April 2017

GLOBAL HEADLINE MAKERS: HUNGRY AND FOOLISH (FRANCE)

How a Parisian agency reinvented itself from top to bottom and proved that hunger gains. 

Hungry and Foolish is an apt name for this young agency in many ways. For a start – and more obviously – it’s a partial quote from a speech by the late Steve Jobs. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish,” he told students at Stanford University. 

Like the early Apple, the agency has humble roots and big ambitions. But “hungry” is also appropriate because the agency’s founders, Vincent Barbate and Matthieu Reinartz, started out placing advertising messages on pizza boxes. “Everything grew from there,” says Vincent. “We’ve never spent an hour at a traditional agency.”

If you want to overturn conventions, that’s probably no bad thing. Vincent and Matthieu were freshly minted graduates in their early 20s when they started their business. “We gradually immersed ourselves in the world of tactical media, but the more media buyers and agencies we met, the more we realised that media placement wasn’t what inspired us – it was advertising and communications.”

And so in 2006 they created their first official agency, Ledouze (“The Twelve”), named after a directory enquiries phone number that had just been phased out. “The media kept saying ‘le douze is dead’; so we came along and said, ‘no, Ledouze is alive!’.”

Slowly the agency began to grow, “with quite a lot of naivety and candour”, says Vincent (pictured left, above). “We understood that we needed to surround ourselves with people who were better than us, which has been our philosophy ever since.”

With more experience came more clients, notably Jack Daniel’s and the bank BNP Paribas. Vincent says: “Jack Daniel’s was the first internationally renowned brand that we went after in a pitch and won. We went in with a bit of culot (cheek, or audacity), proposing something they hadn’t even asked for, which was a social media strategy.”

But the agency underwent perhaps its most radical transformation in September 2016 when it re-launched as Hungry and Foolish. The change was partially sparked by the arrival of Marc Audrit (pictured far right, above), a veteran of the ad business who had worked at agencies (DDB, Publicis and Young & Rubicam) and then on the client side at Western Union.

Marc says: “They initially contacted me to sound me out for advice over a coffee. I met one of the partners on the terrace of a café, and at the time both of us had an open mind – we were there to discuss ideas. But as I’d spent the last 10 years dealing with agencies that worked or not, that were sexy or not, I had the feeling I could advise them on their next steps.”

A subsequent, slightly more official, meeting turned into a job, and Marc became head of creative and strategy. A giant leap in the agency’s evolution then followed. “The metaphor I always use is that they were a nice neighbourhood bistro, but we needed to become a Michelin-starred restaurant,” says Marc.

NO TYPECASTING

Alongside the name change, the first step was to create a solid brand – a brand that could compete alongside established French names like Fred & Farid and Buzzman – with a recognisable culture and values. The idea of an agency “with creative and strategic audacity” quickly came to the fore.

It’s also fair to say that, given the founders’ non-existent experience in traditional agencies, Hungry and Foolish swims happily in the waters of digital and social media, without feeling the need to typecast itself as a “digital” or “social” entity.

Ironically, one of the projects Vincent is most proud of is actually a poster campaign, for BNP Paribas. This involves donating space in the banks’ windows to small businesses for their own advertising messages. Each poster is created specifically by the agency for each entrepreneur, so every one is different. “It’s emblematic of the kind challenge we enjoy,” says Vincent.

Another key figure in the agency’s recent history is Enguerran Barreau (pictured centre), its senior strategic planner, who previously worked in the luxury sector at the agency Reflex. “What’s important about this experience is that we’ve gone so much further than just changing two or three slides in our agency presentation. We changed our name, we changed our location and we changed our way of working.”

Hungry and Foolish now occupies airy, comfortable offices in the 8th arrondissement. With a café space in the entrance, a scattering of sofas, contemporary furniture with a “vintage” touch, as well as big computer screens and plenty of natural light, the agency is as far from the cubicle-filled corporate slave camp as it’s possible to imagine. “Flexible” working means that there are no fixed desk spaces, encouraging mobility and interaction.

Vincent says: “Instead of fixed teams working for specific clients, we can now create project teams depending on the situation. One person with a particular skill could be working on two different projects. In other words, we can assemble the perfect team for every project.”

But the transformation is not just better for clients – it’s about being better for employees too. Enguerran points out: “Everything is conceived in a manner that makes it easier to do good work. The agency is bright, it’s spacious, and there are a number of smaller details that make you feel positive and motivated.”

Plus, oversized egos are not welcome. People are not only hired because they’re competent, but because they’re pleasant to work with. Vincent perhaps sums it up best: “We like people who are extremely talented, but who are not too aware of it.”

By Mark Tungate, editorial director