Chris Hirst makes surprise exit as Havas joins up creative and health under Donna Murphy

Holding company said merging leadership of the two groups forms part of its simplification strategy

Jul 15, 2022 03:28:00 AM | Article | Gideon Spanier

Havas Group is consolidating leadership of its health division and creative group under Donna Murphy as global creative CEO Chris Hirst departs after nearly seven years.

Hirst has led Havas’ creative group for the past three-and-a-half years, prior to which he was CEO and chairman of Havas UK. He joined Havas in 2015 from WPP agency Grey London, which he led for nearly 12 years.

Hirst, who is British and one of the most senior figures in UK advertising, is departing to “pursue new opportunities” and his team will now report to Murphy.

There was no word on what Hirst plans to do next but it is thought that he does not have a new role.

His abrupt departure is said to have happened quickly and caught insiders by surprise.

Hirst said: “I’m incredibly proud to leave Havas Creative Group in such good health. We have just achieved our best ever Cannes performance, are now a global new business powerhouse, have achieved numerous B-Corp accreditations and we are among the industry leaders in the critical area of DE&I.

“We have successfully launched several new thriving global networks, among which Havas CX and Havas Consulting, and have seen two consecutive years of record growth and profit. Consequently, this year we achieved the previously unthinkable: runner-up as Global Network of the Year.

“Ultimately however, it’s all about having more than your fair share of the very best people – and we were privileged to have just that. I’d like to thank them for all we have achieved.”

Havas Creative has had a strong run under Hirst, winning Randstad, the owner of Monster.com, Asda in the UK and KFC in France, and recruiting talent such as Vicky Maguire, chief creative officer in the UK. The network is also currently top of Campaign’s Advertising Intelligence new business table in Europe for the year to date.

A source close to Havas said it made sense to bring together the creative and health businesses together because of growing demand from global clients for integrated, pitches at the agency holding company level and pointed to the rapid growth of Havas’ health division under Murphy.

Health has been a major growth driver for agency groups during the pandemic and since then. Havas’ health division accounted for 24% of the group’s revenue in 2021, according to its annual report, while creative accounted for 44% and media made up the rest at 32%.

Havas did not provide details in the announcement about how it would integrate Havas Health and Havas Creative — it is understood to still be in the process of figuring out the structure, although it appears unlikely to shape up as a full-blown merger. For now, they will continue to operate as standalone business units but will align more closely on pitches and work, Campaign understands.

It is understood that the consolidation at Havas is also in line with a wider simplification drive at parent company Vivendi in recent months — with some Havas executives adding responsibilities with Vivendi, the owner of Canal+ and Studiocanal.

Power shift to North America

Murphy is the long-time leader of Havas’ health business. She became CEO of Havas Health & You in 2017, an entity formed from merging Havas’ consumer health practices. Murphy has been with the group for more than 35 years, over which time she has led several acquisitions.

She has little experience on the creative side of the agency business. She started her career as an accountant at Ernst & Whinney and then as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Murphy also serves on the Havas Group executive committee and will continue her close collaboration with the global media network, which is led by Peter Mears.

Murphy said: “Bringing together the exceptional global brand leadership of Havas Health & You with the dynamic creative talent and unique blend of assets in the Creative Group produces something truly unique for our client partners and teams across the globe.

“This combination is only strengthened by the lockstep integration with our skilled media specialists and support and collaboration of the Vivendi family.

“The result is a unified, best-in-class agency offering with unmatched capabilities that will work across disciplines to support the success of the world’s best and brightest brands across categories.”

Observers suggested the appointment of Murphy reflected a shift in power from Europe, where French-owned Havas and Vivendi are based, to North America.

Previously, both creative, under Hirst, and media, under its former CEO Dominique Delport, were based in Europe but now both will be run from the US.

As part of the leadership changes, Mears will also become chairman of the Havas North America Village in addition to his role as global CEO of media.

The strategy, Havas said, is to “bring a more unified approach to the group’s largest region.”

Meanwhile, Steve Netzley, founder and CEO of the Havas Edge Performance Network, will join the Havas Group executive committee.

Simplification drive

Yannick Bollore, chief executive of Havas Group and chairman of the supervisory board of Vivendi, said: “Havas Group is stronger than ever today thanks to the teams’ unfailing ability to reinvent themselves.

“We will build on this momentum and further deepen the integration between our business units to provide our clients, partners and talent with even more agile and streamlined collaboration.”

Havas has pursued a strategy of consolidating its agency brands since before 2017, when it was acquired by Vivendi.

When Hirst was promoted from CEO of Havas Group UK, with responsibility for both creative and media, to CEO of the global creative network in 2019, Havas pointed out at the time he had overseen the integration of 10 UK agencies into a single P&L.

(This article first appeared on www.CampaignLive.com)