Is Havas trying to reposition Arnold Worldwide as its lead digital agency?

We only ask because Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas-owned Arnold Worldwide, has been waving his cheque book at digital stars again, signing two top-ranking executives from French rival Publicis Groupe’s all-conquering Digitas.

Digitas creative director Kim Bartkowski (pictured) is joining as digital creative director of Boston-based Arnold’s New York office while Digitas senior V-P Elliott Seaborn is moving to Arnold Boston in the same role.

The move follows Arnold’s hiring of Modernista president Matt Howell as global chief digital officer and managing partner along with a group of other digital wizards from the now defunct Modernista. Howell was presumably also instrumental in the new hirings which will give Arnold a chunky digital presence, with more than 150 digital specialists already in Boston alone.

New Havas CEO David Jones, who also heads its biggest agency Euro RSCG, has already stated that digital is his immediate priority and he and Bennet would doubtless say that Arnold is improving its digital offer while remaining a full service creative agency.

But Arnold has never managed to secure a seat at the creative agency top table despite employing over 1200 people worldwide and it certainly looks as though its position is changing to a digital-led agency, like Digitas.

Digitas has had a storming last couple of years, in the US especially. Just this week it won the Chili’s restaurant chain digital business from Interpublic’s Hill Holliday with Chili’s announcing that digital was going to spearhead its efforts from now on.

But Digitas (and Publicis Groupe) will be alarmed to see two such high profile executives moving to its French rival.

Jones also said recently that he had a $750m fund to buy businesses but he seems happy enough to spend some of it hiring top digital execs. He could easily have bought Modernista before its demise if he’d wanted to but chose to cherry pick talent instead.

With few substantial independent digital networks left outside the clutches of the marcoms giants (AKQA being the obvious one) it looks like there’s a major battle for talent going on, similar to that for the services of top creatives.

That too will alarm Publicis Groupe and its boss Maurice Levy which has spent around $2bn in the past few years acquiring a lot of such people at Digitas, Razorfish and new buy Rosetta Marketing Group.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.