Ad company Havas hires ex-Vice publisher to launch a new division to help CMOs adjust their pandemic messaging

  • Media conglomerate Vivendi's Havas Group launched a production division of its healthcare network Havas Health & You.
  • It's aimed at pharma and travel companies trying to adjust their marketing in the pandemic.
  • Lars Bengston, a former Vice exec and co-founder of John Krasinski's "Some Good News," will run the unit.
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Havas Group, the advertising arm of French multimedia giant Vivendi, is expanding its healthcare and pharma marketing agency Havas Health & You with a new division.

Execs said the new unit, called Content Assembly, responds to a pandemic-fueled demand for more digital content from pharma companies like Sanofi, Roche, and Novartis and non-pharma clients.

Havas hired Lars Bengston, formerly of Vice Media and Arianna Huffington's Thrive Global, to lead the new unit. He most recently co-founded "Some Good News," the breakout web series starring John Krasinski of "The Office" that was sold to CBS.

Read more: 12 execs who gained power during advertising giant Dentsu's massive reorganization

Interactions between doctors, patients, and healthcare providers have become almost entirely digital during the pandemic, creating a need for everything from revamped websites, apps, and paid social campaigns to pharma sales decks, Havas Health & You CMO Megan Rokosh said.

Beyond healthcare, Rokosh said Havas travel and hospitality clients, which include Hyatt and Visit California, also need content to show how they're keeping customers safe during the pandemic.

Bengston said he hopes Content Assembly will eventually produce everything from memes and short videos to full-length branded series to be sold to bigger distributors.

The pandemic helped healthcare and pharma companies see that they need to communicate directly with the public, Bengston said.

The rapid development of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna in late 2020 also made healthcare a less politically contentious issue for marketers, said Havas Health & You founder and CEO Donna Murphy.

"The pharma companies are digging us out of this pandemic," Murphy said.

Havas Group is considerably smaller than rivals like Publicis and WPP. But Murphy said Havas Health & You is the largest health specialty network by headcount and revenue, with about 5,000 staffers. Havas Health & You brought in around $530 million, or 19% of Havas Group's total revenue, in 2019. That number increased to 25% last year, according to a spokesperson.

Murphy said Havas Health & You added nearly 800 jobs over the past year as most other agencies cut staff — Havas included — and currently has 200 open positions.

The agency also collaborates on pitches, helping Havas retain Sanofi's US media business last year.

Havas recently invested in Havas Health & You by signing an exclusive deal with video editing startup Vidmob and launching a practice to help clients digitize their customer experience.

Last July, the agency also sold its analytics platform HVH to pharma marketing company Eversana in an arrangement that lets both parties use the platform's data.

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