Financial Results Agencies Agency Models

Havas supercharges global social offering with Wilderness acquisition


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

March 14, 2024 | 5 min read

TikTok’s future in the US may be up for debate, but agency investment in social expertise isn’t slowing.


Nick Wright, Safiya Pomell-Korouie, Tom Jarvis, Jamie Maple and Rosie Holden

As the future of one of the world’s largest social platforms in the world’s largest advertising market is debated by politicians, holding company Havas has acquired a social media agency that aims to “transform” the approach of brands towards platforms.

Last week, Havas parent company Vivendi revealed that the French agency network had bagged €2.8bn ($3bn) in net revenue, a rise of 4.1% compared with the previous year; a decision on whether or not to take the agency business public is yet to be taken by the entertainment group. Havas, though the smallest of the traditional ’big six’ holding companies, performed more robustly throughout 2023 than many of its rivals, recording commercial growth as others (such as Dentsu) stalled.

“All three divisions” of the Havas business (which is roughly split between media, creative and healthcare) contributed to that growth, chairman and global chief exec Yannick Bolloré told The Drum, but like other holding firms, Havas’s media business has historically been its core.

In the first months of this year, it’s also been its most acquisitive arm. The firm has followed the announcement of its full-year results with another purchase.

Wilderness, an organic social firm based in London, will soon resettle its 30 staff within the confines of the nearest Havas Village, located in Kings Cross.

“Wilderness is a forward-thinking business that perfectly aligns with Havas’s unique positioning at the crossroads of entertainment and advertising, helping clients reach their customers in innovative and meaningful ways,” says Bolloré.

The acquisition’s terms were not disclosed by Havas. But Nick Wright, chief growth officer of HMG UK, tells The Drum the move is part of a longer-term strategy to broaden the offer of the media network.

“Agency models have changed. We need to be covering a whole plethora of different services; media no longer sits in a silo,” he says.

“Unlike other networks, which are built more on conflict shops with similar agency propositions, we see the benefit in a more diversified services model, where you give your clients access to a number of different capabilities that help us connect the dots for customers across commerce, across content, across culture.”

Wilderness is set to be rolled into Havas Play, an entertainment and sports-focused network launched by Havas Media last year upon the merger of its Cake and Jump agency brands. Rosie Holden, president of Play UK, says that the agency will be “an invaluable asset” to the network, helping to bring consultancy expertise around social media and culture.

Founder Tom Jarvis says the agency works with brands to develop organic content for social platforms (as opposed to content for paid media distributed) and provides consulting services around brands’ usage of platforms such as TikTok or Instagram.

“We help them refine their approach to social so not just what they deliver on platforms every day, from a content perspective, or from a community point of view, but looking at team structures, looking at in-house resourcing, looking at training and development for internal staff,” explains Jarvis.

“We’ve moved from a ‘connection economy’ to a place of algorithmic entertainment; everything is served to you algorithmically. That requires a very different mindset and understanding from clients,” he says. “Even if you’re a financial services brand, it’s important to understand that because platforms are now entertainment-driven.

“The shift to full-screen vertical video as the kind of default mechanism of communication for people, and the default way that they’re consuming their content on their phone, I think that ultimately, is the kind of big behavioral shift that we’re helping brands with.”

Though Wilderness currently has clients throughout the UK and the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), it doesn’t currently operate in the US – where, this week, Congress is considering a bill that would ban TikTok or force the platform to spin out its American operations.

Jarvis says it’s important for social-focused agencies to remain unmarried to a specific platform. “We’re platform agnostic. We’re looking more strategically around how we can help a brand find that audience – and if that is on TikTok or somewhere else, we’re open to that.”

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