Thomas Le Thierry is president of Vizeum Global, after spending 18 years working within the Aegis group. At one time he led the group’s international business portfolio for Scandinavia, handling clients such as GM, Ferrero, Total and Société Général. He was one of the founding directors of Vizeum and given the brief to launch and grow its French operation.
Now at the head of the media agency, he is determined to shape a new way of doing business for the media agency. Le Thierry believes now is a “new age” for business, an age “rich with incredible opportunities for marketing and media to connect brands with people”.
He says the convergent world where everything is interconnected and interdependent is rapidly changing due to technological developments. This is a world where people freely connect, exchange information and share personal data in a highly transparent way on multiple platforms and devices.
His challenges? To adapt to this new context and to exploit the opportunities of the future and build consistency about our offer and capabilities at a network level. And to drive client growth and stimulate new business worldwide.
Le Thierry visited Cape Town recently, and The Media Online asked his some questions.
1. You say Vizeum is at a ‘turning point’. How did the agency get to that point? What are its major challenges?
We did launch the agencies in the main markets in Europe 10 years ago. We have invested time and resources to build over a decade what is now a truly global operation present across all main markets servicing major clients and supported by over a thousand staff. Through the Aegis Media operating model we can really leverage group assets and can deliver integrated services in a unique way. The Dentsu opportunity is making things even more exciting. We have defined an ambitious vision for ourselves. In business timing is everything, for us, It’s exactly the right time for us to accelerate.
2. “Since Vizeum’s launch 10 years ago, some of the momentum has been lost.” What is your over-arching plan to regain momentum and perhaps overtake competitors?
I am not sure momentum has been lost, the recent gain of Ferrero and Burberry proves the opposite. We have invested time to create a solid network; we can now leverage our global capabilities and are determined to do so. Coming to SA, meeting with the clients of the agency, seeing the passion and the energy of the teams but also the consistency of our product is really encouraging. We are not a network of agencies with similar visual identity but a global agency network sharing the same vision, values and ambition
3. You also say there are ‘real and genuine opportunities ahead’. What are the and how are you preparing to take those opportunities?
We have designed our positioning and offer to embrace the two biggest challenges brands face: convergence and globalisation. Convergence is making media more important to client’s business every day. Our operating model has been designed to be able to be perfectly placed to deliver solutions in this new environment. Globalization has changed the remit in which brands see themselves. It requires more focus, the courage to define clear priorities but also new capabilities to understand consumer and develop insights across geographies. Our network organization that has moved from a central model to a global model based on hubs and centers of excellence enables us to be ahead of the game. Those two challenges are forcing everyone to reconsider how to build brands. This is why reinvention is central to the group strategy.
4. Does the ‘interconnected world’ require special skills of your staff? If so, what kind of person are you looking for to work in this ever-changing environment?
Absolutely yes. The global and interconnected world requires for our people to develop new skills but also for our company to develop new tools. We are as we speak launching a global internal platform to make sure client teams across the work can work, develop ideas share best practices in real time. Very rightly so this is central to client expectations. We are also making sure that we create the cultural shift amongst teams so they develop cross country, cross discipline collaborative thinking and the decisions to open 8 hubs across the world and to lead operations from these places is a clear manifestation of our ambition in that field. We are recruiting people who have lived in different places in the world, who speak different languages so they understand the reality of the global challenge. Speaking numerous languages is one of your skills here in SA
5. How connected are you? What devices/platforms can’t you live without, professionally and personally?
It’s a balance. Being connected through devices and platforms with the world is important but we need to avoid to be overwhelmed by the instant, the newness. Redefining and leading a global operation requires having a bit of distance with what’s happening out there. To put things on pause every once in a while and take the time to think. I need to focus on what’s key, on our priorities. I am a strong believer in the personal connections, the true understanding of cultural differences. I try to physically travel, meet the teams and the clients to create long lasting meaningful connections
6. Is operating in a global environment made easier or more challenging by the technology out there?
Technology is a real friend in this new environment. The Fuze or Skypes of today enable to massively accelerate global collaboration. It is a challenge to be able to be always on and drive business on a global scale but it central to brands and we simply need to operate at that level.
7. How do you impress your global outlook on your branches around the world who might have issues on a country-to-country basis? Is a one-size-fits-all approach or do you tailor-make your offering as per what each country requires?
We do have a consistent approach to strategy across all markets. That enables us to speak the same language and share best practices, cases, ideas in a very efficient way. We also have global research solutions especially when it comes to consumer understanding. This enables us to identify the strategic target insights across very different geographies and create global platforms and ideas for our clients and the brands they look after. Now peak time in Norway on TV starts at 6 pm when it starts at 10 in Spain. The digital and mobile internet connected device penetration in SA is very different from the one in Nigeria or Egypt. We need to operate on a global scale but also understand local realities and make sure we are always relevant. As we go forward, the world will become flatter and flatter every day and globalization will accelerate. We have to prepare for that.
8. Can you give us more on what you describe as a ‘new age for businesses, rich with opportunities for marketing and media. How should companies be coming to terms with the digital revolution, and how do media agencies help them do this?
This sends us back to the convergent and globalization trends I mentioned earlier. I think brands, and agencies need to work along those lines and see this as a true opportunity. We are in a moment of discontinuity. And discontinuity is ideal to create new competitive advantages for those who have the right vision and solutions. This is what we are trying to build everyday so we help our clients build their competitive edge and grow their business. The industrial revolution gave birth to a civilization based on lines. In media these lines were the famous editorial lines. The digital revolution is radically changing this. Content is now produced and consumed outside any line. Communication and advertising need to anticipate on this new reality and reinvent how they help brands.
9. What are you doing in South Africa and what will you take home with you from this trip?
A few things for the family but more importantly a much better understanding of the market, the challenges our clients and teams are facing. Real insights about the reality of one of the most fascinating markets in the world as well. SA is part of the “BRICS” family where we should all search inspiration from. It is really refreshing vs some of the habits and rules we have in the more conservative Europe. The truth is also that I came here to share the vision and the ambition of the network with the people I have met. So maybe more importantly it’s about what I have brought to the table in supporting our business and our clients. You will have to ask them if those sessions were profitable. I have the feeling they have been.
10. Has the takeover by Dentsu impacted on your business at all? What has been the impact of the takeover, and what plans are in place by Dentsu for its global operations?
Dentsu is bringing fabulous geographic complementarity as well as capabilities in the digital, technology and content area. We have large team sessions scheduled in Tokyo coming up soon to bring to life all the positive synergies we have identified and make that happen in the interest of our clients. The 5 network brands and the reinvention journey we are on and that we have put at the center of our strategy at group level for Aegis Media will remain unchanged. I know there is a very strong alignment of all the management behind that. Reinventing is actually something that is very strong in the culture of Dentsu because it is central to all clients.