Havas Media's Colin Kinsella: Four Principles for a Modern Agency and Agency Leader

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What defines a modern leader and a modern agency in today's agency world, I asked Colin Kinsella, who took over as Chief Executive Officer, North America, of Havas Media Group in 2016.

Colin (pictured at top) points to four philosophies he's followed throughout his career and that he says every Havas Media team member knows and follows.  "Our job is to create actions and results in the marketplace for our clients," he explains.  "To deliver on that promise, a modern leader needs experience working in different disciplines in and around the media and advertising ecosystem.  A modern agency needs to be data forward, social heavy, creative, connected and be committed to four principles."

Principle No. 1:  Respect

"As an organization," says Colin, "we're focused on treating everyone with respect.  That means starting every meeting on time -- and finishing on time.  When our partners visit, there's no waiting.  We send thank you notes.  The best way to get people to be creative is to bring their true self to work and to achieve that, we encourage a mutually supportive environment, communicating, listening and taking what is said in a positive context.  In too many organizations, too many groups try to kill each other's ideas internally.  In a creative organization focused on results, everyone is engaged in the decision-making process."

Principle No. 2:  Emotion and Creativity

"Every decision a consumer makes is based on emotions," Colin explains.  "Of course, our teams look at data, but we also ask them to disconnect from the data to determine the emotional windows in which consumers are making their decisions.  From a media perspective, especially in programmatic models, it's difficult to assess how someone feels when they're exposed to a message.  For us, it comes down to applying a creative lens and identifying what we can do to connect to consumers more creatively and in a more meaningful way."

Principle No. 3:  Cultural Change

Colin believes "bringing your whole self to work" includes having a meaningful life outside the office.  "Doing smart work is more important than working long hours" is a mantra he personally follows and encourages others at Havas Media to follow.  He says communicating and sharing appropriate life details is part of creating a community, destressing the environment and changing a culture, which every modern organization and leader must be focused on today.

Colin extends his vision of cultural change beyond his organization to changing the culture of our industry.  As an example, he points to a recent, new business win in the Havas Media Canadian operation.  "We received a note from the head of another agency that was a finalist for the business.  'I don't know what you did,' they wrote, 'but we thought we crushed it.  I could not be happier for Havas Media to have found a formula.'  Our industry needs to push to be better, support and learn from each other.  Even when we lose, good ideas create a better environment for us all.  Media companies and agencies should aspire for advertising and media to achieve their full potential.  It's not us vs. them.  We must all be asking how we as an industry, as companies and as individuals elevate the work we do and that's all we should be thinking about."

Principle No. 4:  Driving Growth for Clients

Our No. 1 goal is to drive the growth and surpass the objectives and expectations of our clients.  Our focus is on developing and implementing meaningful programs in the marketplace that consumers will react to and that will drive them to an action.  When we put the notion of 'action' into play, it drives the creative and media decision-making.  What's the idea, who's it going to influence, what is the end-user experience, the communications environment, the mood and receptivity, the meaning?  We not only want our clients to buy into the data but also what else we're doing that's adding creativity to their business, our innate knowledge, experience and ideas."

Innovation today, Colin believes, depends on understanding the fundamental shifts in brand loyalties and new marketing strategies required to effectively drive consumer action.  "How do marketers talk to consumers and where should we be sharing their messages?" he asks.  "Where should we be experimenting?  Suitcases, mattresses, beverages, foods, razors, CPG brands, even automobiles.  Havas' proprietary Meaningful Brands study tells us that a massive 77% of brands could simply disappear and no-one would care.  It's quite stunning.  From a media perspective, we need to better understand what media matters most to the audience and better leverage our clients' budgets to connect with audiences in the best environment for the brand.  A GRP may be a GRP (gross rating point), but we can move commercials onto shows where the message is more connected to the context of the content.  Making the brand feel more meaningful to viewers is key.

Colin's history of success speaks to the effectiveness of his four principles.  His career in advertising began in the '80s after he received his B.S. from the University of Dayton and MBA from University of Chicago Booth.  He joined Foote, Cone & Belding, spending 14 years in senior leadership roles, including two in London heading business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and four years leading the FCB San Francisco office.  Recognizing the explosion of technology, he joined QuinStreet, an early Silicon Valley lead generation and ROI innovator.  He was soon recruited back into the advertising business, spending nine years in senior executive roles at Razorfish (President) and Digitas (N.A. CEO) and then joining Mindshare N.A. as CEO before departing for his current role at Havas Media.  At each stop, his agencies consistently captured new business, agency of the year awards and notoriety for innovation and game-changing strategies.  Since joining Havas Media, the agency has won Adweek and MediaPost Agency of the Year, Digiday's 2018 "Most Innovative Culture" and has been selected as one of the "Best Places to Work in 2019" by Ad Age.  Colin's leadership team has also been recognized among Adweek's Media All-Stars and Adweek's 50 and some of Havas Media's newest talent has won the 2019 U.S. Cannes Young Lions Award for Media.

Having been at the helm of a variety of agencies in the marketing ecosystem has not only given Colin a unique perspective on the future of marketing but has also instilled in him the importance of a culture that fosters creativity.  "By embracing creativity in everything we do at Havas Media, we can build more meaningful brands and drive better business results for our clients," he concludes.

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