Collaboration, remote working and Havas Village: Interview with Anthony Freedman (Havas)
When it comes to the digital revolution, creative agencies have been at the forefront. Marketing speaks with Anthony Freedman from Havas about the Havas Village model, collaboration when remote working and the changing shape of agencies.
Havas has created the Havas Village model, which promotes collaboration between media teams and creative teams. Do you think that such an approach is the way forward?
Collaboration as a principle of success is not new. Figuring out how to facilitate it is more difficult than one might first assume. There’s a surprising amount of competition within holding companies, multiple brands that offer the same services, agencies with different skillsets and profit and loss (P&L) fighting over revenue from a common client. Havas’ Village strategy sought to address this, and started to roll out in 2013, well ahead of any other network. The notion is quite simple; it’s about assembling best in class agencies. This represents all of the marketing communications skillsets that a brand might conceivably have need of. All under one roof, operating with one P&Ls, led by a single country leader and with a culture that fosters collaboration. And then being able to create cross functional teams that are assembled around a client’s needs. This is rather than the client needing to arrange its needs around the agency’s vertical brands or capabilities.
Marketers are under a lot of COVID-related pressure to deliver ROI and to digitise. How has this translated in the agency world and how have you met these challenges?
I think marketers have always had to prove return on investment (ROI). I am not sure it’s something that has arisen from the pandemic. As a result, agencies have to be accountable to the strategies they develop and the campaigns they create. I think the key thing is to be clear at the outset what the campaign is being created to do. Ensure that there are measures in place to capture the impact of the campaign and a forum to review, optimise and improve as the work rolls out.
In terms of the increased pace towards digital transformation, it’s not a new shift. But is one that has undeniably sped up as we have all been forced to transact more remotely. I think for some agencies this has been a boom that supported them during 2020 and even 2021 whilst other areas of the communication mix such as experiential, were impacted. For others who are less well prepared to assist clients in this space, it’s not been as advantageous. Most large networks now have capabilities in this space. Certainly, the move from Havas to aggregate its digital, data and consulting services under the Havas CX brand in 2020, has received a warm reception and fast start from clients and potential clients.
What was your experience of leading a team during COVID? What insights have stuck with you?
I feel we have all learned a lot about what’s possible remotely. Far more than any of us ever believed possible, and also what we lose as creative businesses, not spending time in an office environment on a regular basis. Personally speaking, being based in London with responsibilities in both Australia and the UK, I found that initially I was more familiar with working remotely because I was used to working with a team in Australia with whom I wasn’t always face to face. But over time I also began to realise that my regular travel to Australia meant I was rarely if ever, not physically in the office with them for a period of time longer than 3 weeks.
That time in the office I came to realise was essential for me to feel how things were going, rather than just being told. It’s about being immersed in a market and absorbing the context rather than reading about it. It’s connecting with people informally and catching up without scheduled meetings. There’s an importance of spontaneity and serendipity, the value of a five-minute chat whilst making a cup of tea, vs the 30 minute Teams call in its place. Of course, we also learned a lot of about work/life balance, resilience. The obligations of an employer in the modern world, mental health, community and so much more.
What are your thoughts on in-housing versus outsourcing or using specialists? Do you see this evolving?
I think broadly that agencies services are split between origination and implementation. Origination for me is about thinking both strategic and creative. I feel that this is where the real ‘intangible’ value is delivered by agencies and I think it’s something that agencies do very well because they have people and an environment that attracts and enables this sort of thinking in a way that most client companies would find harder to achieve. Not all but most. It’s also arguably an expensive resource that most clients need intermittently rather than all of the time. So, whether it makes commercial sense to employ that team internally on a full time basis to provide this sort of ‘origination’ is also a key consideration.
The implementation side of things, where it’s about rolling out a campaign, is much more a functional process that I think can sit well within a client organisation if that’s the way they want to approach it. There are undoubtedly benefits that could be cost and time saving and that’s valid. Equally there is a burden of recruiting, retaining and managing that team. Of ensuring the right technology and infrastructure exists to facilitate their work. I think ultimately, the future of agencies will be the flexibility to accommodate and facilitate different ways of work, whether all agency side, some in-housed plugged into an originating team based at the agency, or some other variation beyond that.
Considering the rapid changes all around us, from VR to AR and mobile social, what excites you about the next stage of marketing?
Perhaps it’s that which is most exciting… the fact it is rapidly changing which means learning new things and evolving to keep pace. It’s trite to say but social media effectively did not exist 15 years ago. Few brands even had a website just over 20 years ago. Equally there are fundamentals that remain ever relevant. Creativity, the power of an idea, the importance of understanding what it is to be human, emotion, relevance, role and entertainment. Being able to target more precisely, measure more accurately and optimise scientifically, doesn’t matter at all if those other things aren’t given equal weighting.
What do Australian consumers want from their brands and where should marketers be focusing their efforts?
Havas has been running an annual global study called Meaningful Brands since 2009. It surveys almost 400,000 consumers each year on how they feel about brands and what it takes, to become a brand that truly matters. The shocking headline from that study is that 75 percent of brands could disappear overnight and consumers wouldn’t even notice.
In April 2021 we conducted a further piece of research through our insights team Havas Labs. It was to understand what Aussies think about marketing and how we break into the 25 percent of brands that truly matter.
In terms of headline findings, we firstly saw that peoples’ perceptions of brands are heavily influenced by how good they think the product is – or put another way, consumers don’t distinguish between brands and products. When considering the most important attributes of brands between Functional (what the product does), Personal (how the brand makes me feel) and Collective (the broader role the brand plays within society), people continue to place Functional as the most important. They key point in relation to this is that too often marketers only want ‘purpose led comms’, underestimating the power of Functional.
Secondly, while the industry has extolled the virtues of brands with purpose and their importance in recruiting new consumers, consumers are divided on whether this is actually motivating. Only around 1 in 2 people agree that they’re more likely to purchase from brands who make the world a better place and that they have a responsibility to do so. Around the same proportion say that price is more important than a brand’s ethical/sustainability practices.
Thirdly, the number one Collective benefit Aussies place the most importance on is whether a brand is Australian made/owned.
As marketers we hear a lot about purpose-led and values-led to connect to consumers; what do you think about this?
I think there is a growing acceptance that more and more people expect brands and business to positively contribute to society and to operate with values that reflect the times we live in. Embedding that into the way an organisation works and finding ways for both their people, customers and consumers to be aware makes sense. But it feels to me that many are failing… either to genuinely embrace and execute their purpose, or to communicate that in a way that is relevant and appealing to their audiences.
The most recent Meaningful Brands study clearly illustrates this point and was in fact headlined as the Age of Cynicism. It tells us that across the globe, consumers are surrounded by what they perceive to be broken promises – at all levels of society – and we are starting to see the impact of this mistrust on brands. Consumers expect brands to play a more positive and collective role in society, however, the more brands claim to play this role and leave promises unfulfilled, the deeper the cynicism grows. With only 39 percent of brands in Australia being seen as trustworthy, compared to 47 percent globally, the only way to rebuild this trust and positively stand out, is with action not words.
Marketing comes down to storytelling. What are your favourite stories being told?
I personally am drawn to ideas that are fame generating and combine spin, sociability and spectacle. Work that primarily earns an audience and leverages the power of people and popular culture. I think one of the best recent examples of this would be ‘Stevenage Challenge’ from Burger King in which the brand became shirt sponsors of a club called Stevenage FC, playing in the lowest tier of British football, knowing that would in turn make them shirt sponsors of that team within the video game FIFA. They then created a movement, with rewards, to entice players into using that team when playing the FIFA game online.
What’s next for Havas?
Havas for me remains unique in being part of a global entertainment and media company. It means our sister businesses are in music, film, TV, publishing, gaming, live events and so on. As Vivendi, we are immersed in popular culture if you allow it. I think it permeates the culture of the agencies within Havas and the way in which they think. I don’t mean that the benefit is about preferential access to entertainment properties or talent for clients. Although that might be part of it, but more a mindset about understanding popular culture and finding ways for brands to be a part of it and what their customers are interested in or passionate about.
In an era where it’s easier for consumers to avoid advertising through ad blockers, second screens and subscriptions to ad-free environments, finding ways to reach people through being part of popular culture or the things they’re interested in (not just an interruption to them), seems to me an ever more important dimension to the way that agencies should think.