Yannick Bolloré on 10 Years as Havas Group CEO and Competing With ChatGTP

The group recorded organic growth of 6.8% in 2022

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It’s been 10 years since Yannick Bolloré took up the reigns at Havas Group, the world’s 6th largest advertising company by revenue. In the decade, he has led a transformation across the business to meet evolving client needs and simplify the company’s global structure.

On Wednesday, parent company Vivendi, for which Bolloré serves as chairman of the board, reported its full-year earnings, where revenue increased by 10.1% to $10.2 billion (€9.6 billion) driven by Havas and the company’s Canal+ Group.

“We are way above what we expected when we entered 2022, I’m very surprised,” Bolloré told Adweek following the earnings report.

Still, he remains “cautiously optimistic” despite similar forecasts for the month ahead.

Overcoming the doom and gloom

That success has been experienced by the company’s main rivals across the industry as well, which Bolloré says is a tribute to the “resilience” and “optimism” of clients as well as “the amazing energy” that he sees flowing across the industry.

Bolloré also believes that warnings of being replaced by tech giants such as Google and Meta or consultancies like Deloitte or Accenture remain incorrect, citing the expertise in communication as having “specific skills” he feels they lack.

He remembers his early days in the role, talking with clients about their main pain points when working with Havas. Bolloré was told the company was “too siloed.” So integration became one of his main early goals.

Bolloré highlighted three things that have happened under his watch as being significant:

  • The “Together” strategy from 2014. Launched in New York, the aim was to foster greater internal collaboration throughout the business. It led to the development of the Havas Villages. There are now more than 70 Villages around the world housing over 22,000 members of staff.
  • A mission around “meaningfulness.” The goal was to help clients achieve more than just selling products.
  • The 2017 merger of Havas into Vivendi, where the Bolloré family has a 27% stake (and 30% voting power).

“When it comes to content and entertainment, being part of Vivendi and that adding value with us is a huge area of differentiation,” Bolloré said.

International mergers and acquisitions

Last year, the agency network continued to be proactive in its acquisition strategy with eight majority stakes bought in businesses such as Bastion Brands (Australia—health communication), Expert Edge (United Kingdom—media performance), Additive+ (U.K.—data-driven creation), Search Laboratory (U.K.—digital media), Front Networks (China—creative), Frontier Australia (Australia—performance marketing), Inviqa (U.K.—digital media) and Tinkle (Spain—strategic communication).

Bolloré revealed that more deals were currently in negotiations with agencies in Canada, India and the U.K., having just taken a majority stake in German social media and content business HRZN.

Internally, there was a shift in bringing together Havas’ health and creative/consumer teams internationally last summer under the leadership of stalwart Donna Murphy, another example of internal integration, but one that he revealed was performance-based.

Bolloré states that with a business strength in health marketing, accounting for around 30% of revenue, he intends to bring that to the creative business. He’s seeing a “convergence” between the health and consumer sectors over the last three years.

“We see lots of CMOs coming from consumer to health,” he said, adding the belief that the patient journey is now like that of the consumer when it comes to sourcing treatments. For Havas, that means offering brands “a more data/consumer-driven approach.”

Competing with ChatGPT

The industry’s fascination with AI platform ChatGTP and its potential for the ad industry is one that Bolloré believes will help the agency “be more efficient and better.” In a memo sent around the company last month, Bollore instructed his teams to test ChatGTP by writing scripts and to learn from the experience how it could assist them in serving clients.

Aware that there are potential intellectual property issues around using generative AI, he believes that is a factor that will prevent it from overtaking creative teams but will motivate planners and strategists in their roles as they aim to be stronger.

“It will have to make us better because if a client can use ChatGPT and produce something similar to what we do, it would not be good for us,” he said, adding, “I’m a huge believer in humankind.”

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