Adweek’s U.S. Media Agency of the Year secured midsize clients like TracFone, Hallmark and Swarovski
The first “get to know you” meeting between Havas Media North America’s incoming CEO Colin Kinsella and his new employees last May did not occur in the most glamorous of settings.
“I met the team, essentially, in a hotel room in Miami working on the TracFone pitch,” recalls Kinsella, the former Mindshare North America chief who Havas brought on to run its media division last March. “Obviously they were very nervous, [but] I got everybody to really loosen up and not feel the pressure of the pitch.”
Whatever Kinsella did to soothe his team’s nerves, it worked: Havas beat out Horizon, UM and incumbent Mediavest to win agency of record duties for the rapidly expanding prepaid cellphone company, which is expected to spend up to $300 million on marketing in North America this year.
Thus began a series of wins—including Universal Music Group, Swarovski, Hallmark and Dow Jones—that amounted to $700 million ≈ box office sales of Star Wars Ep. VI: Return of the Jedi, 1983
“>[≈ box office sales of The Lion King, 1994] in new media spend, contributed to revenue growth in the 40 percent range, solidified the self-described “humble” network’s client roster and played a large role in securing Adweek’s U.S. Media Agency of the Year for 2016.
“If there’s one thing I want you to remember about Havas,” says Kinsella, “it’s #BetterTogether. When I start a new business pitch, that’s the first line.”
Over the past several years, every agency holding company has tried to address the splintering of legacy business models in its own way. Publicis vowed to end all silos via consolidation, Omnicom created an independent unit dedicated to McDonald’s, and DDB opted to “Flex” its muscles by pulling talent from disparate agencies to work on shared accounts. For Havas Worldwide, the “Village” model finally began to pay off in 2016 after three years of development.
In short, the Village approach involves housing all elements of an agency’s operations under the same roof with a flat structure across divisions. An ideal scenario would involve one office handling as many aspects of a given piece of business as possible, from creative to PR to paid media. “It’s easy to say, ‘We’re the sixth biggest holding company, so we have to be nimble,’” says Havas Media Boston president George Sargent, “but the organization is incredibly focused. The dream is that we have both creative and media for more clients.”
As a privately held business, Havas has not gone too far out of its way to promote the Village since its 2013 launch. “We’re not that type of agency that goes out drumming on about what we do,” explains Barb Kittridge, evp of business development. “From a new business perspective, you have to balance humility with realizing we have a fantastic story to tell in the marketplace.”
But word has gotten out. “I saw them as one of the better-kept secrets in the industry,” adds North American president Shane Ankeney, who joined the network last year and characterized the Village as a “partnership of equals.
“As corny as it may sound, Havas Media helped the Village find its voice in 2016,” Ankeney says.
This philosophy isn’t just the embodiment of the schoolyard cliche “there’s no ‘I’ in team”—it’s also a physical reality. “Don’t underestimate the power of an office,” says Kinsella, noting the strategic placement of staircases in central locations on each floor of the New York office. “We force people to run into each other. That’s where a lot of the conversations are happening.”
Sargent argues that, while larger holding companies create consolidated teams to service big spenders like McDonald’s, P&G or AT&T, his network applies the same basic concept to clients like TracFone with more limited budgets.
While Havas has concentrated its efforts successfully at midsize clients, thanks in part to the string of wins, its pitches are also growing larger: the shop reached the final stages of reviews for big spenders like General Mills and 20th Century Fox last year and ended 2016 by beating out rivals (Kinsella declined to identify any) to win the $70 million [≈ Finance industry 2011 political donations to Republicans] TD Bank account.
Phil Dunphy, realtor
No single project better encapsulates the Village model’s ideal than last year’s collaboration between ABC sitcom juggernaut Modern Family and Havas client the National Association of Realtors.
Most people don’t understand the difference between realtors and real estate agents (who must be employed by a broker). But a Havas NAR team led by chief strategy and development officer Greg James pitched the idea that the show’s long-suffering dad Phil Dunphy—a professional realtor played by Ty Burrell—was the best party to remind the public of that distinction.
“One of the rarest things in this industry is when you pitch an idea and see the idea, verbatim, come to life a year later,” explains James. The show’s producers and co-creators Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan bought into the NAR’s pitch almost immediately. But the complexity of its execution, which involved an unprecedented degree of integration from both production company 20th Century Fox TV and network ABC, made the project especially challenging.
Levitan and his team ended up writing the entire episode around the pitch, and it ended with an exchange that might double as the trade group’s mission statement: “What are you, a real estate agent? No, I’m a realtor.”
Havas sister shop Arnold Boston created a series of related “Phil’s-osophies” ads, which aired before and after the show. Kinsella notes that Havas PR played a significant role, with actor Burrell appearing on Good Morning America the next day to joke about being “the face of real estate.” The project also allowed Havas to promote itself indirectly: The Wall Street Journal produced a video case study, and James completed filming an NBC interview on product integration only minutes before speaking to Adweek for this story.
According to Kinsella, the campaign managed to combine data, strategy, creative and earned media while proving his theory that old-fashioned TV is on the upswing. “[With TV] you can create an emotional connection that you can’t in other mediums,” he says, adding that many of his clients have recently scaled back their digital budgets in favor of running more “traditional” ads.
Of course Havas, like every planning and buying shop, aims to master all media.
Power of performance
TD Bank evp and chief marketing officer Patrick McLean explains that Havas won the 2016 pitch, in large part, by tying its media buys to sales goals. “At one point in the final round of the pitch, Shane Ankeney said, ‘We believe all media is performance media,’” McLean remembers. “That really aligned with how we think about our media strategy.”
McLean also mentions the appeal of Havas’ long-standing relationships with clients like LVMH and Choice Hotels. The latter, which has worked with the network for more than a decade, opted to stay with Havas over 11 challengers in a 2016 review.
Michelle Holmes, Choice Hotels’ vp of digital, media and consumer acquisition, echoes McLean in crediting the agency’s “analytics-driven perspective,” as she calls it. “They are always proactive in bringing those insights to us before we hear about it in the market or industry trades,” says Holmes. “Other partners [in the review] were spectacular, but Havas was still superior.”
Clients also vouch for claims that Havas takes more unconventional approaches. Rodney Williams, Moët Hennessy’s CMO and evp of brands, worked with the shop on a relaunch of the Hennessy brand more than six years ago and appreciates the broader perspective the agency brought to the table. “Traditionally, spirits brands have relied on out of home, but the Havas media plan was very comprehensive,” he says. “They have a hunger and they very much work as the challenger versus the incumbent.”
Yet, despite the clients’ focus on analytics, CEO Kinsella pushes back against the common industry narrative casting metrics as the future of advertising.
“I don’t think anyone has a unique proposition when it comes to data,” says Kinsella. “A ton of data doesn’t mean it’s better; it just means you have more of it.”
Kinsella’s approach differs from those of WPP’s GroupM and Omnicom’s Hearts & Science, the latter of which used its in-house data system Annalect in 2016 to help win America’s two biggest advertisers, P&G and AT&T (see related story on page 28). WPP CEO Martin Sorrell recently told a crowd at CES that WPP had “failed” to properly integrate its data—claiming that his company’s first-party approach would help differentiate it from other media networks that don’t own the data they use.
Kinsella respectfully disagrees. “I don’t think that data is going to be where the battle ends up; it’s going to be a combination of media platforms and the creative ideas that you put on those platforms,” he notes, adding that he doesn’t think most clients believe other media shops’ pitches about the uniqueness of their data offerings.
This decision to avoid self-serving claims is in keeping with the Village model. James also argues that it could eliminate the tribalist instincts that can divide different teams working on the same accounts.
“[We’re] making sure people are working under one P&L and not trying to protect their own fiefdoms,” he says. This mindset may also facilitate what James calls “a natural absorption of skills … If a planner turns up to a client meeting with another creative shop, they will be better at the job because they’ve been exposed to creatives in their own Village.
“We’ve eliminated complexity,” James adds, arguing that clients are right to wonder, when told that employees X and Y serve on different teams, whether they work for the same company with the same shared goals.
“From day one, Colin brought in a cultural imperative: that we be a no-jerks-allowed organization,” says Sargent. “He’s very low drama, empathetic and respectful; he’s always on time to meetings. It’s amazing how that stuff spreads.” Kinsella adds, “There’s a whole thing built around respect, and I think it changes the culture rather quickly.”
The maturation of the Village hasn’t always been smooth. Chris Jones, svp, marketing and communications, notes that Havas Media once fired five CEOs in a single day while struggling through an implementation process that involved “a lot of painstaking work.” The larger organization also went through a significant leadership change as Havas Creative Group parted with global CEO Andrew Benett at the end of January after 13 years; holding company chairman and CEO Yannick Bolloré (son of founder Vincent Bolloré) took over Benett’s duties.
But the network’s new leaders see the past year as a final stage in the Village’s first chapter. Kinsella describes 2017 as “a year of action,” adding, “all we want in this organization is to get things in the marketplace for our clients.
“We’re nine months in, so I hope this is the beginning of an incredibly long run for us,” Kinsella says, noting that Havas Media was currently involved in more than nine active pitches. “But it’s a crazy industry. You never get cocky, that’s for sure.”
“Cocky” may not be the first word an outsider would use to describe Havas Media. But its leadership might be forgiven for feeling a little more confident in 2017.