No algorithm will replace the creative magic of humans: Yannick Bolloré

Bolloré, Chairman and CEO of Havas, on the ideal size for an agency, priorities for the year ahead and talent being the topmost consideration at Havas

e4m by Aliefya Vahanvaty
Published: Mar 17, 2015 8:26 AM  | 6 min read
No algorithm will replace the creative magic of humans: Yannick Bolloré

Thirty-five-year-old Yannick Bolloré is the youngest global CEO among the holding agencies in the media domain. After graduating from Paris-Dauphine University, Bolloré had co-founded cinema production company WY Productions (Hell, YSL) in 2002. From 2006 to 2012, he was CEO at Bolloré Média, the audio-visual and press division of the Bolloré Group which includes the daily freesheet Direct Matin, advertising network Bolloré Intermedia, polling institute CSA, and TV channels Direct 8, Direct Star and Direct Cinéma. Under his leadership, Bolloré Media became the No. 1 independent audio-visual group in France.

In September 2011, he signed a deal to sell the Bolloré Média TV division to Canal+ in exchange for Vivendi shares for €465 million. Bolloré joined the Havas Group in 2011 when he was appointed Vice-President. In 2012, he was named Directeur Général Délégué and in 2013 Bolloré became Chairman of Havas. In January 2014, he assumed additional responsibility as CEO of the Group.

Yannick Bolloré speaks on the ideal size for an agency,  priorities for the year ahead and talent being the topmost consideration at Havas. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

When you took over as CEO of Havas in early 2014, you had said, ‘We are big enough to manage global clients…but at the same time, not too big. We can still change and adapt. Our scale is ideal.’ Do you believe this still holds true or would mergers and acquisitions be at a higher priority in 2015?

I still strongly believe Havas’ scale is ideal. We are the fittest group in our industry today and our size is key to our current success. We will continue to follow our very cautious acquisition policy which gives priority to diversified and targeted agencies bringing value to all Havas stakeholders.

Do you aspire to take Havas to be among the top 3 media agencies worldwide in terms of size?

As long as you’re a global player scale doesn't matter - talent matters. Without talent we are nothing! But as a global player, it is important to maintain agility. If a company gets too big, it becomes slow to adapt to a changing environment.

Havas has invested in entertainment Universal Music Group and content (NewsCred) options as a way to carve a niche for itself in the hugely competitive media agency domain. How do you see this evolve in the future?

Consumers have never been thirstier for content than they are today and this means brands have never been in greater need to produce meaningful content. Our partnership with NewsCred is taking our content offering for our clients to a new level. The Global Music Data Alliance we have set-up with Universal will enable the billions of data points that UMG and its artists generate through music, ticket and merchandising sales, streaming, social media and airplay to be aggregated and contextually analysed by Havas’ world-class algorithmic and data scientists.

Through both these partnerships, Havas clients will be able to boost their content marketing capabilities to engage with consumers with greater relevancy, increased consistency, better efficiency and higher returns, at every step of the consumer journey. In the future, we will increasingly see that the borders between traditional disciplines of our industry and other sectors such as entertainment (music, cinema, fashion…) will be blurred.

The first Havas Village was established in Paris two-and-a-half years ago; since then, 25 more have been set up across the world, as part of a large-scale, global consolidation and rebranding effort by Havas. Has the Group benefited from this move?

Havas is the only comms group to have adopted a business model based on collaboration between media, digital and creative teams. This strategy is largely contributing to our sound growth. Havas Village is our promise to our customers that we can look beyond our individual identities and work together, create project groups, strive hand in hand and pool our expertise. In India Havas Villages exist in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Can you share with us three aspects in which you think Havas can do better?

We strive for perfection but there is room for improvement in everything we do. Our top priority is the quality of service we provide to our clients and winning new business, I admit that we could possibly devote more time to submitting work to the international and local festivals that exist in our industry in order to win more awards and increase our creative reputation.

What are your priorities in leading the group globally and charting its growth strategy for 2015?

2014 was a particularly strong year for Havas and we are experiencing a positive momentum which allows us to approach 2015 with confidence. We are a people business; so continuing to invest in top talent is one of our priorities. We will also continue to drive our collaboration strategy throughout all our teams all over the world. Our client satisfaction rate is high, that Havas has made the right acquisitions, is continuing to attract talent and winning major pitches around the world. Havas is at an extremely positive moment in its history. Our challenge is to anticipate our clients’ needs and become a truly global business partner and not just a supplier. Optimizing synergies between the Havas and Bolloré groups is a big step towards this.

Where does India rank as a market for Havas? Any specific plans or direction for Havas India?

India is certainly a priority market for Havas and is constantly a top performing market in Asia Pacific. We are looking at and will see a lot more digital and mobile focus in India. Allow me to remind you that Havas is a digital and mobile at the core company.

Havas has recently stepped up its hiring of mathematicians such as data scientists and developers. How has this mix of creativity and math proved to be an advantage for Havas and its clients?

We are seeing the extent to which technology has disrupted our industry and it is crucial to make sense of all the available data and use it to help us ask and answer the simple, but larger strategic questions: what do we need, why do we need it and how do we get it? All this is changing the profile of communications group staff. We are seeing a new, more high-tech profile emerging – engineers, mathematicians and statisticians.

MFG Labs, a firm of specialists in social network engagement that we acquired last June, is a good example of these new profiles. The firm was founded by a team of world-renowned mathematicians, including a Fields Medal holder. Their teams work for our clients by analysing data posted on social networks and how it can be applied to the selling process and boosting conversion rates.

But we are still investing heavily in our creative people - no algorithm will replace the creative "magic" of humans!

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