Andrew Benett explains Havas Worldwide's drive to remove complexity

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Benett: abolishing P&Ls wherever possible.
Benett: abolishing P&Ls wherever possible.

Agency's global chief executive says machines will never outdo human creativity

SINGAPORE — Andrew Benett, global chief executive of Havas Worldwide, spoke to Campaign Asia-Pacific at Spikes Asia here last week about Southeast Asian growth, why services need to re-bundled, and why machines will never outdo human creativity.

You have just acquired Riverorchid. What are you going to do with it?
There’s always been interesting innovation coming out of the Southeast Asian markets, and for us this is an opportunity to deepen our ties to the sub-region.

With any acquisition, our goal is to integrate it in the best way from a capability standpoint. Where we can bring Havas into what they do we will, and where they can influence Havas we’ll go with that. We never make an acquisition with the intention of just bolting it on or buying people. They have to be very strategic with regard to markets of importance and from a capability standpoint. But at the end of the day it comes down to people: do I want to go into business with this person. That’s always the litmus test with anyone we bring into the family.

What other steps are you taking to build Havas into a stronger network in Asia?
The Havas Village is clearly the most important strategic move we’re making in Asia-Pacific and around the world. We have 27 villages and growing. [Most of all] we believe in collaboration, and we can have a market without a village. "Together" is really a much bigger strategy. The second part of our strategy is to really look at the key markets in the region and identify the ones where we fell there’s real room to grow. In China [for example] we’re a solid player, but there’s still tremendous room for growth; in Korea we don’t have a tremendous offering, so there’s room to grow there, too.

Why do you believe that services need to be "rebundled"? Doesn’t this ultimately make things more complex?
It can, but it shouldn’t. The customer journey is no longer linear, and I think this makes it simpler. [Also] having more generalist, T-shaped thinkers is better for us in terms of thinking in a bigger open architecture to solve problems. On the management side, it can make things more complicated, but not for clients. We should be able to have conversations around business challenges — let’s try and unpack that. That’s how we should engage.

See also: Havas Worldwide integrates to exploit Indonesia opportunities

Many agencies are talking of a greater need for specialists. Why do you believe generalists are preferable?
We value both generalists and specialists, but 84% of C-suite executives would rather have generalists than hire people for a specific skill set, and we believe that as well. But you can’t hire a generalist and have them do a massive e-commerce tech build because they won’t be able to implement it.

We are making significant investments in bolstering our ability to dive into the tech space around the world: we recently bought Work Club, Boondoggle — creative technology companies; we have Helia, a global data specialist brand which we’ll launch bigger into Asia next year. What we try to do is imbue technology into agencies not as brand disciplines but as people who do that; people with expertise in media, technology and consumer insight all sitting there together working hand in hand without thinking about who gets the money at the end of the day but about how they can help one another.

So have you actually done away with separate P&Ls altogether?
We’re abolishing them where we can and as quickly as we can. You almost have a spectrum in the villages where you truly have one P&L. I always ask two groups, 'What’s your bonus based on?' If it’s not the same thing, then you have two P&Ls.

So at the far end, you have one P&L; in the middle you have two; and at the other end, you have people working together but operating separate P&Ls. The single P&Ls tend to be in the larger markets. We’re trying to get to one [everywhere] but are not there yet — but we’re only at month 20 of the Village strategy.

AI has been a big topic at Spikes this year. Why do you think many advertising creatives continue to resist data instead of considering how it can help them create better work?
I think the best people in the industry are highly strategic. You can’t be highly strategic if you’re not interested in data and facts. I’ve yet to meet a brilliant creative person who isn’t — but they don’t want to sit through a hundred-page PowerPoint chart. Data is a very broad umbrella under which too much can get thrown. I just think [for it to be relevant to creatives] it needs to be simply told and needs to be meaningful.

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