Blushing bride-to-be Havas adds to its attractions with new hirings to beef up New York

The more you think about a post-PubliCom agency world the more the name Havas crops up.

Over the past decade or more Havas has steadily lost ground to its ancient French rival Publicis but now, following the proposed merger between Publicis Groupe and Omnicom, it’s looking rather fit and perky.

We reported last week that old hands in the Far East were convinced that Japan’s Dentsu was showing an interest. Dentsu may have bought media buyer Aegis for £3.2bn but it’s still weak on the creative front outside Japan. Havas has good creative brands in Havas (formerly Euro RSCG), BETC and, increasingly, Arnold which has been artfully repositioned as a creative agency with a lot of digital and other unglamorous but profitable bits.

So it’s interesting that Arnold has just hired Corey Mitchell (left) as president of its New York business,reporting to CEO Robert LePlae.

Mitchell was president of TBWA New York but also a big noise at MRM Worldwide, Interpublic’s hotch-potch of agencies that was originally based on direct marketing. MRM may not be the most compelling brand in the agency world but it makes buckets of money. Its component agencies tend to do the things that clients like and don’t frighten the horses, as some creative agencies do. So they keep their accounts for longer, even if they come and go a bit.

Big sister Havas New York has also been recruiting, hiring Darren Moran, a veteran of DraftFCB and, most recently, BBDO as creative boss in New York.

Moran (left) only lasted 14 months as CCO of DraftFCB (some observers might see this as a fair old stint) but Havas president Andrew Bennet seems sure he’s got the right man, pointing to Moran’s skills as a recruiter and nurturer of young talent. Well, we’ll see.

So it’s clear that Havas, which now lags way behind the other global marcoms companies in terms of scale, hasn’t given up the ghost yet.

CEO David Jones says that his new, slimmed-down (in terms of structure) Havas is more able to give clients what they want than lumbering giants like PubliCom and Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP. He would of course, but some clients may think he has a point.

But, ultimately Havas, is likely to be snapped up by one of WPP, Dentsu or Interpublic. Owner Vincent Bollore is not an adman and would surely sell for the right price. He has numerous other business interests in France and is reaching that point where businessmen start thinking about being part of the national establishment rather than batting off big hairy monsters like PubliCom and WPP.

Back at WPP, still the likeliest buyer of Havas methinks, boss Sorrell has been busily telling the world that he’s lost interest in all this merger stuff and, in an interesting interview with Ad Age, that he thinks his ‘Team WPP’ approach (creating bespoke agencies for individual clients) is the way forward, which won’t be music to the ears of his network chiefs.

Such dissenters, though, “need their heads examined” says Sorrell, showing he’s lost none of his fabled tact and gift for understatement.

No doubt they do, although not necessarily for the reason he suggests. Buying Havas wouldn’t get him up there with PubliCom which currently bills about 50 per cent more than WPP. But it would close the gap and show that the old boy can still pull off a big deal.

At about £2bn plus a bit WPP, whose share price has soared in recent years, could afford to buy Havas. And he’d get young shaver 46-year old David Jones (left), of course. But our friends in the Far East may be right: Dentsu might get there first.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.