Fred Raillard (left) and Farid Mokart are the CEOs and founders of Fred & Farid Group, and digital investors via FFDIF (Fred & Farid Digital Investment Fund). Here, Raillard explains why they, an advertising agency, are investing both in startups and in China. More to be revealed at their LeWeb’14 workshop!
LeWeb Blog: Why is it important for Fred & Farid, France’s leading independent digital agency, to be at LeWeb?
Fred Raillard: LeWeb is one of the most inspirational tech events in the western world. Every year, Geraldine and Loic successfully bring together leading speakers with inspiring visions. It’s all going so fast nowadays, therefore it’s very important to challenge ourselves every year and reinvent the way we do digital.
It’s also refreshing for the Chinese employees of our Shanghai office to see what’s going on in the digital western world. China is ahead in usage, but America’s Silicon Valley still leads in some technologies. LeWeb is a formidable opportunity to nurture ourselves and explore new technological territories. It’s a great way to understand the emerging digital trends.
This year, we decided to organise a special workshop at LeWeb to share some insights about our recently created Fred & Farid Digital Investment Fund and share some cutting edge content on the latest trends about digital creativity in China.
> You’re known for attention-grabbing campaigns (like your anti-World Cup Orangina can which turned off nearby TVs, to annoy football fans). Why is it so important to be disruptive these days?
Traditional media is dying slowly but surely. More and more brands are asking agencies to respect a right balance in between media bought and earned media. Therefore it’s important to be able to develop ideas with a viral potential. A non-viral campaign looks like a plane without wings.
Big data is growing for sure… but in the end, the question remains: what to do with all this data? Brands will always need creativity to stand out. Data is about creating patterns, creativity is about destroying patterns. Disruptive ideas are the fuel of social media conversations.
The Orangina anti-foot can digital activation (see picture below) got more ePR than all other official football sponsors in France. And our Carambar campaign — a hoax which claimed these famous French sweets would no longer include equally-famous jokes on their wrappers — won the equivalent of 4 years of media investments with just one social-media centric joke.
It’s even more true in China where the communication budgets are much lower and the KPI expectations much higher… with 800 million web users. Conformity is a waste of money.
> You recently launched the Fred & Farid Digital Investment Fund. What were its initial objectives, and how in line with those objectives are you today?
Not so far ago, we were entrepreneurs ourselves and we know how crucial it is for young startups to be surrounded by the right energies. Somehow, we perpetuate the innovation chain by helping out fellow entrepreneurs.
Secondly, the communication and media landscape is being constantly disrupted by technology. Startups are a formidable medium to fully understand and anticipate those changes.
Today, our portfolio consists of ten investments. We are satisfied, as it clearly helps us build the entrepreneurial digital culture within the agency. Startups have a very powerful and positive energy. It’s also a way for us to gather a community of digital talent around, or within, our company.
On top of that, all our agency clients are going through a massive digital transformation, and we are now capable of accompanying and supporting them through our startup portfolio. We create synergies in between our clients and our start-up partners.
Furthermore, we believe communication groups will have to develop more and more digital services for brands, and not just communication tools. So either you develop those services internally, like we have done for our BRDG project sold to 3 of our clients already… or you partner with existing technologies that you adapt to your clients’ needs.
> Your first investments have been in startups like Melty, Babbler, GOV or Little Big Data: why these companies in particular?
Our investment portfolio can be regarded as a digital innovation lab. It is a formidable resource to allow new ideas, concepts and technologies to emerge.
Through those startups we get a glimpse of our future:
Melty is the media of the future, detecting trough its algorithm the trending topics that will really interest its readers.
Little Big Data allows us to explore how data can help support creativity leading us through data-driven storytelling.
Babbler uses digital innovation to disrupt the PR business. It is a real leap forward in matter of productivity for both PR and Media.
GOV is a new tool that has proved very powerful. It embodies the current possibility offered by digital to crowdsource information without a third party (poll institutes in that case).
Last but not least, one of our most recent investments is Markelys, the first european ad-in-apps platform associating CPV to guaranteed traffic & share rate. Attention becomes a commodity, a currency that can be traded to unlock content. It transforms the way we look at advertising.
> You plan to invest in another 15 startups by next year. What qualities do you look for in these companies?
We have planned to invest in 15 more digital western start-up through FFDIF. Additional to that, we are in a process of opening a second Investment Fund in China. This Chinese digital fund plans to invest in 3 to 4 chinese digital companies in 2015.
Obviously, ideas are key but when investing at such an early stage, we primarily invest in social-commerce. The social media landscape there is more fragmented and complex; and more people, people with passion, energy and talent bring out disruptive ideas to life.
Building a startup requires resilience and agility in order to be able to pivot and adapt a constantly evolving market environment.
Furthermore, we consider that we have a role to play beyond our initial investment: we provide mentoring, incubation, communication and resources to the startups. We are not mere investors and therefore need trust to build long-term relationships. We try to give a meaning to “smart money”.
> China is a key territory for Fred & Farid. What have your key learnings from China been so far? To what extent do the trends there anticipate Western ones?
With about 6-800 millions of netizens on Beijing time, China is 5 years ahead of the Western world in terms of digital and social media. Everything is mobile, social media, e-commerce, m-commerce, social-commerce, entertainment-commerce, mobile payement (81% Chinese internet users access the web via a mobile device). It’s a fully digital society. Western brands play with a maximum of 10 social media, whereas Chinese brands play with hundreds. The only way to understand modern China is to understand digital in China.
The Chinese market has three major characteristics:
1- China is a fast nation, so the speed of culture – and digital culture – is beyond anything we can imagine in the western world. In the triangle of any digital project (speed, quality and price), China will always prioritise speed.
2- The scale. 1,4 billion people – where America is only 316 million citizens. This is a source of creativity in digital, because even a niche App like Meilishuo will find more than 32 millions users.
3- You can’t protect technologies in China, so anyone can copy anyone – and exactly like for the sampling culture in hip hop music, it generates a massive movement forward in every digital company.
It’s so hard to follow on a daily basis that we have created an observatory in Shanghai to analyse everyday all digital topics and new digital trends. We are producing a a 10 minutes podcast every week for BFM Business radio in France to summerise our observations.
Our Shanghai agency (awarded “Independent Agency of the Year” at Spikes Asia 2014) is fully digital of course, with digital experts from web developers to digital strategists, social media analysts, ePR strategists, monitoring managers, KOL managers, content managers, digital activation creatives…
> Hardware startups increasingly look to China first when looking to get their products manufactured affordably. What one bit of advice would you give them before heading over to China?
There is only one secret here: Love China. If you trully like China, China will love you back. If you don’t like China, China will kill you.
LeWeb’14 will welcome a special Workshop hosted and curated by Fred Raillard and Farid Mokart. The purpose of this workshop will be to share some insights about the recently founded Fred & Farid Digital Investment Fund and to deliver some cutting edge content on the latest trends about digital creativity in China:
Workshop I: Fred & Farid Digital Investment Fund (Conference room 1, Pullman Dock 2nd Floor, Dec 10, LeWeb’14 Paris)
14.15: The future of digital agencies: FFDIF as a Digital Innovation Lab
14.45: The “Smart Money” equation: smart money = money + services
15.15: Case Studies – Babbler & Markelys
Workshop II: Digital Creativity in China (Conference room 1, Pullman Dock 2nd Floor, Dec 10, LeWeb’14 Paris)
16.00: China mega trends – East vs West
16.30: China digital key learnings
17.00: Digital creativity in China – Case studies