At Havas, It Takes a Village to Win So Many Accounts in So Little Time

Adweek's U.S. Media Agency of the Year secured midsize clients like TracFone, Hallmark and Swarovski

The Havas Media team (l. to r.): Greg James, evp, chief strategy officer; George Sargent, president, Havas Media Boston; Barbara Kittridge, evp, business development; Kinsella; Shane Ankeney, president, Havas Media Group U.S.; Andrea Millett, president, Havas Media New York and head of client operations; Jason Kanefsky, evp, chief investment officer
Kevin Scanlon

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 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.

#BetterTogether

“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.

"If thereu2019s one thing I want you to remember about Havas, itu2019s #BetterTogether."
Havas Media CEO Colin Kinsella

“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.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.