ALAIN’S MASTERPLAN FOR HAVAS: Havas’s Alain de Pouzilhac wants to secure a US or UK merger and is prepared to take risks to find the perfect mate. By Caroline Marshall

Hands up who’s seen Silence of the Lambs? The horror classic opens with a fearful Jodie Foster getting the call to prepare for an interview with Hannibal ’the Cannibal’ Lecter in the secure unit. She’s hyped up, scared, briefed to the max. Not unlike a journalist preparing to interview one of those big, scary American chief executives we’ve recently been profiling in Campaign’s Kings of Madison Avenue series.

Hands up who’s seen Silence of the Lambs? The horror classic opens

with a fearful Jodie Foster getting the call to prepare for an interview

with Hannibal ’the Cannibal’ Lecter in the secure unit. She’s hyped up,

scared, briefed to the max. Not unlike a journalist preparing to

interview one of those big, scary American chief executives we’ve

recently been profiling in Campaign’s Kings of Madison Avenue


Now I mention this only because, well ... meet Alain de Pouzilhac, the

chairman and chief executive of Havas Advertising:

’Caroline! Bonjour! Pleasure to meet you! It’s such a beautiful day!

I’ve bought you a small bunch of flowers. I’m welcoming the spring!’

Erm, exhibit B ...

’I love life, I really do. I hate people who think they’re right all the

time. I love pragmatism, I love reality. I went shopping with my wife in

a department store at the weekend and I loved every minute of it. I hate

people who sit in offices all day dreaming about their life and their


And again ...

’The most important thing is for us to stay humble, despite our


I’m no General de Gaulle.’

Strange, isn’t it? When one thinks of a big, important adman, what is it

that springs to mind? Ruthless ambition, fretting about the share price

and the next acquisition, a life spent on planes and in limos topped off

with regular schmoozing of clients and institutional investors. Not

bunches of spring flowers for visiting journalists and shopping trips

with the wife at the weekend.

De Pouzilhac, 53, is pure central casting Frenchman from his heavily

accented English to his hospitable manner and impeccable dress


When he makes a joke - a self-confessed school dunce, he often does so

at his own expense - he follows it up with a huge peal of infectious


We meet in the Havas offices in the Levallois-Perret suburb of


More than 3,000 Havas employees work in the building and de Pouzilhac

holds court in his glass-walled office with its vast adjoining


We kick off with the theme that is de Pouzilhac’s current obsession: his

mission to secure a merger for Havas Advertising with a US or UK partner

by the end of 1998. The masterplan has been laid down by Havas

Advertising’s parent company (also called Havas) and its new owner, the

utilities giant, Compagnie Generale des Eaux.

CGE’s chairman, Jean-Marie Messier, has carried out the first stage of

his plan to turn CGE into an international communications group. It

bought a third of Havas in February 1997, and last month purchased the

rest in a deal that valued the company at FF40 billion (pounds 4.05

billion). The price reflects the fact that Havas could be French for

’first at almost everything’.

The company’s interests include a third share of Canal Plus, the world’s

largest pay-TV group; the commercial TV and radio group CLT-UFA; the

French news magazine, L’Express; France’s leading travel retailer and a

38 per cent holding in Havas Advertising.

Messier has effectively put an end to the rumours that Havas Advertising

would be sold off. Having first unveiled its plan to merge it with what

he calls an ’Anglo-Saxon’ group, CGE wants to dilute its shareholding to

between 15 and 20 per cent. As Havas Advertising owns the Euro RSCG

network worldwide (formed in 1992 when Eurocom merged with RSCG) as well

as a second-string network, Campus (which in turn owns WCRS and Evans

Hunt Scott in London), much is riding on de Pouzilhac’s choice of a


Does he relish the challenge?

’When CGE asked me to find a partner a year ago, I thought it was the

right strategy, not the right timing but the right strategy. In an ideal

world, we would have developed a little longer after the merger, proved

we were an international brand and reduced our debt a little more. Then,

like a beautiful woman, we could have set about finding a husband.

Because of the timing, I felt like an ugly woman trying to find a

beautiful husband!’

De Pouzilhac is also experiencing the particular problems that confront

French groups such as Havas when they go global. The French ad industry,

traditionally viewed as monopolistic, insular and sustained by political

patronage, too often converted lack of international experience into

arrogant imperialism. Foreign agency links have too often broken apart

amid acrimony and recrimination. The collapse of BDDP-owned Wells BDDP

and Maurice Levy’s emotional spat with True North recently have not

helped. But de Pouzilhac, who talks of his vision for the first truly

’multicultural’ network in advertising history, is mellower than some

rivals on the topic of Frenchness.

’Our country’s image is not strong,’ he says. ’People think that we

think we are a great world power, that the French Government is too

connected with business. Every time I meet a potential partner for

Havas, the first 20 minutes are about France and the evolution of France

- they say things like ’How is it possible to have communists in the

French Government?’ and so on. Although I’m proud to be French, I’ve

realised that the fact itself is questionable. And when I say ’I’m

French but our CEO (Bob Schmetterer) is American’, I see people visibly


Does de Pouzilhac, in turn, group the Americans into a type? If at all,

only in a positive way. He notes that the US is where multinational

clients have usually aligned their agencies worldwide. The US heritage

influences the way most global networks think and act even when - as in

the case of WPP’s J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather - they fall

into foreign hands. ’I think the Americans are very smart, they make the

market, their economy is very strong,’ he says.

Developing Euro RSCG’s crucial Procter & Gamble business is part of the

reason Euro RSCG moved its HQ from Paris to New York last year.

Schmetterer was granted control of the office and took on a brief to

build global business for the network. Havas’s credentials in this

respect will have been boosted by its purchase of the US media outfit,

SFN, in February this year.

In fact, P&G could serve as the embodiment of de Pouzilhac’s ambition to

build Havas as a global advertising network. It came on board as a

direct result of the merger of an ailing RSCG group with Eurocom, a move

which de Pouzilhac at first resisted because of the further

complications it would bring to a confused organisation - not least the

clash with his pounds 35 million client, Henkel. But Henkel, which he

resigned in November 1991, proved no match for global giants such as

P&G. Hence the rumours circulating that de Pouzilhac is in talks with

another P&G agency such as Saatchi & Saatchi, DMB&B, Leo Burnett or


Talks to find a partner are certainly well underway, but de Pouzilhac

will not be drawn on who he is talking to. Two scenarios present

themselves: the first is to have Euro RSCG cohabiting with another

advertising network, the second that Euro RSCG works in parallel with a

prominent media group.

De Pouzilhac’s criteria, he says, are threefold: his partner will be

complementary, ’with different strengths and weaknesses to us’; it will

be ’multicultural’; and it will not be a traditional advertising group,

’perhaps someone with media research or consulting expertise’. Would he

dump P&G for the right deal?

’No, no, no, oh no,’ he says, adding, for emphasis, ’Never. You have to

respect the trust of clients. If, in our talks with other groups, people

say ’you have to dump P&G’, we dump the talks. P&G supported and trusted

us through the merger, you have to respect that.’

A tie-up with Aegis has also been rumoured for some weeks, although a

partner with media as its primary skill would put the future of

Mediapolis, the joint media venture between Euro RSCG, Young & Rubicam

and WCRS, in jeopardy. ’If we strike an agreement with another media

group, Y&R will decide if it wants to stay,’ de Pouzilhac says.

It turns out that Havas has a pitching relationship with the management

consultancy, Andersen Consulting. Any chance of a deal there? ’I don’t

have the right to talk about that,’ de Pouzilhac says. With what looks

for all the world like a conspiratorial wink, he adds: ’Consultants are

good about thinking about consumers in relation to technology, and I

believe in a world in which specialists will be kings. Advertising

people are best at advertising. That’s why I’m not sure that our partner

will be in the world of advertising.’

Havas Advertising recently announced a strong set of results for 1997,

with billings up more than 17 per cent on 1996 to pounds 3.4 billion and

net profits up more than 37 per cent to more than pounds 26 million. ’We

have no rules,’ de Pouzilhac says. ’So we don’t have the same image in

front of our clients as, say, Y&R with its ’whole egg’ approach, or

Burnetts and the apple.’ So his company’s strength (young, ambitious,

big, without rules) is actually its weakness too? ’Exactly, as in life,’

he replies.

International clients include Intel, MCI, Philips, Peugeot, Citroen, P&G

and Kraft. It is an impressive list, but de Pouzilhac says Euro RSCG has

no future as a single network. ’We have to find solutions outside

France,’ he says. ’Britain and the US (the US represents two-thirds of

Havas’s income) offer us more possibilities than anywhere else.’

And so to Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, the Mark ’n’ Brett show. ’I love those

gentlemen,’ he enthuses. ’Their new-business record is amazing.

I’m proud of the Peugeot campaign and of their creative spirit.’ And

yet, while other agencies doff their caps to the pair’s amazing

new-business record, few would point to the agency as a creative

powerhouse. ’You have to be patient,’ de Pouzilhac counters. ’They are

in the most creative market in the world. Mark arrived three years ago,

Brett three-and-a-half years ago and it was a disaster before then.’

De Pouzilhac knows the stakes are high, but he is determined to remain

in charge and take the risks necessary for Havas to enter the digital

age: ’We need critical mass to succeed,’ he says. ’We need new resources

and new services. But we are not going to take the conservative route,

not going to copy the 15-year-old groups such as Omnicom, Interpublic

and WPP. I respect them all greatly, but we want to establish a new

tradition of communication.’


1968: Publicis - Assistant account executive

1968-75: DDB - Account executive, later account supervisor

1976: Havas Conseil - General manager

1982: Havas Conseil - Managing director

1985: HCM - Chairman worldwide

1986: Eurocom - Board member

1987: HDM (formerly HCM) - Chairman worldwide

1989: Eurocom - Chairman and CEO

1991: Euro RSCG Worldwide - Chairman and CEO

1996: Havas Advertising - Chairman and CEO


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