It seems entirely appropriate that Fred & Farid, the indie Paris agency 30 per cent owned by Havas chairman Vincent Bollore, is planning to set up shop in Shanghai in a former opium warehouse.
It’s also not really a surprise that the enfants terrible are making a big song and dance now about something that isn’t slated to happen until September. F&F have always mingled business acumen with a flair for self-promotion. By doing it this way they seem to be calculating that they’ll have some clients ready to go when they start lashing out on the furniture.
Other promises include the plan to operate F&F Paris and Shanghai as one entity with staff communication throughout the day via screens (there’s a six hour time difference) and therefore work on projects in both offices. Actually in situ in Shanghai will be long-serving creative director Feng Huang who’s going home and another senior creative Gregoire Chalopin, who isn’t, plus about 20 staff.
F&F runs five companies in France; the main Paris agency, social media agency Kids Love Jetlag, digi agency Furious Monkeys, mobile shop Eddi&Son and Hello Sunshine which appears to be a ‘blue sky’ thinking outfit. The group’s clients include Audi, Sara Lee, Yves St Laurent, Weight Watchers and Kronenbourg.
Fred & Farid founders Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart got together in 2007, initially to set up the Marcel agency for Publicis Groupe (Marcel was named after Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet). But the dynamic duo upped sticks a year later to set up F&F with backing from Bollore, a move which probably annoys PG boss Maurice Levy to this day.
F&F says the China adventure is being funded without help from Bollore because “we want to keep our independence.” Raillard adds: “We have no intention to be everywhere. We’ve been interested in China for a long time because the culture is so different – the whole mindset, the approach, the spirit, the hard work, the positive energy. I hate companies who go into China just because there are a billion people there. This is about creativity and talent. We are coming in a humble spirit.”
So that’s another first then.
For all their eccentricity F&F have demonstrated that they can perform for Western clients. Increasingly the game in China is about performing for the rapidly-growing number of Chinese major brand owners. Who might find F&F something of a challenge – but that’s largely the point.