Havas Aims to Be Germany’s Most Innovative Agency

Vive la révolution!

Havas Worldwide had been unnoticed in Germany. But now the agency has an ambitious goal: it wants to become Germany’s most innovative network. But how?

The future is at the ground floor, and it might not look very revolutionary at first sight. It’s a big office. The room is a prototype that will prepare the Havas Düsseldorf employees for the future office situation. At the end of the year, the 15-year-old building will look differently. On the inside, anyway. Then there will be 30, maybe 40 rooms, small and big ones alike. Each will have different equipment: some with video conferencing systems, others more casually furnished. Not to mention the open plan office.

Since Euro RSCG (a French network agency that almost no one knew about) moved in, a lot has happened. Euro RSCG was renamed Havas Worldwide. And the agency group (with offices also in Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Munich) has been constantly growing. Two thirds of the clients, like Granini, Hermes, Deutsche Bank, and Yellow Strom, are local clients. And then, of course, the agency set itself an ambitious goal: “We want to be Germany’s most innovative network,” said CEO Christian Claus. He really means it. And the chances are good.

“Innovative.” It’s a term that many agencies adorn themselves with. It sounds good. It means change, progress, and, of course, the future. Yet still, when one thinks of German networks, this characteristic does not really come to mind. There’s BBDO and Ogilvy, two heavyweights that seem to follow their own courses imperturbably and react to changed market conditions faster than the others. But what about the rest? At the other end are brands like JWT and Y&R, both of which have lost their relevance. Then there’s the battered candidates like DDB. The Omnicom Network is now fighting to keep Telekom, its top client, and is at the moment without a leader, as its CEO and group creative director have left. (They switched to Havas Worldwide.)

Understandably. The French are stepping on the gas and are ready to spend money on it. Yannick Bolloré, CEO and son of the former Havas chairman, Vincent Bolloré, declared Germany, besides the BRICS countries, the most important investment area. Business is going splendidly for the agency, with 11,000 employees worldwide, better than the competition. In 2015 it grew by 17.5 %. And the war chest is well-filled. The German group recently acquired the social media agency beebop from Hamburg. Another, bigger acquisition will follow as well. The next acquisition will not be a specialized agency, but a bigger ad agency, one that will make Havas the biggest advertising agency in the country.

Claus has a free hand to carry his ideas into effect with a modern agency. During late summer 2015, he established, as the first one in the group, a new unit for content marketing: Havas Content. The department of around 30 employees works for all locations. As the next step, Claus will disestablish the now existing “unit system,” in favor of a “matrix organization.” Thus theoretically, all employees will be available for all clients. For example, the momentary client advisor for Reckitt Benckiser is the account manager Harald Jäger, who puts his own team together from in-house employees – whether he is looking for digital expertise or PR know-how – without having to take account of paralyzing payment systems. “One agency, one cash register” goes the slogan. Another advantage: fresh input. Thus, the client gets a more diverse agency. Such was the case for Deutsche Bank. Feeling that its team was too unilateral, the crisis-ridden company was about to look for another agency in 2015. Then the Deutsche Bank team at the agency became more diversified. And so the client stayed.

Of course, this is not an unusual practice. As topics like “agile marketing” or “design thinking” are adopted by more and more companies, there is almost no one left who does not consider “collaborative working” top priority. Yet still, it’s mostly small agencies that dare to experiment. Havas, with approximately 360 employees in Germany, is a real exception.

Even when it comes to project management. Advertisers are outsourcing more and more individual jobs either to various suppliers or to a pool of suppliers. This complicates the planning tremendously. Therefore, many agencies are working with small core staff and hiring freelancers on demand. Havas chooses another, more innovative, approach.

Matrix Organization Instead of Unit System

In the future, Havas employees will work with so-called “preferred clients.” Moreover, they will be able to dedicate a part of their time to other projects – if they want to, and as long as the capacity allows it. These employees’ work will be scheduled every week, and they will receive a “timetable,” similar to the one that one has at school. Whoever wants to cooperate will provide first a professional profile of the activities carried out at Havas and previously. Usually confidential information that lie dormant in the personnel files, this information will now be at the agency’s disposal. “No one has to do this”, says Claus. However the first talks showed that the employees neither consider their working schedule a sign of paternalism, nor refuse to disclose more.

For the agency, the availability of in-house knowledge is a huge advantage that it can capitalize on. An invitation to the Telekom pitch? First, let’s see which colleague worked with a telecom client before. A need for an account manager in change management? Let’s look at our own resources first! Something like this does not exist in other networks.

This is not the only talent change that Havas has made. The agency recently brought in Christian Kaub to manage business development. He also acts as marketing director and develops new concepts for all the external communication of the agency. He is supported by Christine Elkemann, head of PR. The group invests in professional self- marketing, something that is neglected by other networks. Most often, the CEO is the image for the press and has to control the agenda setting. This only works when the acting CEO is a real talent, has an affinity for the big stage, and manages to create enough freedom to be seen and heard. Otherwise, the image of the agency will suffer. Like at Scholz & Friends. Its boss, Frank-Michael Schmidt, avoided the media for one year. He had to learn the hard way that the reputation of the WPP agency group was worse afterwards, even though the previous successes suggested otherwise. Networks such as Publicis Pixelpark, McCann, and FCB are also lacking self-marketing.

Havas has a good reason to market itself so intensively. Almost no one associates a person, a story, or a certain culture with the brand. Unlike Ogilvy. Its founder, David Ogilvy, is present even today in the DNA of the agency – even 17 years after his death at the age of 88. On this topic, Havas has plenty of material for storytelling. Havas was founded in 1835 and thus is the world’s oldest agency. As a brand, Havas is the number one in Europe. And above all, a great advantage in Germany: the holding does not depend on the short leash of investors and stakeholders. This is well-received by clients.

Media and Creative Grow Together

Since 2004, the Bolloré family have been in charge. Successful entrepreneurs have come from this family for generations. And they expect entrepreneurial spirit and actions. “There are only two things that are really important in the discussions between the center and the countries”, says Claus. “Growth and ROI.”

Yet still, it is not just the family feeling that characterizes the agency group and makes it competitive. The right decisions are made at the right time. Just like the reintegration of media and creative some years ago. This happened at the moment when many competitors had been just talking about wanting to work more closely with their media colleagues who were separate legal entities, with different names and separate Profit and Lost Statements. Havas not only brought these two areas under one roof, but in many countries, these two disciplines are already in the same location, in so-called “Havas Villages.” Sometimes even as one legal entity. Not yet in Germany. Here, the model exists in a virtual form as a common board. Although, in the case of potential new clients, Christian Claus and Havas Media CEO Sven Traichel sometimes do work together. The duo already managed to get to the final of the multi-million Allianz pitch together.

It is not just about synergy, but also new practices in the ever more complex and fast world of communication. It is about real time advertising and coordinating the creative work with the use of media in real-time. “The most innovative aspect of Havas will be the way we will work together”, said Christian Claus. With or without open plan offices.


This article was originally published by W&V.