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He did it his way

In-Depth

He did it his way

What was the highlight of your career?

When the former US president, Ronald Reagan, was about to leave the White House, he invited 20 members of the media for a Friday lunch. Only two people were invited from France, I was one of them.

Someone asked him: “What was your best day in the White House?” Reagan was in his 70s at the time, close to my age now. He said: “My best day is tomorrow.” I think that is the best answer to this question.

I think I had two great chances in life. The first one was when I was studying pharmacy, and didn’t want to spend two more years in university to get my degree. So, my professors agreed that, instead, I could carry a global market research for drug companies by embarking on a two-year world tour. I started the trip with my Citroën 2hp and my best friend, with whom I celebrated 75 years of friendship last year.

This trip changed my life; I visited many countries and discovered numerous cultures. Consequently, I came back from my trip and realized that I needed to “be international”. I decided not to become a pharmacist, but a journalist instead, and went on to get two degrees, one in journalism and one in communication.

My second great chance came after I created my agency and had to make the first professional political campaign in France for the would-be president, Francois Mitterrand. Even though a lot of people credited my campaign for him winning the election, I always believed it was the other way around, and I thank him until this day for making me the first little king of advertising [in France]. To be successful in advertising, you need to advertise yourself. None of the players in the advertising world really do that; they never speak and they never write books. Therefore, they are never popular, and you need popularity to advance in this business.

Throughout my life, I have never changed my ways. I created my agency and stayed with it for 50 years with the same passion for creativity. Most of the guys I hired years ago are now the bosses of agencies worldwide.

I am particularly proud that I have been responsible for the creative of Citroën for 45 years. There’s not a single person in the advertising world that can say he/she stayed with a brand for that long.

I have also been with Louis Vuitton for years. When we started working with the brand, it had only one store in Paris; now they are the number one luxury brand in the world, with 500 stores globally. I used to advertise the brand through one brochure a year, and now it’s more like 100 million different ads. The genius in this industry is the one that lasts.

 

Have you ever thought of a different career choice other than advertising?

No, it is my destiny. I had the perfect chance arriving on the scene when there was an explosion in creativity [in the 70s]. Before then, ads were merely a poster and a slogan. Back then, TV was the big hit. [French] people were busy fighting Anglo-Saxons, and I was an avid protestor as well. I started making political campaigns, four in France and 16 around the world. They weren’t just campaigns, they were a fight for democracy and freedom. One of the biggest moments of my life was to fight against [Augusto] Pinochet in Chile through my campaigns, one of which was launched after the first-ever democratic president of Chile was elected.

 

Is there a point in your career when you wanted to have a do-over?

My motto is: “Old age begins when regrets overcome dreams.” I cultivate my dreams, which are to expand charitable and social advertising. [Advertising] is not just to sell products, but also to help humanity become better.

Every year, the New Young World initiative [co-founded by David Jones, global CEO of Havas], includes students from 100 countries in a two-day event to engage with presidents of world economies. Our favorite brands are the ones that try to help these young people, such as Danone that fights hunger in Bangladesh.

In Argentina, we launched a campaign whereby every time you buy espadrille shoes, a pair is donated to the children of the country. In two years, more than one million pairs of shoes were contributed. This should be a big part
of advertising.

 

Is this how you see the future?

Advertising and creativity were the engines of the industry in the 20th century; the engine of the 21st century is the media, due to the explosion of Internet. Therefore, it is totally crazy to have a separate company for media and
another for creative and advertising. The brands need coherence; this is achieved by making the
media arm of an agency a concurrent part of the advertising arm.

It took me 10 years to arrive to the concept of “Havas Village”. This concept includes 40 different jobs of communication – PR, creative, digital, media, production, etc. – all together in one agency spread across 3,000 employees.

Havas Village was the first agency of its kind in France and Europe at large. It is like a little continent with values, beliefs and also arguments. Creativity and advertising create the perfect fusion; advertising sells happiness, while the media sells hate, scandal and drama.

How do you see the region playing a role in the communication industry?

I suggested to management that Dubai, not New York or Shanghai, serves as a hub for Havas Village for the almost 200 million consumers we have in the region.

Dubai is like an international laboratory. We have 27 nationalities in our office [here] – it’s the new Babel.

The city is the new world, the commercial hub between Africa and Asia. The continent of the beginning of the century is Asia, and the one for the end of the century will be Africa. The fight is no longer in America or Europe, it is in these two continents, and Dubai is geographically centered between the two.

Advertising is the marriage between culture and money. I believe money has no ideas; only ideas make money. So, use your money, [the region] has lots of it, instead of buying Ferraris. Create think tanks and a new civilization.

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