A Brave new world for Lagardère Plus

After the launch of Lagardère Plus and its subsequent acquisition of creative agency Brave, SportsPro speaks with two of the senior figures involved about the new entity and how it will operate going forward.

A Brave new world for Lagardère Plus

This week, global agency Lagardère Sports and Entertainment announced the launch of Lagardère Plus, a standalone entity which represents, alongside Lagardère Live Entertainment and Lagardère Sports, a new third pillar within the wider company structure.

Lagardère also confirmed the acquisition of London-based agency Brave, which brings on board high-end clients such as Amazon Prime, Brown Forman and Greenpeace, and a wealth of creative experience to expand Lagardère Plus’ global offering.

Ahead of the announcement this week, SportsPro spoke with Tim Frith, head of UK consulting at Lagardère Plus, and Ash Bendelow, managing partner at Brave, about the restructure of the business, how the acquisition came about, and what Brave will offer to the wider Lagardère Plus group.

SportsPro: Can you set the scene by explaining why you’ve decided to spin your consultancy businesses off into the new entity, Lagardère Plus?

Tim Frith: Plus is going to sit in the middle of the other two, within the Lagardère Sports and Entertainment business, and really focus on brands first. So it will mean that it can complement both of the other two businesses but also will form its own new business, which really is consisting of our existing consulting businesses across our key markets as well as then adding new skillsets to our offering.

We do genuinely believe that this helps us differentiate ourselves within the marketplace and it further helps to diversify our business away from purely being a trading business. So really there’s a greater focus now on consulting for brands, as people consume their media in different ways and delete advertising from their lives, the power of the more traditional media platforms is becoming less and less and as a result the role that partnerships now play for brands takes on far more significance.

What we’re doing through what we call ‘modern partnership marketing’ is really helping brands to place partnerships at the core of their marketing strategy because we believe that partnering with things that people truly care about is the best way for brands to remain relevant and visible. That might be within the sports space, the wider entertainment space, or even across other industry whether that be fashion, music, culinary – Lagardère Plus enables us to go beyond what historically we have focused on in the sports and entertainment industries.

It’s vital that brands genuinely are adding value to the fan experiences. Sponsorships can no longer just be a glorified badging exercise, it needs to go far beyond that and have far more of a meaning for it to resonate with fans and consumers.

Tim Frith, head of UK consulting at Lagardère Plus

How did the move to acquire Brave come about?

TF: For us, we have in the last few years looked to develop our capabilities significantly across our key markets. That’s been through a number of acquisitions and specialist ties, one of which has obviously included Brave. We’ve known Brave for about the last 12 months or so, we’re really excited about bringing them into the fold and we do genuinely believe that they’re going to really help to add significant strategic creative and digital capabilities that will really help to further position us as that global solution for global brands.

They’re very well experienced at developing global campaigns, they will enable us to use far more consumer data and insight that we can really get to understand what fans really want, what their interests are, and I think a really important point here is to really help us to learn the big ideas. As we move away from traditional sponsorships, we need to ensure that we are developing those big ideas for our partners to ensure they get the most out of their partnerships.

Ash Bendelow: I’ve been at Brave for the last 12 years and I’ve seen it grow from a four-man startup to a 50-man outfit that boxes above its weight and competes domestically, pan-Euro and globally. We were looking for our next move that was to really realise our potential for what Brave could be as an advertising and digital comms brand on a global platform.

With the growth over the last couple of years with some of the clients that we’ve attracted to the Brave stable - the likes of HP, Amazon Prime, Panasonic, big blue-chip brands - we were beginning to get approached, as you’d imagine, from some of the usual suspects, the Omnicoms, the Publicis, the WPPs, and for me, with the independent spirit and the culture that we’d built within Brave, we never wanted to go down that route.

If you look at the agency acquisition landscape, what’s tending to happen is you’re getting the managing consultants entering the space - so you’re getting the Accentures and the McKinseys who have got relationships and are then looking at buying up indie agencies that can then deliver and execute on the thinking - but there isn’t really anything that delivers a client solution and that was something that was initially very interesting for me.

What I’d wanted for Brave and the Brave people was to go somewhere where first we added capability. I didn’t want to come and complement another agency where it becomes a bit of a bunfight as to who is competing for what briefs with which brands, so that was very, very important for ensuring that our growth trajectory and the plan that we were following was kept.

The second point was around a progressive view on the vision of where marketing comms and comms is going and I think what the Lagardère and Lagardère Plus proposition represents is this sort of beautiful, quite unique intersection of talent, brand, media, culture, locally and globally and I think that’s where it represents such a good opportunity where us coming in adding strategic and creative capability can really super-charge and accelerate what the Lagardère Plus proposition is and it can be relatively unparalleled within the market.

That was where it was exciting for Brave and that was where I was very keen to come on board and bring Brave on board with that future.

And then being the creative cornerstone of Lagardère Plus - how do we grow geographically? I’m finding that the CMO landscape, the client pitch landscape, is changing. It used to be the case, five or six years ago, where you come up against the same types of agencies on pitch lists, so you’d have a couple of indies and a couple of networks. Now, that is changing. Within the last four weeks we’ve been invited to pitches where you’ve got your VCCPs an your Saatchis, but then you’ve got the likes of Vice Media getting on to pitch lists and even media agencies putting their content and startups on to pitch lists as well. For me, seeing that and experiencing that and the independent nature of the agencies being the ones that drive and create that progressive change most quickly and dramatically, this is what the Lagardère Plus proposition really did offer up.

On the flipside of that, with the talent and the expertise in the business on a global level, it’s how do we package some of our assets and build new propositions that we then go to market with and take to brands. We want to be pitching a talent and a brand proposition - so if it’s Jordan Spieth and Adidas that we go to take to YouTube as a completely new kind of content avenue, that excites me. So how do we take brands, and our capabilities and our skills and then influence culture so much more and trade in the shadows of what traditional media has been like. How do we create new media? How do we create new things and new propositions that brands are going to get involved with because that is where the consumer and fan passion points are?

What we’re adding and what we’re developing is incredibly exciting and incredibly progressive, and that’s kind of where we wanted Brave to be.

Your chief executive, Andrew Georgiou, has said that the restructuring and consolidation of Lagardère’s existing agencies under the Lagardère Sports and Entertainment banner helped to kickstart the company’s recent resurgence. Are you hopeful that the similar action taken to form Lagardère Plus will have the same effect?

TF: Definitely. I think that we’ve had existing consulting divisions across our key markets and the last couple of years really has been about understanding what each of those teams do, understanding the services that they provide to their existing clients and our go-to-market approach, and I think that part of that process has been about identifying what are the key capabilities that we need to develop in order to provide a one-stop shop for brands.

From our conversations with Brave, it became immediately obvious that they were a great fit for us and could definitely look to add those capabilities that were required both on a UK level but also on a global scale as well.

What were those capabilities that Brave had that you didn’t feel already existed within the Lagardère stable of consultancies?

TF: For us, creative capabilities were absolutely at the core. So landing that big idea, as the sponsorship evolves and moves away from perhaps more tactical, reactive activation campaigns to something that’s far more comprehensive and impactful, we absolutely needed to develop our creative capabilities.

I think culture is obviously a big important part of that as well. While we are part of this global network, we also at a local level are proud of the way we manage our relationships with our clients and the longevity that we have those relationships for is something that we share with Brave as well. Lagardère Plus was not purely linked just to sport and entertainment, it’s about taking it that step further and going beyond the sports world and across the wider industries, as I said, of fashion and music and wider lifestyle.

We were looking at a number of different potential opportunities and what we really liked with Brave was actually looking outside of the sports industry and feeling that they could really add something new to our way of working and our way of thinking, and bring that into our world. For us, having the wider experience was something that was very appealing.

Ash Bendelow, managing partner at Brave (centre), with the Brave senior leadership team

How will the day-to-day operations work? Will Brave retain some autonomy and work with its existing clients or is it about bringing everything together as Lagardère Plus from day one?

AB: That was one of the important points when we started to engage in conversations. We’ve been engaged in those conversations for probably 12 months, and the reality is that while we’ve done the announcement this week, we’ve been working together for the last three to four months and we’ve been stress-testing the proposition with some pretty significant global brand opportunities. Already, we’ve had some success on that. I’m very positive for the future that as we sit in this room now we’re two from two [on pitches] and we’re expecting to hear news on another one imminently.

What was really important, certainly from how we’ve built Brave and how we’ve nurtured the culture, was that philosophically we were aligned and the Lagardère team as I’ve got to meet more and more people from different disciplines within the group and different territories within the group, everyone can understand that the values we’ve created within Brave are created by this culture. And they have an absolute respect for ensuring that that culture continues to be nurtured and that’s where we’re going to get the best out of us creatively and strategically.

It’s interesting, the point about sports marketing, and one of the reasons that we started to engage in conversation, if you would go through the Brave website now you would find that there isn’t an abundance of sport-related work and that was quite a positive for me. I think it is an absolute truism of the industry that the best, most talented people don’t want to work one-dimensionally. They don’t want to focus on one type of brief with one type of outcome and output, and I think when we started to look at pitch documents and started to investigate this area and this space, we felt that with the creative activation of rights, the creative bar is pretty low and that for us represented another kind of significant opportunity with regards to how we can inject and accelerate good creativity into this space for the benefit of everyone.

So the operational integration has been going well for the last four months and we’ve got that lovely blend of support and scale and expertise that Lagardère brings, but we’ve also got the acknowledgement and acceptance of where the creative values sit within Brave, and being very protective of that and acknowledging and being cognisant of making sure that remains.