What has been the most significant change in the marketing industry over the past decade?
Hugues Rey: There have been numerous changes, but one thing is certain: there has been a proliferation of job roles. Being a marketer 20 years ago is different from being one today. It's more complex than just attributing it to digitalisation, although that is certainly a factor. The connection between employment and digitalisation has led to the emergence of more specialised positions. This trend is fascinating because fewer roles exist where one person possesses all the necessary skills. This is where freelancing becomes a valuable solution, as it allows us to find individuals more specialised in specific areas.
However, despite this increase in specialist roles, there is still a need for exceptional generalists. It may seem paradoxical, but both types of professionals are crucial. It is challenging to find individuals who have a holistic perspective while also being specialists. Ideally, we should have ultra-specialists and generalists who can comprehend and coordinate the efforts of various specialists. This combination of skill sets represents the most significant change in marketing over the past decade, and technology has played a substantial role in driving these transformations.
What is your biggest challenge in today's landscape as an agency?
Hugues Rey: The agency's primary challenge is inherently related to people. We are in the business of "people, people, people." We sell intellectual capabilities that leverage technology or rely on human intelligence. Since technology will continue to evolve, the most critical challenge for an agency is to have a workforce that can adapt precisely and is appropriately sized to match our economic reality. Additionally, it is crucial to respond to evolving customer needs. This is the first and foremost challenge.
The second challenge is maintaining consistent staff quality despite the inevitability of turnover. And the third challenge, which is a chicken-and-egg situation, is determining how we can ensure fair compensation. Achieving proper compensation is only possible if we have the right profiles. When you sell talent for a fee, the quality of that talent is paramount. We cannot resort to practices that undermine the quality of our workforce to maintain profitability. It is a continuous exercise that demands seniority and the ability to command higher prices. Selling at a higher price reflects the value generated, and that value must be appropriately compensated for. However, assembling a full staff with the required expertise can be challenging, making freelancing an attractive option.
Do you need help recruiting staff? If so, why?
Hugues Rey: Yes, it can be challenging, but there are various reasons. Our work on employer branding is an ongoing endeavour because there is always room for improvement. Furthermore, younger individuals tend to think twice about work after the pandemic, as the allure may not be as captivating as it once seemed. During my career, between the ages of 25 and 35, I would work on weekends. While it led me to my current job, I now question whether that was the best path. It's ironic because I now find immense satisfaction in physically closing my agency every Friday.
If someone had suggested this four years ago, I would have dismissed it as a joke. But it has genuinely changed my life and the lives of many others. Our relationship with work has transformed, and we now perceive the world of work through a different lens. I have observed that people desire more flexibility while cherishing the opportunity to collaborate, work together, and engage in new challenges. Working from the office is still relevant, even though a 35-year career in the same company is no longer the sole realistic option.
How is your agency organised? Do you have permanent employees, contractors, or freelancers?
Hugues Rey: We employ a combination of permanent staff, contractors, and freelancers based on our needs and available opportunities. I believe in having long-term team members who become part of the agency's fabric and leave a lasting impact. However, I am certain that to retain our teams, we must provide support. Support means promptly finding a replacement when someone is absent, alleviating the pressure on the team. If we want people to stay for an extended period, we must assist them during challenging times.
This is where freelancing becomes invaluable, as it allows us to find replacements quickly and proactively address any problems. Freelancers also bring a breath of fresh air and an external perspective. I appreciate working with individuals who have diverse experiences. When someone hasn't dealt with a particular issue for six months, they approach it differently and say, "I'll solve your problem now, but in six months, I'll be gone anyway!" There is something positive about this approach. It is necessary to strike a balance between having permanent team members and leveraging the benefits of freelancers. I believe in embracing these multiple facets.
When do you think a client should choose an agency over a freelancer? Why would a client engage Havas for SEO, for instance, rather than in-house?
Hugues Rey: That's an excellent question! We could ask why agencies exist in the first place if we condense it. Let's revisit what we discussed earlier. Agencies provide an external perspective, possess a diverse skill set, and are adept at navigating complex ecosystems. When clients engage an agency, they typically seek a specific set of services, as no single agency offers a comprehensive range of solutions. Even the largest agency group in the country will only provide a fraction of the required services.
Consequently, clients often need to assemble multiple agencies to accomplish a task that would be challenging to organise with a single advertiser. However, clients may hire freelancers and manage some of the work in-house for certain specialised areas and specific approaches. For instance, in the case of SEA, it can work effectively. If a large budget is available, building a team of freelancers to handle the requirements is possible. I know individuals who have successfully done this in SEA or social media, with a team based in Amsterdam overseeing operations throughout Europe. However, it is crucial to maintain a somewhat independent spirit. The most intriguing phrase I have encountered recently, dating back to 30 years within the agency world, is "Do you want a good meeting or a good campaign?" In most cases, in-house teams at advertisers prioritise having a good meeting to avoid any complications.
Conversely, if you work with a reputable agency, you should not be afraid to speak the truth because that is precisely what you are paid to do. Agencies are expected to go further, challenge the status quo, and offer a critical perspective. Disagreement is integral to the agency's role, as clients engage agencies to provoke improvement and produce better results. Consequently, the vantage point from within an agency and an advertiser's organisation is inherently different, despite performing the same job function.