It all started 22 years ago on Madison Avenue. Three of the world’s most senior financial PR professionals met to discuss a ground-breaking alliance, that would change the shape of the communications industry. The agreement they forged on that unseasonably warm spring day in midtown New York laid out the principles and ambitions that still guide H/Advisors today, and created the organisation that is proud to have Cunha Vaz & Associates (CV&A) as a member.
The three men were: Jim Abernathy, founder and chairman of Abernathy MacGregor, the US communications firm; Angus Maitland, Founder and Chairmen of The Maitland Consultancy in London; and Stephane Fouks, President of Euro RSCG in France (the agency that later become Havas Paris).
Each of them had very different backgrounds, but one overriding common interest. Jim had been a journalist and communications professional before creating Abernathy. Angus had actually started his career as an economist before going on to run Valin Pollen and then founding his own agency. Stephane’s career began very differently, as a music producer before rising to become Chief of Staff to the French Prime Minister and then creating in turn his agency Omnium, which he later sold to Havas.
Fate and high finance had brought them together. In the preceding months Havas had acquired stakes in both Abernathy and Maitland to add to its growing international empire. Now the three of them were colleagues. It was Jim who was the first to spot the opportunity in all this, to forge something greater out of the three constituent parts. So, he convened a conference for all Havas PR people in New York to discuss greater collaboration. It was quickly obvious to them that although they had in many ways been thrust together, they could use the opportunity to create something bigger than all of them – an alliance and a collaboration that would create one of the world’s first truly global communications groups.
Naming it was tricky; they discussed long and hard what to call it. Stephane had the key: “it was obvious that it had to be called after all three firms and my firm needed to be last. I said to Jim and Angus that it was either going to be called MAO or AMO. I am not surprised they chose the latter.”
AMO it was, short and simple, with the added benefit that it means ‘I love’ in Latin – so perfect for a group of PR and communications firms.
But more important than the name were the values behind it. AMO was not a company or a group, with one individual or one city or country dominating, but a network and an alliance. “From the start we were clear we wanted it to be based on willingness and friendship and on mutual respect rather than any corporate structure. That way we were confident it would bring the best out in everyone.”
Today H/Advisors stays true to that founding principle. Each of our offices and agencies are treated as equals and we work together in a spirit of co-operation, which we strongly believe delivers the best results for our clients. Crucially we only invite members that are leaders in their own countries or cities, so our clients can be confident they are getting the very best service and advice wherever or whatever they need.
The three founding members of AMO quickly became five, as Angus’s longstanding-relationships with agencies in Spain and Germany asked to join. And the results were dramatic; since it was founded AMO and now H/Advisors has always been at or near the top of the M&A league tables, as compiled by Mergermarket.
In time AMO grew and grew. In 2004 we welcomed Hirzel Neef Schmidt Counselors in Switzerland, when they reached out to Maitland to work with them on a particularly demanding brief for Sulzer. In 2010 we expanded into Asia for the first time when Havas acquired a majority stake in Porda, the leading Hong Kong agency. Hallvarsson & Halvarsson from Sweden joined, as did SPJ in the Netherlands. CV&A first joined us as an Associate member in 2020 and quickly made their mark.
From the very beginning, AMO and now H/Advisors has been proud to be an ‘open architecture’ communications group. This means that while many of our offices and agencies are either wholly or partly owned by Havas, we also welcome independent partners who for whatever reason, do not want to become part of Havas at that stage. So Ashton in Japan for example is a thriving member of H/Advisors, even though it has a different ownership structure. This belief marks us out from the ‘top down’, ‘one size fits all’ ethos of many of our competitors.
More recently we have also expanded laterally into new disciplines, most notably public affairs. AMO was always a public affairs powerhouse in Paris, but in 2020 we transformed the practice into an international one, by acquiring Cicero in the UK and Brussels and opening a highly successful Abernathy office in Washington DC. Today we work on some of the world’s most prestigious public affairs mandates, from modest beginnings only a decade ago.
After many years of growth and development, AMO was given a welcome endorsement at the highest level. Yannick Bollore, then Chairman of Havas and now Chairman of Vivendi, recognised the success of the network and announced in 2018 that Havas planned to invest €100 million in the network.
That commitment accelerated our growth and development. We cemented our presence in Germany with the acquisition of DAA [Deekeling Arndt] that year, followed by the acquisition of Tinkle in Spain in 2022. Further acquisitions are in the pipeline.
We also took steps to bring the whole network closer together. As part of this we introduced an exchange programme, where young ambitious consultants from each office are given the chance to spend four weeks working in another office, getting to know their international colleagues and their ways of working. Last year 14 took part, spanning the globe.
Last year we took the next step in drawing our world-leading network together, with the creation of a powerful new brand and management team, to reflect a group that now has more than 1400 colleagues in 20 countries.
AMO was a name that had served us well over the years but was only ever intended as a starting point. We felt we needed a new name that reflects the scale and ambition of the group today and we chose H/Advisors – the H for Havas and Advisors because that is who we are – strategic communications advisors to the world most significant organisations.
H/Advisors’ new management team reflects both a strong sense of continuity and link to our past, but also our ambition and drive. Stephane Fouks is our Executive Chairman, while Tom Johnson and I, respectively the CEOs of Abernathy and Maitland, are co-CEOs, with more than 30 years of combined experience of the business. Angus Maitland remains a special advisor to the group. Together we are working to expand H/Advisors further, while ensuring that we share its enormous pool of knowledge and talent for the benefit of all our clients.
The work continues at pace. Last month [May] we opened our first office in the Middle East, in Dubai, with a reception for more than 200 people and a commitment to support clients during COP28, the environmental conference being held there in November. We also launched our latest piece of global research, on the prevalence of leaks in global M&A and the impact they have on deals. Plans are already well underway for our first global strategy summit in September that will bring hundreds of H/Advisors professionals together to discuss the future of the business.
On behalf of Stephane and Tom, and everyone at H/Advisors, we are delighted to count Antonio Cunha Vaz and all of his team as our colleagues and we are looking forward to working ever more closely with them, supporting clients when they need us most, learning from each other and taking H/Advisors on to its next chapter.