It may only be three months into his new role as CEO of Havas Group, but in Cannes this year David Jones is not tiptoeing around ad agencies’ need to evolve. The 44-year-old Brit was promoted in March to help profitably push the French holding company head-first into the industry’s next creative revolution. Now, with a $750 million war chest for potential acquisitions and an almost-finished three year strategic plan, Jones spoke to Fast Company about why creativity is an MBA-style competitive weapon and whether ad agencies should behave more like VC’s.
Fast Company: Cannes Lions used to be just a place where ad agency people came to pick up awards. This year I’ve met senior marketers here from Disney, Pepsi, Unilever. Why are more and more CMOs coming to Cannes?
David Jones, CEO Havas: I think every year you come back there are more and more clients. One of the fundamental biggest shifts in our business over the last decade is that creativity has gone from boardroom taboo to a key boardroom subject. Look at the perennial, Apple, where creativity has proven to be a competitive advantage. It’s completely changed companies’ views on the importance of creativity.
FC: Are a lot of business deals actually getting closed in Cannes?
DJ: It’s great for making connections, networking and inspiration more than annual business. I’m not sure that many deals happen. So far I’ve met with people to potentially hire, companies I want to acquire, startups. not really much prospecting. The best place to win new business is when your competitors aren’t around.
FC: What is the conversation you think more marketers should be having?
DJ: For me we’re living through the third decade of sustainability. In the 90’s it wasn’t really about changing a company’s behavior, just giving the impression. I call 2000 – 2010 the age of advantage: companies set out to genuinely gain a competitive advantage by making their business more sustainable. Now 2010-2020 I call the age of damage: the digitally powered consumer can and will take you down if you don’t live up to the behavior they expect. Whether you look at BP or Sony PlayStation–which took down 29% of their market cap–companies are living in world of radical transparency.
FC: It seems like half of Silicon Valley is here. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Twitter. Are you working with any of these tech companies in a different way than the other holding companies?
DJ: I had an interesting meetings with Twitter yesterday. We’re all trying to do smarter partnerships than our competitors. It’s a bit of a race. For example, we have Matt Howell from Modernista [which recently shut down]. We took their entire digital department.
FC: As the mass media becomes less important, what are new revenue streams you’re interested in? Does Havas want to somehow hatch the next Facebook?
DJ: My view is the history of our industry, competitive advantage is all about people. The future is people plus technology. Tons of agencies had ideas for something like YouTube. There ‘s no reason one of us couldn’t have had the idea for Facebook. One of the things you’ll see us do is invest more in a VC model. Take small stakes in business, take small bets. I believe location will be the single biggest transformational opportunity in our industry. The ability to deliver retail experience, sales experience , based on where you are. Up until now you’ve had the digital world as having this amazing image with no revenue. And you’ve had the retail world with tons of money but a bit boring. But with the location based revolution it will come together. We’re in for a very exciting 4-5 years.
[Image: FLickr user Richard.Asia]