Editor’s Note: The following article was written and kindly provided by Mark Tungate of Epica Press Club.
Havas Group may have just cracked the production challenge of the multi-platform digital era. In partnership with Wellcom Worldwide, the holding company has created a world-spanning creative production network called Havas Studios.
The operation is headed by Paul Ward, formerly group chief operations officer of Havas in the UK. An affable sort, Ward jokes in his LinkedIn profile that he started out as a bingo caller in Whitley Bay: the seaside jewel of England’s northeast coast. During the interview, we struggle to find a link with his subsequent career – although the bingo hall did advertise by hailing passers-by through amplifiers. He spent many of the following years in production, which may explain his remarkable calm given the enormity of the project he’s taken on.
“Because of my background, as group COO I took a keen interest in what was happening in production,” he says. “And it was clear that clients were moving away from wanting to spend all their money on one, big Super Bowlesque production, to asking for strategic control over a number of interconnecting assets.”
For the price they might once have paid for a landmark film, clients now wanted at least ten different executions tailored to specific platforms. “In the past, our businesses were built to serve a single execution mentality. But we’ve moved to a situation where clients still want craft, they still want ‘big’ – but they also want scale and they want to leverage different media. There are also a lot of conversations around how we’re going to deal with automation, personalization, and DCO [dynamic creative optimization]. That requires a different model, which is what we’ve created. To me, this is a genuine accelerator for change – not only for our own business but for the industry.”
Based in London, the network will initially incorporate content studios in the UK, Chicago, New York, Prague, Kuala Lumpur, Florida, and Australia, with sites in Germany, China, and Latin America to follow. Film, print, audio, digital, post-production, DCO – it will cover all the bases.
The partnership with Wellcom Worldwide is a crucial part of the undertaking because Wellcom specializes in digital content production and social media strategies, among other things. Essentially it will be the tech engine of the new business. In 2019 it was acquired by Innocean, part of Hyundai and therefore not under the Havas umbrella. So how did the partnership come about?
There are a couple of links, it turns out. Ward had already worked with Wellcom in a previous incarnation at BBH. When he arrived at Havas in 2015, he partnered with them to help set up and run the Havas UK production studio. “That was our test case. We nurtured it and monitored it and enjoyed its success for over four years, before saying: Now we know this model works, how do we replicate it around the world?”
Havas invited other companies to pitch, but Wellcom still emerged with the best offering. Coincidentally, Innocean is a major client of Havas Media Group. “I’m sure some of the candidates who didn’t make it thought there was a background deal with Innocean. There absolutely wasn’t. Hand on heart, we picked Wellcom because they were the ones we felt most confident in going with.”
Havas Studios is not alone out there: WPP has the “production and adaptation” outfit Hogarth; while Publicis refers to its network Prodigious as a “global, cross-media production house”. A similar global production structure, Tag, is owned by a private equity firm.
As Ward implied earlier, the launch of Havas Studios reflects an industry shift, analogous to the spinning off of media departments as independent entities in the 1990s. So, like them, will Havas Studios have to pitch for work from existing creative clients – while also being free to seek standalone clients outside the Havas fold?
“That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” confirms Ward. “We’ll be out there in the market, pitching as an independent content at scale business.” Pitching as an independent production entity for projects from Havas clients is one of the biggest growth opportunities, he emphasizes. “We’ll make full-blown films for clients, just as a production company would because they see the benefit of working with us and the creative side of Havas in partnership.”
In addition, he reveals that Havas Studios has already won work in North America that falls within its P&L performance, independently of the group. He stresses that he’s not trying to steal million-dollar film productions from the higher end of the production industry – “But there is a swathe of other content that needs to be crafted and implemented across multiple channels.” Indeed, expertise in tailoring brand messages to different platforms while ensuring consistency will be another key element of the offering.
For all its technical elements, however, this is a people business – and Havas Studios is recruiting. “We’re hiring talents from the places our creatives aspire to work with,” says Ward. “We will build teams around our creative people that they can trust. I’ve been very clear from the start: Havas Studios is not in-house. This is a business that people will want to work with because it’s great.”