An unusual new Paris agency will help brands navigate the responsibility revolution.
"People think that either you do good, or you make money. But today the two go hand-in-hand. We have a saying here: ‘Business for good is good for business’.”
“When you put the word ‘good’ over your door, you better make sure you live up to it,” says Luc Wise, founding member of the new French agency The Good Company.
One of the country’s sharpest strategists, Wise (pictured centre, behind bar)is Anglo-French, so when we meet our conversation is a bewildering blend of English and French, both of which he speaks with the aplomb of the truly bilingual.
Wise has previous form when it comes to founding agencies: in 2010 he was co-founder of what became Herezie Group, one of the country’s most successful independent outfits. More recently he was chief strategic transformation officer at Publicis Worldwide. His 15 years of experience in the industry seem to have led him to reconsider the future of the ad business.
“On the one hand, this should be one of the best jobs in the world,” he says. “Communications is the defining force of our era, and we’re working at the heart of it. We can mix strategy and creativity. We’re working with brands which are integral to people’s lives. It should be wonderful. And yet, paradoxically, there are an increasing number of burnouts in this industry. Why is that? I think it’s because some people feel their jobs have no meaning. They are asking themselves, ‘Why am I working? How am I contributing to the world?’ So I wondered if there was a better way of doing this job.”
Alongside this reflection, he says, is a wider vision of the way the planet is heading. “The fact is that if we don’t change the way we live, the way we consume, we’re going to be faced with immense challenges – climate change to name but one. And who is going to spread that message? Brands, like it or not, have the most economic power, and the most imaginative power.”
The world’s biggest brands have far larger economies than most governments, he points out. “In addition, more than 600 billion dollars is spent on advertising each year. That is an incredible tool.”
Hence The Good Company – an agency that will use communications “for good”. A cynical outsider might suggest that the agency is simply surfing a trend, given the number of “responsible” and “purpose-driven” messages that have appeared in recent years. As a mission statement, “making the world a better place” was already a Silicon Valley cliché before it trickled down to advertising.
But Wise passionately believes that this is more than just a moment. “We’re in the middle of two big revolutions: the digital revolution and the responsibility revolution. Both are vital to the survival of companies. The responsibility revolution is arguably even less avoidable because consumers are demanding it. They want brands to behave in more ethical ways, and they’re voting with their wallets. In fact they feel that they have more power in the shopping aisle than they do in the voting booth. That’s how they’re forcing change.”
CREATIVITY TO DRIVE EVOLUTION
The Good Company will help businesses through this revolution. Part of its job will be to remind them that running a one-shot campaign with a responsible message is not enough. Consumers can see right through “cause-washing”. Long term commitment and structural change are required.
“Once they understand that their current models are no longer sustainable, they’ll have to evolve in order to retain customers and attract new ones. People think that either you do good, or you make money. But today the two go hand-in-hand. We have a saying here: ‘Business for good is good for business’.”
It sounds like advertising, and no wonder. The Good Company intends to do good work for its clients, too. “Like any revolution, the responsibility revolution requires powerful ideas. I know from experience that combination of great strategy and great creativity is an effective lever for changing minds and behaviours. To be heard and understood, these causes need creative impact.”
So who’s on the team? Did Wise go out and find a bunch of advertising veterans who were suffering a crisis of conscience? Is the agency filled with smouldering burnouts? He chuckles at this idea. “Not at all – it’s a mixture of youth and experience.”
For example, the youngish creatives Philippe Lesesvre and Jacques Denain hail from digital outfit We Are Social, while former Y&R Paris CEO Xavier Real Del Sarte has been in the ad business since the late 1980s, with plenty of big agency names on his CV.
All in all, The Good Company has a staff of about a dozen. Not only is it 100 per cent independent, but it is also 20 per cent owned by its employees. “I wanted people to feel responsible, to feel implicated. Whether you take the old-fashioned authoritarian style of management, or the laid-back ‘table football’ style of the digital campuses, it tends to infantilise employees. But here we’re all running the company. We’re all founding members.”
Alongside that comes autonomy and short decision-making processes. Wise says: “The older members are here not to give orders, but to play the role of coaches, to share their experience.”
None of the founding members took existing clients with them when they left their former agencies – Luc included. “We wanted to live up to the idea of ‘doing good’ from day one. So when we opened our doors on the first of January, we were starting from scratch.”
For now the agency has five clients, although Wise is reluctant to talk about them before he has any work to show. (The agency’s first campaign will appear in March.) He confirms that they’re brands which already have a strong grasp of what it means to behave responsibly.
“But others will get there,” he says. “It’s a case of innovate or perish.”
By Mark Tungate, editorial director
Photo: Nick McKerl