Meaning Over Money

Traditionally, the ultimate goal of marketing has been to create campaigns that convince consumers to buy products—both over the short and long term. However in recent years, there’s been a more modified, burgeoning aim for marketers that’s fueling several of today’s most notable, modern campaigns: having a purpose. Although the end goal remains to get people to buy—hopefully several times over—the team at Havas Lemz is called to an even higher objective. Willem van der Schoot, CEO of Havas Lemz in Amsterdam, explains how his agency isn’t just marketing products and services but is making a true difference.


Your agency seems to have a greater goal: improving the world and helping clients win a Nobel Prize. Can you tell us how your team is going about doing that with your clients?

In the past, it seemed that marketing was mainly focused on fulfilling hedonistic needs, but we found that people are waiting for brands to help them help others. Helping others gives people meaning and that’s so much desired these days. Who doesn’t want to live a meaningful life? So because of that, people are eager to embrace brands that open up their altruistic hearts. And these altruistic brands, or prosocial brands as we like to call them, have the potential create a huge force for good in the world.

Or in short, we like to put meaning over money. This is the lens we use for everything we do, whether it is work we do for companies that are already on the right track, or organisations and brands that want to take steps to become more meaningful. If you look at things this way this always gives you the right focus. We try to make our clients set the right priorities: make this world a better place, win a Nobel Prize, and, as a consequence, sell more.

Name some of your more notable clients.

IKEA, State Lottery, and Terre des Hommes to name a few.

What are some recent projects that you and your team are most proud of?

Sweetie is one of the most spectacular projects we have done to date. It demonstrates what happens if we use our creative talents in the most radical way. In this case, we use our talents to create a campaign that fights against online child abuse.

Our wish is to gather all creatives from Havas, all over the world and to share all learnings to create world changing cases. Our learnings so far. More to come soon, we hope.

‘Sweetie’ for Terre des Hommes from Havas Lemz on Vimeo.

At the recent Havas GLM, you spoke about the 11 people an agency must have. Can you explain who those people are and why they are essential?

Eight years ago we decided to make our agency scalable, based on what we discovered to be the most optimal size for our agency: 11 people. Large enough to handle big projects and clients, small enough to feel like a startup with no unnecessary rules or processes. A bit like a soccer team. Allround players, but also with specific talents that all together brings out the best in the team. We call it ‘Zones’ and they have their own P&L to encourage entrepreneurship and transparency. Clients have a sense of belonging, they feel part of their Zone. Each Zone—we currently have six—is run by a Zone Manager, a creative director and a strategy director. Then there usually is five creatives and three creative producers though it varies per Zone depending on the set of clients. Deliberately the Zones have no specialty (i.e., retail); they are all small, all round entities of Havas Lemz. This way we can scale up and down in numbers of Zones without damaging the culture, reputation or talent build up of the agency. External or internal (e.g., from Havas Media) specialists of all kinds are attached to the Zones whenever needed.


What is your POV on unleashing creatives to solve problems?

We live in interesting times with a lot of challenges. We have the sacred gift of creativity though and if we use it for good, we can solve anything and everything. It will be a big win and good fun for everyone involved, the brands we work for and the world.

What specific unique opportunities and challenges are there in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is a great place to work and live. It is a small city but very creative and with good conditions for companies. Many big companies have their European or global headquarters in Amsterdam which makes it strategically important for Havas. As conditions are so good, there is also hypercompetition amongst creative companies. There are thousands of agencies which make it a crowded place. There is a constant risk of commodotisation, which makes it essential to innovate and to add value to our clients. At the moment we serve mainly Dutch clients, but the ambition is to work more and more across borders. This was one of the reasons to join Havas.



Why did it make sense for you to join the Havas family?

For the last two years, we have been actively searching for a global partner. In the first place because we wanted to have more impact on the world. If winning a Nobel Prize is your ‘man on the moon’, then you certainly have to aim high and be part of a big player. In our search, we talked to business consultancies, media agencies and companies, philantrops, PR agencies and ad agencies. All of these are evolving and converging. More and more companies value authentic and unique creativity and there seems a tipping point for companies to become more meaningful. So we took the time to explore what would be our best next step. We got in touch with Christian de la Villehuchet and Jacques Dillies, and from the first moment we all felt the right chemistry. Yannick (Bolloré, CEO) later on completely confirmed the feeling that we had to join forces. ‘Creating meaningful connections..’ was for us positioning wise the right handshake, and the culture, the family owned aspect and freedom to keep and grow your couleur locale was for us very convincing. This new phase is very exciting in many ways. We merged with Havas Boondoggle, moved into a beautiful building in the heart of Amsterdam and in three weeks Havas Media will join us in The Village. This is a new ballgame. It is about meaningfulness, yes, but also about holistic thinking, seamless, working together, innovation with the speed of light and reinvention of our business—all at the same time.