Mark Wnek on Advertising

The predators are circling so keep a watchful eye on Havas

A potentially outlandish but none the less fascinating rumour reaches me from across the Channel. It concerns my former employer the French-based Havas group, owners of Euro RSCG. In April 2000, the world's fifth biggest ad group's share price was €30, today it is in the toilet at about €3 or €4.

A potentially outlandish but none the less fascinating rumour reaches me from across the Channel. It concerns my former employer the French-based Havas group, owners of Euro RSCG. In April 2000, the world's fifth biggest ad group's share price was €30, today it is in the toilet at about €3 or €4.

The predators have long been circling Havas, not least one from within: its biggest shareholder, Vincent Bollore, allegedly something of a corporate raider, has built up a 20 per cent stake in Havas and has yet to declare his intentions. The name of WPP's chief, Sir Martin Sorrell, has also come up as a potential buyer (Sir M's name always comes up) as has that of Maurice Levy and his massive French ad group, Publicis.

The latest rumour concerns Jean-Marie Dru, France's most brilliant adman, and the second 'D' of the leading French agency BDDP. BDDP is now owned by Omnicom's TBWA and the magnetic Dru is head of TBWA World-wide, quite an achievement for a Frenchman in a US-based outfit. Dru, who lives in New York, is understood to be spending more time in Paris - perhaps, goes the speculation, to help Omnicom mount a bid for Havas? Remember where you heard it first. Unless it turns out to be nonsense, of course.

***

My arse is sore this week from the kickings I've received for missing people out of last week's definitive UK adland who's who. OK, there were a couple of glaring omissions, namely MCSaatchi's David Kershaw and the Publicis supremo Rick Bendel. Perhaps in Kershaw's case my mind simply couldn't accept his revolting allegiance to Arsenal. As for Bendel, it serves him right for his lifelong fight to keep out of the public eye.

A lot of people called to ask if I'd fallen out with my old mate Garry Lace, the former CEO of Grey, all-round ace face and adland superstar. In case you hadn't noticed, the Lacemeister isn't in an agency at the moment. If he decides he wants to be, I'm sure you'll read all about it on the front pages of the trades.

Then there was media: I didn't put any media guys in because I'm not an expert on that world, apart from the top types that everyone's heard of such as the big cheese Chris Ingram, heavy-hitter Stephen Allen of MediaCom, head girl Christine Walker of Walker Media, diamond geezer Mark Cranmer, head of Europe at Starcom, David Pattison and Jonathan Durden, P and D of the media giant PHD, and Michaelides and Bednash of, er, Michaelides and Bednash. Hang on. Did you see what I did there? I just did a UK adland media agency A-list by accident.

Finally, it was a list of British players - that's why no Yanks or Aussies made it. OK? For God's sake, get a life.

***

More rumours: can it be that a major - and I mean major - advertiser is looking to cut out their ad agency and go straight to the commercials production company for its creative work. The reason? Seems like some clients don't feel that some swotty-looking bloke holding the odd research group, a bunch of sulky "creatives" in matt black and spiky haircuts and some suit with a Groucho Club membership are worth shelling out a seven-figure fee for. According to my mole at the agency, you can bank - nudge, nudge - on something radical happening in this relationship imminently. If true, this would send shockwaves through the cosy world of ad agency-client relations.

***

Back to the subject of Havas. Everybody is having a go at the Havas boss Alain de Pouzilhac, a man I know well and regard extremely highly.

De Pouzilhac has only ever made one mistake in my opinion, and that is getting in to bed with less-than-brilliant operators in the US. Now that the rotund perma-tanned boating fanatic Bob Schmetterer has been dispensed with, that's simply left Euro RSCG Worldwide in the hands of the McCann-reject Jim Heekin. Euro's only true major multinational client, Intel (Euro shares Reckitt & Colman with JWT, and Peugeot has no US presence) is currently carrying out a review of its advertising and a negative result would be unthinkable.

There are some positives: Euro RSCG BETC, the French agency and recent European Ad Agency of the Year, has a pre-eminence in the French market unlike anything we have in the UK - you'd have to merge the top three UK agencies in terms of billings and creative awards; and then there's David Jones, head of Euro RSCG New York, a recent victor in the $100m-plus Charles Schwab pitch. The young, affable and brilliant Jones is not a Heekin hiring but a Euro RSCG man from way back. He once ran the group's Australian agency, which promptly became Ad Agency of the Year.

Many see Jones as the rightful head of Euro RSCG Worldwide-in-waiting, some believing the waiting cannot be over soon enough.

***

Next week sees the inaugural Wnek Advertising Awards, in which a secret panel of adland players will help me sort the highs and lows of 2004.

OK, some categories have obvious winners. Like that of "Cringe-making quote of the year", Saatchi & Saatchi's extremely surprising new CEO choice, Lee Daley. Upon quitting HHCL/Red Cell earlier this year, Daley, quoted in Campaign magazine, made the collective shirt of UK adland ride up it's back with the immortal: "I've never worked in an agency as good as the one in my head."

Hopefully most of next week's other winners will be a little less obvious.

Self-inflicted hatchet job is all the better

People keep asking me that question and my answer is always the same: I am not going to do a hatchet job on Ben Langdon in this column.

Langdon, in case there's a single person anywhere with even the remotest connection to adland who hasn't heard this one yet, is the guy who got sacked by McCann-Erickson last year and then spent most of the rest of the year trying to talk me into starting an agency. I was chairman of the Euro RSCG Group at the time. The agency we started, Ben Mark Orlando (my former agency has a clause preventing me from using my surname in a business title) was three months old and doing very well when Langdon, bemoaning daily the loss of his Aston Martin and his chauffeur, walked out on Orlando and I - to take my old job back at Euro RSCG.

There are several reasons why I've never given Langdon a kicking in my column - the main one being I've got a life. Also, Euro RSCG was the agency my partners and I built, and there were still many of our people there trying to make sense of the turmoil. Finally, Langdon seemed to be doing a good enough hatchet job on himself with a new business haul at the ad agency since his arrival in March of... not much else but Aunt Bessie's Pies.

Once the shareholders of Havas, owners of Euro RSCG, assess this record, I expect Langdon and his faithful lieutenant, Simon Toaldo (the "l" and second "o" are silent), to get their marching orders shortly afterwards. And without me even lifting a finger.

WNEK'S WORST IN SHOW CADBURY'S

It's rare that you see work which is so jaw-droppingly bad that it can only be the result of an entire group of client-ad agency personnel purposely determined to bamboozle and annoy. Agency Publicis's Cadbury work is just such a rarity. In each commercial, when a person eats a Cadbury product that person's "happiness" manifests itself in the shape of a talking stuffed animal wearing a tiara or a necklace with the word "Happiness" on it. The person eating the product moons about as if drunk, sometimes addressing the animal as "My happiness". Endline - wait for it - 'Your Happiness loves Cadbury.' New Publicis chairman Tim Lindsay hasn't arrived a moment too soon.

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