The World: Talented duo turn around Y&R France's fortunes

Jacques Bungert and Fred Torloting say the key to their success has been trusting in the talent already there.

Sinking a couple of lunchtime drinks with some of his star creatives in a Montmartre cafe on a sunny autumn day, Jacques Bungert, the joint president of Young & Rubicam in France, could be forgiven for sounding a tad pleased with himself.

"Y&R in France has been a sleeping beauty," he told the gathering. "We have just woken it up."

Not so much sleeping perhaps, but dozing while the parade threatened to pass it by. Of course, nobody was about to write off the agency that gave the global ad community such influential figures as Jean-Marie Dru and Bill Tragos, the "T" of TBWA.

Nevertheless, there was no avoiding the feeling that Y&R's Paris outpost, the fifth-largest agency in France, was not all it should be. New business had become hard to win, and the creative product had gone off the boil.

Hopes had been high that Eric Tong Cuong, the one-time president of Euro RSCG BETC and EMI France, could work his magic. But by the time he tendered his resignation in August last year, after just nine months as the chairman and chief executive, the agency's malaise seemed as deep as ever.

Enter Bungert and Fred Torloting, who had been running Pro Deo, Y&R's marketing services subsidiary, drafted in by Massimo Costa, the network's EMEA chief executive, as Tong Cuong's replacement.

A little more than a year into the job, how have the pair, who have very little agency experience between them, been getting on?

While it is difficult to judge their ongoing performance, it has to be acknowledged that Bungert and Torloting have made a superb start. During their tenure, the agency has won 14 new accounts - Lindt, Etam and pan-European assignments for Volvic and Novotel among them. As a result, the operation currently tops the new-business league in France.

Moreover, the French newspaper Le Figaro cites Y&R France as one of four agencies that have put significant distance between themselves and their closest rivals.

But what's the secret? Bungert claims it has largely been a case of trusting in the agency's existing talent, while boosting its self-belief.

While that may be true, it is only a small part of the story. The arrival of Bungert and Torloting has ushered in not only a more cohesive structure for the Y&R group in France, but also a more collaborative way of working. Partly because the pair insisted they would either carry out the job jointly or not at all.

"We've been working as 'twins' for the past 20 years, and we strongly believe that it has been a major asset for us," Bungert comments.

Also, the pair demanded that the group's marketing communications divisions and their 520 staff should report to them, ending the loose alliances under which these divisions would work for certain shared clients.

"Six years after the buy-out at Pro Deo, which we founded, we realised we'd reached the end of a cycle and could go no further with it," Bungert explains. "We knew that a 360-degree approach to communications was the future, and taking over Y&R gives us the chance to put that into practice.

"A lot of people talk about integration, but few do it well," Bungert adds. "The market will decide if we've got it right but, at this moment, it's working quite well."

All of this, though, pales into insignificance compared with what Bungert and Torloting have done to the creative department at Y&R Paris. This summer, they parted company with their creative director, Herve Riffault, and split the leadership of the 50-strong department six ways.

"We decided that creative gurus were too expensive in comparison to what they bring to an agency," Bungert says.

"The fact is that the market in France is changing quickly. We can't talk about advertising in the same way that we did five years ago. Back then, it was OK for the creatives to stay at home. Now clients want more of their time. The old-style agency pyramid, with the creative guru at the top, has been turned on its head."

This summer, they demonstrated the courage of their convictions by raiding Publicis Conseil for its senior copywriters, Bruno Delhomme, Eric Hellas and Guilhem Arnal, as well as the art directors, Robin de Lestrade and Jorge Carreno. Laurent Bodson, the BDDP & Fils art director, completed the line-up.

The signings were far from arbitrary. The six are so tightly bonded that they have a history of moving jobs en masse, first to BDDP & Fils, and more recently to Publicis Conseil. While such big migrations of creatives would be almost unprecedented in the UK, it is not quite so unusual in France, where clients like the comfort of having the best talent clustered within the big agencies, making it doubly difficult for start-ups to make their mark.

Add some spookiness and the six would stand comparison with those blue-eyed, blonde-haired children in John Wyndham's classic sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos. All the children in the tale, it turns out, share a single mind, and it becomes clear the newly appointed creative directors have uncannily similar thoughts and feelings.

"Having known each other for ten years, we can say anything to each other," Arnal declares. "There are no secrets between us. So much so, that when one of us is unhappy, the rest of us know it."

Scary? Not really, Arnal insists. "In reality, we're different in style and we're flexible. No client has to adapt to us. It's always the other way around. And we're organised in such a way that the creative directors on the business are empowered to make the decisions."

Meanwhile, what is it that Bungert and Torloting want in order to ensure their outlook over the coming year remains sunny? A whopping win for an agency in which people enjoy working, Bungert says. What the pair will not want, though, is for the six-headed hydra running the creative department to develop itchy feet.


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