Havas CEO On Algorithms, The (French) Family Business And Creativity’s Part in Programmatic

YannickYannick Bolloré, the newly appointed chairman and CEO of Havas, took to the Times Center stage Wednesday at Advertising Week to talk about changes at the French agency holding company in the wake of last year’s restructuring.

Bolloré, a family-owned investment group steered by Yannick’s father and famed French investor Vincent Bolloré, owns a 37% stake in the global communications company that named the younger Bolloré its leader this winter. The appointment came just one year after Havas rolled its MPG and Media Contacts brands into an umbrella unit dubbed Havas Media Group.

As part of the restructure, a number of MPG assets including mobile marketing agency Mobext, data management platform Artemis and the Affiperf agency trading desk were consolidated under the jurisdiction of Havas Media.

Affiperf now calls itself a “Meta DSP,” a designation meant to emphasize its scale across all exchanges, publishers and a range of DSPs.

After all, Bollore acknowledged, a competitor’s DSP “may be more right for one campaign” than Affiperf, even.

“If we look at what’s going on in our business, there’s a major communications problem,” said Dominique Delport, global managing director of Havas Media Group, during AOL’s Programmatic Upfront on Monday. “For once, the audience becomes media and we need algorithms to interact one-to-one at scale.”

Bolloré echoed his sentiments Wednesday, adding, “algorithms will never replace creative directors. It’s nonsense to separate emotion and rationality. The more fragmented media gets, the harder it is to get people’s attention. We have a need for highly creative content.”

Is Havas in play? When asked whether Havas was looking at M&A at the time of the proposed Publicis Omnicom Group mega-merger, Bolloré said, “we don’t think bigger and fatter is always better. We have 16,000 people, so we have size and scale and you have to be big enough to address global client demands.”

He deflected a question about Havas’ rumored merger with French media and entertainment company Vivendi, but did say there were “common shareholders” in the organization, Vincent Bolloré being the big and obvious one. Havas delivered organic growth of 5.7% in the first quarter, securing new client wins in brands Disney, Barclays and Emirates. Revenue in the first half of 2014 was just over US $1 billion.

“We’re family-oriented,” Bolloré said in what seemed like a faint stab at competing holding groups’ emphasis on P&L. “When you belong to a family group, it gives you a focus. Of course we are looking at profits and what are the results but if you have a ‘financial’ strategy [as an agency] you will be financial focused. We are not in a race for scale. We are in a race for talent.”

Bolloré, who has a background in film production, said it’s getting harder for agencies to get paid for the “big idea” at a time when brand clients are increasingly sophisticated with in-house media and creative.

“Clients are pushing for innovation,” he said. “Before, we had siloes of creative and media and now we have all these siloes of search, mobile, display, and content.”

Bolloré said he expects programmatic to command a greater portion of client budgets in the years to come. He declined to identify the current percentage of spend transacted programmatically.

“We at Havas have the chance to lead with tools and algorithms that enable programmatic buying to become more efficient,” he said. “It’s more efficient for clients and agencies. In the coming years, I bet it will happen the same in cable TV as the rest of the digital landscape. There’s no reason this type of buying could not extend to other types of media.”

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