Yannick Bolloré reveals what’s next for media, Havas, and avoiding ‘greenwashing’ for Shell
The Future of Media
The Vivendi and Havas chief told delegates at The Future of Media about the importance of media companies thinking global, growth acquisition strategies and the decision to work with Shell.
Yannick Bolloré, chairman and CEO of Vivendi, owner of Havas and Groupe Canal+, told delegates of the Future of Media conference that “nothing is going to be more important” for the media industry in the coming years than “thinking global”.
Speaking in an interview at the Future of Media conference in London today with editor-in-chief Omar Oakes, Bolloré said:
>> It has become more important for advertising and media companies to have a global approach as major international cities become “the same”.
>> Explaining the recent acquisition of ad agency Uncommon, he insisted creative thinking is more important than ever but there is further work to do in breaking down silos with media.
>> Shell, the global energy producer, will be held to account over its “meaningful transition journey” as a way of avoiding Havas being an agent of “greenwashing” as it takes on global media duties.
Bolloré on Media 3.0
It’s “really important” that every business in the media industry builds global reach either through acquisitions or partnerships,” Bolloré said when asked about what is driving the strategy around Havas, the integrated ad agency group, and Vivendi, the media conglomerate that de-listed Havas and took it private after acquiring a majority stake from parent company Bolloré Group.
“It’s very, very important to have global teams all around the world,” Bolloré said. “Maybe be stronger in some regions, but in today’s world we need to think global and nothing is going to be more important in the coming years.”
This view was different to one he would have shared 15 years ago, Bolloré explained. He would have said “globalisation is not very important” as advertising was localising in different countries, and even having different agencies for cities within the same county.
However, Bolloré now sees the world as becoming “more and more the same” with retail experiences and platforms where people can see “the same kind of advertising” in London, New York, Chicago, Paris and Singapore.
The aim for his own company, he added, was to build “the world leader in media and communications” and that media 3.0 meant the landscape was “getting more complex”, and in the media industry, the more complex, the better it gets for media agencies.
Strategy can be opportunity ‘post-rationalised’
Bolloré has been chairman of Vivendi since 2018 and in that time the company has made acquisitions across advertising, publishing, and entertainment. He defined its “strategic roadmap” as oriented around “three gears”; transformation, internationalisation and integration.
“It’s very important that as a group, as any group is presented here today, in this very room, we help all our businesses, all the agencies, to transform themselves. If you consider what has happened in the past 10-15 years, what is happening today and what’s going to happen in the next 10 years, it’s very important to adapt and to train your people not just about the digital or social revolution or artificial intelligence. It’s very important to be at the forefront of innovation.”
Asked whether Vivendi’s acquisition record was “more opportunistic rather than strategic”, Bolloré insisted it was important to for a media conglomerate to be “agile” and quipped that “strategy” was a term often used to post-rationalise opportunistic moves.
He said integration for Vivendi was focussed on creating something “better together than before” as they operate in different fields of activity like TV (Canal Plus), communication (Havas), publishing (Lagardere) and video games (Gameloft), including companies it has fully acquired and others it is a shareholder in.
Bolloré said businesses joining the Vivendi group are “going to benefit” and, in particular, Havas being part of a larger group during tough times like the Covid-19 pandemic were both “gamechangers”. As a result Havas was the only agency group not to make any layoffs during the pandemic and be public about it, which he said was “a very smart business decision” because Havas was under less pressure to hire back people on higher salaries during the industry bounceback in late 2020 and 2021.
“When the business came back very rapidly at the end of 2020/2021. We had all our workforce to profitability, they knew that they could count on their company and that kind of relationship in today’s world where talent is very hard to keep, to attract and to retain gives an extra motivation and loyalty to employees towards their professional family.”
Creative and media better together
Bolloré said he was “a huge believer” in the need for creative and media to work together for clients. He pushed back against Oakes’ suggestion that holding groups like Havas makes the bulk of its money from media planning and buying services; he revealed that this year Vivendi’s income will be derived roughly equally between media, creative and health.
This is why Havas invested in a majority stake in Uncommon Creative Studio, one of the UK’s best-regarded independent ad agencies, earlier this year. While Bolloré was adamant that creative is still highly important to Havas’ marketing communications offer, he signalled that there is more to do in terms of integrating creative and media thinking for clients.
Asked whether he can guarantee Uncommon’s sustained impact within Havas with the agency’s founders being on an earn-out agreement (it is typical for founders to cash out and leave), Bolloré pointed to French creative shop BETC’s founders who are still active nearly 30 years later, such as Remi Babinet who is Havas’ global chief creative officer.
He characterised the industry as being “very agency centric” 10 years ago, where agencies expected clients to adapt to their structures, and in his organisation, creative and media teams working on the same clients had never met each other as they were working in silos.
Bolloré explained this is how he got to the idea to create “the together strategy” where Havas employees were moved to the same locations around the world, for instance in London to their King’s Cross office, and changed to a client-centric approach.
“I believe creativity is key because we’re here to talk about the future of media. I don’t know what the media landscape will look like in 10 years, I may be dead by then, but what is for sure is that people will get access to more and more media which means that the media landscape will get even more saturated. So, if you want to be able to create a message that will reach these consumers, prospects, people and brands, we need to find a way to be super creative, otherwise people will not remember it,” Bolloré commented.
“In today’s world, we can no longer just pay for people’s attention. It’s not just about the paid media, for example you invest a million pounds to get extra [gross rating points], and we just have repetition and products are going to be an asset by themselves. That’s not at all what it is — you need to be creative.”
He highlighted research from Cannes Lions that found awarded campaigns were 11 times more effective than non-awarded campaigns, making the case for creativity in advertising.
“When you create something super creative, or are being perceived as being creative, people will remember it better, it will drive more sales from a business standpoint. So, I’m a huge believer that creativity and media needs to be working together.”
Bolloré on greenwashing
Oakes asked Bolloré for his perspective on working with fossil fuel giant Shell as Havas had just won its global account.
He deemed it “a very important question” and said that it raised the question of not just working with one company, but how to work with clients from a spread of “controversial industries” like pharmaceutical, car, airline or petrol companies he cited as a few examples.
He emphasised both media companies and advertising groups “have a responsibility” to use their power and ability to influence people’s behaviour “for good”.
Bolloré said he “fully endorsed” the decision of the group and that the company had discussions about the pros and cons around Shell when they were invited to pitch.
He added: “In general, the most effective change comes from within. I believe that in our industry, as in any industry, as in any diplomatic relationship between countries, even if it’s hard, we need to keep the dialogue open and my belief is that our industry should be able to work with any industry as long as, and this is important, they are themselves on a meaningful transition journey.”
He said the team will be scrutinising this particular account to make sure they do no participate in any greenwashing, for which Havas has a policy.
“We need to give a chance to any company to do better themselves and try to embark on making a positive, meaningful, effective difference.”
Yannick Bolloré spoke to The Media Leader editor-in-chief Omar Oakes at this publication’s flagship event, The Future of Media, in London. Other speakers on day one included Sir Martin Sorrell (S4 Capital), Gayle Noah (L’Oréal), Ian Whittaker (Liberty Sky Advisors), Karen Stacey (DCM), Dominic Carter (News UK), and Lisa Walker (Vodafone).