Havas CEO Yannick Bolloré talked about options for the French communications group's future -- and the possible impact of a Publicis Omnicom merger -- in a conference call covering full year results for 2013.
Mr. Bollore, son of the group's biggest shareholder, Vincent Bollore, presented Havas annual results for the first time. He was promoted to CEO in January 2014 after the departure of predecessor David Jones to start a tech business.
He didn't rule out any options for the group's future, but Mr. Bolloré seemed to prefer the idea that Havas would invest in entertainment and content options as a way to find a niche for itself once the combined Publicis and Omnicom group is approved, likely to be later this year.
There has been widespread speculation that Havas, a distant No. 6 in the ranking of global agency companies, is likely to be sold or become part of French media and entertainment group Vivendi, where Vincent Bollore is the largest shareholder and chairman.
"Today there is no discussion between Vivendi and Havas about a possible merger," said Yannick Bollore."Not at all."
According to Mr. Bollore, "Havas is in a very interesting situation because it is doing well on its own and has a lot of cash. There are different options: we could continue on our own, adapt our group and make some acquisitions. We could combine with competitors, as we see with Publicis and Omnicom, but I don't see that would drive clear benefits for us or our clients."
The third option animated Mr. Bollore more than the first two. He said, "Or we could invest in other fields, like the SiliWood lab we created with Orange in L.A., which is producing interesting results" [In October, Havas Media and French telecoms company Orange announced a new research and business center in Los Angeles called SiliWood to explore the crossover between the media industry and Hollywood.] We could invest in the content area to help us drive the future of communications. I'm not sure a bigger position is relevant to us and we may diversify, but it's at a very premature stage of reflection."
That's compatible with Mr. Bollore's own background. He founded a film production company in 2002 and joined his father's Bolloré Group in 2006 as programs director of TV channel Direct 8.
$137.8B U.S. ad spend for top 200 advertisers
For now, Havas is in acquisition talks with "five or six" medium sized companies, on which they expect to spend less than $70 million, he said. However, Mr. Bollore insisted that there is money for bigger acquisitions if required.
Havas announced its 2013 results in mid-February, reporting 1% organic revenue growth, and today released a few more figures, including a small increase in profit to $170 million for 2013 from $162 million a year earlier. Mr. Bollore said he is looking at 2014 "with enthusiasm."
Looking ahead to the Publicis Omnicom merger as it nears completion, Mr. Bolloré said that in the last two or three weeks Havas has started seeing a lot of resumés from "very high senior managers" from both groups, and suggested that "the talent is getting worried."
Back in August 2013, Havas Media won the $150 million Emirates airline account from Starcom MediaVest Group, which Mr. Bolloré claimed demonstrated Havas' ability to compete with a combined Publicis Omnicom in future. He said, "Worst case scenario the merger will be neutral for us. In the best case, it will help us."