Havas North America is a little different, and the privately owned network doesn’t do things quite like all the other ad agencies you know. At least that’s what co-chairman and chief creative officer Jason Peterson says—and he makes no apologies for his own at-times-controversial style.
In recent days, a video distributed internally to the network’s approximately 4,000 employees in North America has been getting some attention from other agency folk, many of whom were quick to debate whether it was a clever meta-joke, a sad commentary on the state of the industry or a hint as to where the ad world might be going, for better and/or worse.
The video, titled “Havas North America Creative Update Intro,” features Peterson and CEO and co-chairman Paul Marobella offering up their own version of the classic executive email memo.
Why take such an unorthodox approach? “Nobody reads those things; it’s the same shit,” said Peterson in reference to such “blah blah” notes from a company CEO. “So we wanted to do something a little different.”
It was, indeed, a little different. In an extended thread on gossip app Fishbowl, employees at Havas and other companies shared their (mostly negative) takes on the video. One party described the effort as “extremely sad, empty and desperate” while another wrote, “F**k the haters. Yes, it’s a cringeworthy video but it’s open and more than what your CCO has done lately.”
“There are four videos; they’re lighthearted in tone, [but they’re] about what’s going on at the agency,” Peterson said. “We’re giving context to what goes on, what we do all day and where the agencies are headed. Transparency is one of hardest things, and we’re a creative company.”
“I’m just not good at memos,” he said. “I can’t write very well, but I can make videos.”
Peterson added that the three clips set to follow in this series, which more closely resemble creative reels or mini-case studies, will include more specifics regarding Havas campaigns, staffing news and client updates. They will be distributed via the network’s internal platform and will not be available to the public. They will, however, still include narration by Peterson and Marobella, shot and edited in the faux retro style popularized by Adult Swim and Tim Heidecker.
“Hopefully it starts to set the bar across the board; what is our POV for really good work,” added the creative chief, who believes that few agencies maintain such standards regarding the quality of their own work.
When discussing the distinction between creatives and creators, Peterson cited Casey Neistat, rather than Bill Bernbach, as his chief inspiration—just like he did earlier this year. “Our industry refuses to evolve and change, so that’s where the controversy comes [from],” he said, comparing “outrage” surrounding this shift to the shock inspired by Bernbach’s decision to pair art directors with copywriters in the 1950s.
“I think Havas is light years ahead. I love other agencies and I love this industry*, but my competition is not other agencies—it’s kids with iPhones who have 50,000 followers,” Peterson told Adweek. “More traditionally charged people will be upset, which is why I put my number on the video.”
Regarding the backlash, he said, “I am a creative guy, and I just want to make really rad shit. If you don’t want to do that, you should just post on Fishbowl about how awful it is. There are plenty of agencies that are barely hanging on, still hiring guys like you.”
*For what it’s worth, these sentiments do contradict things Peterson has said in the very recent past.