France on the Move

I have been in France for the past week working with the Elan-Edelman team. Here are my observations:

  1. Brexit as Once-in-a-Lifetime Gift — The opportunity to lure multinational corporation headquarters and manufacturing to France is foremost on the minds of policymakers. In fact, one financial services company contrasted the treatment of his team in France and Germany. In France, President Emmanuel Macron met directly with the bankers and asked what they need in terms of office space, adjacent living facilities and education. In Germany, the bankers met with the finance ministry and local officials in Frankfurt. There is a palpable sense of “this is our time.”
  2. Let’s Go France — PWC is underwriting a campaign for the private sector that outlines success stories in France. The digital hub enables companies to post content. The firm’s own experts are profiled, in conversation with prominent figures in the French economy.
  3. Enterprise and Mission — The CEO of Veolia, Antoine Frérot, has outlined a new mission for corporations that is very much in line with the trend toward shareholder value plus societal contribution. Frérot intends to make this a complement to the long-term capitalism efforts of Dominic Barton of McKinsey and Paul Tudor Jones of JUST Capital. At the moment, French companies are undertaking serious sustainability and supply chain reform but are hesitant to talk about it. The French business media is encouraging business to be public in its social activism. The French government is on the verge of passing a law that defines a broader role for the corporation and asks the board of directors to have a broader view of the goal of the business.
  4. Rise of Digital Firms — A leading M&A advisor in the sector said France is becoming a regional hub for digital agencies due to programming strength (an example is Isobar). Digital agencies are increasingly the lead agency partner, bidding for the creative as well as the media buying. There is a local firm, Artifact, that is adapting creative based on data. Strategic planning is now channel and engagement planning. Clients are interested in transforming their businesses; they do not want communications ideas, they demand ideas that alter the course of their enterprise.
  5. Purpose-Driven Ideas — My favorite from our local team is the Heineken program that aims to keep bars open in the rural areas. We try to match up buyer and seller, to bring new café owners to the regions. There is still plenty of room for humor. For Xbox, our team invented Bernard the Bear, a character who appears in funny GIFs and has his own social conversations with gamers.
  6. Value of Tradition — I visited Bayeux and Rouen, two old cities in Normandy. The medieval parade in Bayeux included characters in period dress, outdoor markets with rooster and hen couples for sale and fresh “saucisson.” Rouen held its annual visual extravaganza, a depiction of the accession of William the Conqueror to King of England through his victory at the Battle of Hastings, projected on the giant cathedral, to the delight of a crowd that filled the entire central square. The magnificent church honoring Joan of Arc, burned at the stake for her beliefs, has a roof line that depicts a fire rising to the sky around a rectangular central structure.
  7. Normandy Landing Beaches — I went on a tour of Omaha Beach. It was a chilling experience. Ninety percent of the first wave, 83 percent of the second wave and so on perished on the landings. The Germans had 1,200 men to counter the 40,000 Americans who landed at Omaha, but their machine gun nests and artillery emplacements were so well done that they held off the Americans from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The squad leaders were the heroes, one a captain who led a team up the steep hill by figuring out a way to hug the slope so that there was no shooting angle. This was the hardest landing beach of the five used in the invasion but was arguably the most important because it had three roads off of the beachhead. The American cemetery has 10,000 men who died in France, not all on the day of the landing. One touching story is about the Roosevelt brothers, Quentin and Ted Jr., sons of Teddy Roosevelt. Quentin was shot down in 1918 while flying for the U.S. Air Force. Ted Jr. was among the first of the invasion force on Utah Beach, then died of a heart attack later in 1944. They are buried together in this cemetery, having lived up to their father’s reputation of daring greatly and leading from the front.
  8. Les Bleus — The country is going mad for its soccer team, which faces Belgium in the semi-final of the World Cup tomorrow. The faces of the players are plastered everywhere, their youth and diversity capturing the new spirit of the country. Maybe the Cup returns to Paris for the first time since the team won on its home turf in 1998.

The opportunity for France is clear. Marion Darrieutort, general manager of Elan-Edelman, said it best as we parted on Thursday: “Now we grow in Paris. We feel aggressive and hungry.” I have three words for you: “On y va.”

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.

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