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Coffee with Dominique Delport: Of a journalist mindset, being a tech co. & in the ad biz…

Once a journalist”, that is how our conversation with Havas Media’s Global Managing Director Dominique Delport began, when DMA met him during his recent visit to Singapore. He had just returned from India, and was at the time preparing to be in Australia for the launch of Havas Media’s fully owned operations in Sydney under the CEO-ship of Mike Wilson.
Mr Delport appeared quite pleased with the way the year is ending for the agency. After a score of 43 per cent wins in billing including global wins such as Emirates Airlines and LG; expanding presence in the region with markets such as Australia and taking a few steps that further accentuated the agency’s ‘integrated’ approach like bringing Havas Village to markets such as Singapore, that was small wonder. But that is not all that the year’s reflections bring to Mr Delport.
A rigorous beginning
A significant portion of Mr Delport’s initial career was in journalism (Editor-in-Chief of M6 from 1993 to 2000) and somewhere the experience of those years has ingrained an understanding and respect towards content in him. For him, journalism is a state of mind. “It is about curiosity, about listening, constantly meeting and understanding new people and cultures,” he remarks, as we await the coffee, and adds, “I think about the Haiyan typhoon in Philippines, which has right now become a global topic of discussion, and wonder about the 12 per cent OPW workers who are remotely living the drama there, connecting with families and the huge stress involved. When you look at all this, there is a need to be constantly aware that this is just advertising. It is fascinating, but no one dies.”
At the same time however, according to him, advertising comes with responsibilities because professionals of the field are “guardians of consumer interests”. “It is our duty to track what makes a difference or is meaningful for consumers today, and then create those connections between brands and consumers. With the millennial generation, whose sense of ownership is still vague though they are quick to share, the duty is even more pronounced,” states Mr Delport.
When you get technology right…
…any good idea spreads like wildfire. Consumers have demonstrated time and again that when an idea clicks with them, then there is no such thing as first mover advantage. “There may well be a late mover advantage if you had to see the progress of some of the technology brands,” Mr Delport quips, just as the coffee arrives, and cites the example of WeChat from China that is now a global brand with 280 million users. “It is a young but powerful brand and already accepted well in western markets. Brands like these can be direct to device tomorrow, pushing different forms of content, bypassing the likes of Facebook and Twitter, in effect posing a threat to major brands. The versatility of technology is such that you have to challenge yourself all the time,” he notes.
The other point he makes on this is the need to be front facing since “no one cares about factories anymore until something goes wrong”. And that is perhaps an area where technology led brands from India have to still score. While India has the HCL and Infosys of the world that have established superior thinking in technology, the big consumer fronting success stories are still to come. The future world is all about social empowerment, whether it is in markets such as Middle East or North Korea seeing two million mobile subscribers already, once technology makes an in-way, there is no looking back. He reminds that of the top 10 Meaningful Brands in Havas’ study, five are technology brands.
Technology is at the centre of everything that Havas Media does and perhaps that is one of the reasons why Mr Delport sees the agency more as a technology company. “Everything we do, and it is a way for us to push agility with scale, is technology driven. Tech enables us to grow faster, to invent new tools for measurement or client management that really makes a difference in the way we approach our clients. We may be considered underdog, which is alright since being under the radar also gives advantages, but I believe our proposition works.”
Scale, not just for scale
Size matters in the media agency business but according to Mr Delport the new world is no longer about scale for scale’s sake. “We need international scale but we also need agility and ability to anticipate and respond to changes, while constantly challenging status quo. I love to be the challenger brand. When we won Emirates, I don’t know how many were betting on us. But our offer is different and it is working for us,” he states.
The Havas offer is two pronged – the integrated approach and a core made up of data and content, all this on the back of a single P&L (profit and loss) structure that brings unified vision for the company. “The single P&L system is a killer approach. It allows all units of the agency, all agencies of the holding company including the specialists to work towards a single objective and is hence client-centric and driven by consumer satisfaction. Around 90 per cent of the people in our company work for 90 per cent of clients. Everyone has the same agenda and this is reflected in our merger and acquisition strategy as well. For us, it has to be compatible with our integration strategy,” Mr Delport explains.
Integrated approach from the agency is also seen in the Havas Village concept that was proto-typed in Dubai, was taken to Paris and is now also in Singapore. This co-location concept will be extended to various other markets as well. “On an average, our clients have been with us for five to six years. This is not an industry standard. This loyalty is an outcome of the company’s long term vision, driven at the top by Yannick Bollore now, and it is just the beginning,” says Mr Delport.
Nobel Prize & Emmy Award
The second driver of the agency, which is about bringing data and content at the core of its offer, are described by Mr Delport as the agency’s Nobel Prize and Emmy Award, literally. “We believe in the DDOG Mantra – Data Driven Organic Growth,” divulges Mr Delport, and adds, “The industry had quite a few raised eyebrows when we invested in a lab run by two awarded mathematicians. But maths is the beginning of anything you want to understand about data. We speak a lot about big data, and it is true that if we can compute and crunch the data available today it would open a new field of opportunities. But you need to understand this data in order to take some concrete action from it. We have invested significantly in this and the results are beyond expectations.”
Another area that the agency had invested in nearly seven years ago, was content. “We are perhaps the first and the only agency to have won an Emmy Award (Havas Production’s interactive TV show C.U.L.T., co-produced for France 5 was given the award). Content is important especially in the social silo world that we live in. Content can create the meaningful connections as it is the perfect vehicle for brands to interact with consumers,” informs Mr Delport. Havas began its content interest by focussing on journalism because according to the agency, once the hard and responsible form of content is understood, it is easier to work on lighter content formats.
The hub structure
The final area of focus for the agency is timely implementation. And this is where the hub structure comes in play. “The hubs micro network gives us the speed in implementing, which is critical in this business since it is not just about the right vision. It also helps in constantly evolving,” Mr Delport observes. A key rule to the hub structure is being a multi-cultural company because for the agency, that allows it to stay relevant to local businesses.
“Being open to other cultures, really willing to understand and challenging ourselves to adapt our processes and tools to different cultures is key for the future. We are also flexible enough to mirror client structures and develop the best solutions for them,” adds Mr Delport.
“In essence, we want to contribute to reinvent the business since the old ways do not work anymore. Our study showed that around seven to nine per cent of brands are relevant for people and they don’t care if the brands die tomorrow, that is a concern. We need to remember that at end, it is all about data. Big data is really just people’s data. Connected TV is connected people watching TV, so we have to keep people at the centre of our activities and we have to be transparent in the way we manage information that is about them,” Mr Delport concludes.

Noor Fathima Warsia

A veteran journalist in the Indian marketing, media and advertising fraternity, Noor Fathima Warsia took on the role of Group Editor -– APAC for Digital Market Asia in May 2013. Noor has focussed on tracking trends and developments in the Indian media industry.
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