Thanks to a recovering U.S. market, Havas reported organic growth of 6.8% for the first quarter of 2011, compared to 1.5% for the same period last year. Revenue was up 9.7% to $530 million from $483 million for the same period last year.
"Five years ago we had $1 billion worth of debt and now we have $1 billion to spend, and the important thing is to spend it wisely rather than to spend it fast," Havas' new CEO, David Jones, told Ad Age. Mr. Jones took over last month from Fernando Rodes Vila as CEO of the whole Havas group, owner of networks such as Euro RSCG Worldwide, Arnold and MPG. "The reality is that the acquisition of talent and small startups is as important as the next big external acquisition."
Havas posted slightly higher growth than French rival Publicis Groupe (6.5%) and Omicom (5.2%), which both reported recently. WPP will announce its first-quarter results Thursday.
Like Publicis, Havas cited a better-performing North America as a key factor. The group attributed the 7.2% organic growth there, up from 5.2% in the first quarter of 2010, to a lift in advertising and health care, as well as to new accounts. Last summer Arnold picked up business from Alberto Culver and New Balance.
Havas reported its strongest growth in Latin America, up 24.6% thanks to Brazil and Argentina. Asia-Pacific was up 10.3%, driven by China, where Havas bought Hong Kong-based Porda, a big financial public relations group, at the end of 2010. Europe posted organic growth of 3.8%, up from 3% for the same period last year.
New business in the first quarter totaled $564 million, led by Dell and Pfizer globally, and including Sonic in the U.S., Turespana in Spain and Danone in Mexico.
British-born Mr. Jones was promoted in March from CEO of Havas Worldwide, where he ran the group's agency operations, to CEO of the Havas group in March, including responsibility for both Havas Worldwide and Havas Media. He plans to focus on acquisitions and growing digital. He said 75% to 80% of Havas' agencies are fully digitally integrated, with single teams and one profit-and-loss line, unlike some of his rivals.
"The model is for giant digital silos like AKQA or Publicis Groupe's Digitas," he said. "I began merging digital and advertising [at Havas] in Australia in 1998 and I've done it in New York, in Chicago and in San Francisco. Clients are looking for agencies that know brands and digital."