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
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
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
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
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
’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
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.