment is additionally split in to gaming, toys, film, TV, arts and culture, or as Habib says, “where all the fun stuff happens”.
Habib explains more about his role: “My deputy MD-ness of that is to shape the product, build the agency, inject a little bit more creativity in to what we do. The chief experience officer role is really knitting together strategy, creativity, creative solutions, data and analytics strategy and thinking beyond just what a media agency that will only stay in a major agency lane does.”
He says this “knitting together” involves helping unite a brand’s PR, influencer service, social, and in-house, with the media and creative agencies to help deal with “the complexity of client’s worlds today” to become “so much more powerful than the sum of its parts”.
This approach goes back to Habib’s background; he initially dropped out of a medical degree after throwing “an epic house party” leading to opening his own nightclub called Plastic People playing lower tempo Detroit and Chicago house, then did a stint in PR before going client-side in MTV and Nickelodeon.
From Nickelodeon, he got a call from Zenith to go and work for them with carte blanche, and he was very sceptical initially.
“I was then approached by Zenith. I remember getting a phone call and saying, you know what, I love it when I spent time with my creative agencies, and I’ve worked with a few of them now, but when my media agency comes to present to me, and I want to stick pencils up my nose and kill myself,” he laughs.
He was eventually convinced to join a special unit with a creative director, two designers and two strategists with a brief to do amazing work.
Afterwards, he moved across other media agencies like Starcom, OMD UK and finally Craft Media London and throughout his time in “agency land” worked in strategy, innovation, PR, data and analytics.
He added: “I think my background helps because I have worked client side because I did a stint in PR and stuff like that. I don’t understand why it doesn’t work together more. I think it’s egos, commercials, but really if you can make that stuff work hand in glove and you can help drive that integration collaboration then everyone wins.”
Why come back to Havas?
One of the reasons Habib came back to Havas was because of his connection to Patrick Affleck, Havas Media Group CEO who took on the role during the pandemic, but also how he sees the work they do as “much more honest, much more transparent” where he can say to a client they should move their media budget to PR for instance.
He points to a real-life example of this with a Havas Entertainment client UKTV.
Looking at the metrics they needed to shift, Habib said in a recent meeting with UKTV and its other teams that moving its media budget to PR would do a better job than “pumping out advertising”.
Then further along in the meeting, discussing a different aspect of the campaign, the PR representative suggested it would be better to give PR budget to media for that element as they would struggle to generate what was needed through what they could do, so the money would be better spent on media
“That for me is such a tiny thing, but it was such a great little moment where you go, a PR team or PR agency never says to the media agency takes some of our budget. The media agency never says to the PR team or PR agency take some of our budget, and here we are working together.”
This attitude of working together to do the right thing to get the best results is what attracted Habib to come back to Havas on a permanent basis.
He adds: “It’s actually a place where you go: what’s the right thing to do to get the best result and if we get the best results, that client is never going to leave you, they’re going to spend more money with you because they’ll want to take more of your services. You’re playing the long game, and that long game involves doing great work.”
He says: “I’d left big agencies and was like ‘I’m not coming back; I’ve had enough’ It’s all bollocks’. And then I came back to help with a project on Havas Entertainment, so I was lured back into big agency land.”
Leadership and work life balance
As a leader, Habib has learned several valuable lessons throughout his career and while his pandemic was mostly spent in Brighton paddleboarding with his family, it’s been a good opportunity to refocus on the balance across teams.
He still likes to be “at the centre of the maelstrom”. “When there’s loads of stuff going on, that’s probably when I’m at my happiest,” he says, but adds the work life balance is a much more important for him and his team now than it used to be.
“When you’re in the world of media, and you’re changing gear every few hours and you’re still thinking about your job, it’s not like it stops when you get home. So giving people an opportunity to actually switch off and do other things that they need to, like just do their washing and get the kids’ school uniform and stuff.
“I think people appreciate that. And when they appreciate that, it creates a positive culture. When you have a positive culture. They repay that back with quality stuff like being human and doing great work”
This balance ties in to leadership, as Habib finds the challenge is being in the detail enough to know what’s going on and take people on a journey but also setting benchmarks and expectations of what to expect people to deliver.
Leadership styles themselves have changed during his career as well from being more authoritative to inspirational, he says.
Building a blended team around him of “T-shaped” people is the key. Namely “stretchy people” with strong knowledge and skills in a particular area who are also flexible and can move in to other areas, combined with deep specialists is an important mix.
This would seem to be very on message as when he was appointed to his role, Nick Wright, managing director of Havas Entertainment, said: “His T-shaped skills and ability to operate across the whole media mix make him a hugely valuable asset.”
Surrounding yourself with people who are cleverer than you is also crucial to being a good leader.
He explains: “As a leader, I really believe in that “hire people who are better than you” type thing which always makes you a little bit nervous. As you do that, it allows you to look up and keep pushing yourself.”
While at MTV, Habib learned a particularly important business lesson that has stuck with him ever since: “You have to evolve when you are in your ascendancy, don’t wait to plateau and definitely don’t wait for things to go wrong, otherwise you’re met with so much resistance and inertia and people dig in rather than go- let’s embrace change. It’s easier to embrace change when times are good, and they weren’t doing that.”
During his time at Nickelodeon, they had a philosophy to “prepare people to be perfect for their next job interview”.
He explained: “It’s a really interesting way of thinking about, how do we always keep evolving people, training them, making sure they’re as upskilled as they can be? And you know, the irony of that being they will never want to leave if they’re always evolving. So, I’ve taken that philosophy through to today, how can we always keep developing and pushing people.”
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