Media Media Planning and Buying Brand Strategy

‘Wacky shit that delivers growth’: Havas Media’s Hamid Habib on how he sees experience

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

January 28, 2022 | 6 min read

Late in 2021 Havas Media Group hired industry veteran Hamid Habib to the newly-created dual role of chief experience officer of Havas Media Group and deputy managing director, Havas Entertainment. The Drum catches up with Habib to see how he’s implemented his vision of ‘experience’ across the agency group in a few short months.

Hamid Habib

Havas Media Group’s chief experience officer and deputy managing director Hamid Habib

In 21 years, Habib’s seen a lot of the media industry, from Zenith to Havas to OMD to Starcom to Craft, before his return to Havas Media sitting on the leadership team and handling the ‘fun’ stuff like Havas Entertainment.

The Drum asks him what the ‘experience’ in his job title entails. After a brief laugh at the basic question, he explains that it is built around three things.

“Understanding context, mindsets and moments. Then connections, where we deliver media against those mindset moments, and then finally, content – what do we put into those spaces?”

Some media planners will be familiar with the mix, but it’s clear Habib’s background gives him a good idea of how to excite people. Prior to his 21 years in media, he used to run a nightclub (it was profitable, he assures me). “I’ve been very lucky. I fell into this. At the club, the lady who used to run a PR agency, working with PlayStation, asked if we could help with the DJ culture exhibition in Manchester.”

Helping PlayStation activate in music was his first foray into branded experiences and he liked it so much he went back to university to study marketing (having already left a medical degree to run the club). He found his feet at an in-its-prime Nickelodeon talking media in a kid’s play-style boardroom filled with toys. But from there, he found a grounding in always pushing to “cool stuff.”

In the subsequent decades he “nerded out” on the analytics and KPIs he’d need to join the dots, get bigger marketing budgets and do cooler stuff. “Now I want to do wacky shit that actually delivers some sort of growth for a client,” he says excitedly.

But clients don’t pay for ‘stuff’ – they seek very specific things that deliver very specific results. Experience is a better word than stuff, even if it could arguably serve the same purpose. ‘Chief stuff officer’ does not have the same ring.

Explaining further, he says: “There are elements of our business which encompass strategy, creativity, social. We call what we do meaningful growth. We ask, is it human? Do people give a shit about it? Are people at the heart of every idea?”

That’s where the media planning process comes in. Connecting all the ‘stuff’ together. And it’s sometimes difficult.

“You are sometimes beholden to how clients work, and getting everyone thinking this way takes time. [What] I’ve always been trying to get away from is the client’s notion of, hey, we planned 85% of your budget and saved a little bit of money here to do something wacky. We want to flip that. Let’s start with something that is going to compel people to change behavior, do something to get them to exist. Start with a creative idea. And then build the plan around that.”

Habib’s not turning up to sell some performance media. It might be used to amplify the work, but in an ideal situation it’s the add-on to the core idea. It’s one of the pet peeves he’s accumulated over the years. The days of an agency saying ‘programmatic ads’ as the answer to every question are over. So is having a disconnected social team doing its own thing.

This philosophy’s already come into play at new client UKTV – which once upon a time would hand the creative to the media agency merely for distribution. Now Havas Media’s creative team has been embedded with the UKTV team and they’ve drawn out ‘territories.’ UKTV works out what the in-house team can do on owned channels, and the media agency explores how it brings these ideas into the wider world.

After Havas Media’s restructure last year, the way Habib sees the opportunity the requirement was to better pool talents across the bounds of Havas Entertainment for “brands that live in culture,” Havas Media for “brands that want to spike in culture,” and Havas Market, which focuses on commerce but will still bring experience into the mix – think creative shoppable experiences.

Another example of how the approach works was its approach to publicize BBC drama I May Destroy You. It worked with Galdem to create BBC-branded podcasts unpacking the themes of the show. The sponsorship spilled out into another title The Face to create more reach around the podcasts before it was further distributed using programmatic social. “We got an average of 20 minutes of dwell time on that content ... we created something that people gave a shit about.”

Habib concludes: “It’s so super simple, but I think people get scared when you talk about some of this stuff because it requires more effort.”

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