CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/JEAN FRANCOIS CECILLON - Sega’s Napoleon prepares to revive brand with Dreamcast - Jean Francois Cecillon has hired a weighty marketing team, Richard Cook writes

I had been warned about Jean Francois Cecillon, the chief executive of Sega Europe. I had been cautioned that J-F, as this former music industry executive is universally known, likes things his own way. ’I really think that he believes he is Napoleon,’ was the verdict of one would-be marketing partner. ’Everything at Sega, it seems, revolves around his drive and his will.’

I had been warned about Jean Francois Cecillon, the chief executive

of Sega Europe. I had been cautioned that J-F, as this former music

industry executive is universally known, likes things his own way. ’I

really think that he believes he is Napoleon,’ was the verdict of one

would-be marketing partner. ’Everything at Sega, it seems, revolves

around his drive and his will.’



It didn’t help that the series of pitches for Sega’s pounds 60 million

pan-European advertising account, begun in December by the UK marketing

director, Giles Thomas, turned into a protracted and convoluted affair

only finalised by Cecillon last week.



His solution was to create a weighty marketing team, anchored by WCRS as

the positioning and consumer advertising agency, and by M&C Saatchi as

the sponsorship, digital and business strategy specialist. But that was

only the start of it. The lengthy team-sheet also includes Branded - the

company set up by the former Sega executive, Philip Ley - as a

specialist marketing consultant, and Bell Pottinger, which is in charge

of PR and communication strategy.



Media buying is to be split on a country-by-country basis across Europe

between Initiative Media and Carat. Oh, and just in case that seemed too

straightforward, the overall strategy is the preserve of a ’dream team’,

comprising the chairman, chief executive or managing director of each of

the six aforementioned businesses.



It is hard to reconcile these idiosyncrasies with the charming, dapper

executive sitting opposite me at Sega’s Mayfair headquarters. Cecillon’s

first instinct seems to be to explain everything and to be understood.

What to outsiders seems like a complicated appointment structure is a

source of considerable pride for Cecillon.



’I wanted to take time over the pitch,’ he explains. ’Everyone has to

understand the direction we take. It’s a very new team here at Sega and

the decision could not be conservative. People tell me it’s unusual but

then I am new in your world. It’s not unusual for me.’



In fact, one of the obvious strengths Cecillon brings to Sega is his

proven ability to work within the confines of the sort of business where

even good executives can live or die on the strength of one week’s

product.



He is a veteran of the music industry, the only career that seemed an

acceptable compromise to a young man who had set his heart on being

either a footballer or a jet pilot.



’I wasn’t very good at football and the French airforce wanted me to

sign up for at least 12 years,’ he laughs. Instead he spent 15 years in

music publishing, working with EMI and Polygram in France, before moving

to London in 1990 as EMI’s vice-president of international

marketing.



Five years later he was appointed president and chief operating officer

of EMI UK and Ireland, in charge of acts ranging from Radiohead to

Robbie Williams. But it wasn’t all rock ’n’ roll - he had to look after

Cliff Richard and Garth Brooks as well.



It’s fair to say, however, that the multi-talented Cecillon has his work

cut out at Sega. In recent years, the former high-flying computer games

giant has exhibited signs of a company in crisis - a slashed ad budget,

an alarming sales tail-off and the acrimonious departure of senior

staff.



Sega was the world’s top seller of computer games in the early 90s. It

slipped back to number three as Nintendo and Sony jumped in with smarter

games and slicker marketing. At Sega’s corporate nadir in 1997 -

incidentally the best year for computer games sales in UK history - Sony

sold 1.2 million PlayStations, Nintendo offloaded 600,000 of its N64

units, while Sega shipped a paltry 90,000 consoles. And it was a similar

picture elsewhere in Europe.



Dreamcast represents the Sega fightback. Sega introduced the device in

Japan last year and has now pencilled in a September launch date for

Europe.



Sega’s president, Shoichiro Irimajiri, has vowed to recapture half the

global game-machine market within four years. ’We’ll not only fight with

Sony and Nintendo,’ he writes in his latest bullish mission statement,

’but we’ll blow them out of the water.’



Sega badly needs a success. One of the major problems has been that it

couldn’t attract enough developers to make games for SegaSaturn,

Dreamcast’s predecessor. This time Cecillon promises to have between

seven and nine titles on sale by the September launch date.

Intriguingly, he is not planning to throw everything at the launch

campaign and take maximum advantage of the 12- to 18-month period before

Sony is expected to launch its comparable PlayStation 2 console in

Europe.



’Sega became very strong in the early 90s and I think got carried away a

bit,’ Cecillon says. ’So if we are successful this time, I am determined

we will avoid making the same mistakes. There will be no huge increase

in headcount and structure. I read everywhere we are spending dollars

100 million on our launch. But do we have to spend that money all at

once? In the past we expanded the size of the brand rather than the size

of the business.



You can do it if you are Sony but we are a monoproduct company - we have

Dreamcast and we have games.



’We still have a strong brand as a result of previous advertising. This

time I think we will focus the marketing work on the product, not the

Sega name.’



One of the first games for the new platform is Sonic Adventure, a

turbo-charged, 3-D version of Sonic the Hedgehog, the game that

supported the last Sega boom. And Cecillon knows that the dynamics of

the gaming market are so volatile that Sega could quickly get back on

track if Dreamcast really takes off. He believes it will - and he’s a

difficult man to disagree with.



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