Thanks to turmoil at Havas, the 58-year-old president-CEO of TBWA Worldwide almost outshone Grand-Prix winner "Grrr" at the Cannes advertising festival as the industry's primary object of affection. Whispering sweet nothings into one ear was the troubled Paris-based agency holding company that sees its countryman as just the man to step into its newly-created leadership vacuum. Into the other went the lovelorn cries of TBWA and its owner, the Omnicom Group, both desperate not to be dumped by the executive behind the network's rise as a creative powerhouse.
So lusty was the seduction of Jean-Marie that it threatened to drown out the main attractions of the Cannes: the awarding of the Lions, the industry's most prestigious honors. The gaze of the assembled international press corps couldn't help but be distracted by Parisian boardroom antics as Havas' longtime chairman-CEO, Alain de Pouzilhac, stepped down after being bested by corporate raider Vincent Bollore, or the fracas' southern migrations, the strangest of which came in the form of Jacques Seguela.
The well-known Mr. Seguela, Havas' chief creative officer, a board member, and, as of last week, its chief spokesman, put the matter in distinctly amorous tones. He made no secret of Havas' jones for Mr. Dru, despite a coy comparison between the approaches of French and American lovers. Declining to discuss the nature of negotiations, he said at a press gathering, "A Frenchman will pick up a daisy, pluck petals one by one, saying, `She loves me, she loves me more, she loves me more passionately."' He continued, "The Frenchman lets it be known he wants her. By the evening, she'll be in bed with him."
Havas, of course, isn't the only one eyeing Mr. Dru like a black truffle in a forest full of weeds. Omnicom President-CEO John Wren and TBWA creative chieftain Lee Clow each spent some of their Cannes sojourn endeavoring to put some spice back in the relationship, but there were also any number of other public displays of affection. At a beachside party hosted by TBWA June 21, staffers' pride in their performance in the award show was tempered by concern about the fate of their leader. White t-shirts with the phrase "I [heart] TBWA" were handed out.
JE T'AIME, JEAN-MARIE
"If Vincent Bollore wants Havas to be like TBWA, he'll have to hire the 8,300 people, too," said Nicolas Bordas, president of TBWA France. "We love you, Jean-Marie." At that moment, a pair of cannons blasted volleys of hearts made of red tissue paper.
But, as troubled lovers tend to do, TBWA and Omnicom execs began to look beyond Mr. Dru, speculating about who could keep the bed warm in his absence. While names like European President Paul Bainsfair and California President-CEO Robert LePlae popped up, a senior Omnicom executive said to expect a "surprise" in line with the holding company's reorganization of marketing-services units.
It will, of course, take more than t-shirts and tissue paper for Omnicom to retain Mr. Dru, who in 2004 hauled in $3.6 million in salary, bonuses and perks, according to SEC filings. Mr. Dru took the reins of the network in 2001 and is generally credited with turning a collection of agencies with very different cultures into a global network that produces well-regarded work for clients like Nissan, Apple and Adidas. This year, Ad Age named it network of the year for the first time.
Mr. Wren is expected to continue his pitch this week. If he's not successful, it could throw a roadblock in the way of a global agency network with strong momentum.
Which, as we know from Mr. Seguela, does happen: "Advertising is not all smooth sailing but a Sargasso Sea, often seething." Or, to put it in the language of love, "C'est la vie."