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Agency Life

Turning Strategy Tables

Turning Strategy Tables

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

July 30, 2019

Havas New York Group Strategy Director Lucien Etori is a master of branding, briefs, and mixing beats

"Strategy is my way of drawing words, and concepts, and attitudes and defining all of those things."

Havas New York Group Strategy Director Lucien Etori is 6’5 with a booming voice and a big smile. He is comfortable being visible and commanding a room as he works to increase diversity, inclusion and representation for minorities at Havas. Etori shares how his upbringing shaped his career and his desire for creative expression in and out of the office that pulls together themes that run through all the elements of his life from DJing, to strategy, to being a dad.

 

How did you start your career? What attracted you to a career in advertising?

I went to school at McGill University in Montréal and graduated in three years with a degree in international business and entrepreneurship. At the age of 20 I moved to San Francisco to be in a different environment and spark some new thinking about where I could go professionally. This was in the dot-com, venture capital days and I was interested in what was happening at that time. There were these brands—new players in a specific category making an impact. 

That led me to start working for a company called Interbrand, which I think is still one of the biggest brand consultancies in the world still to this day I think. I started working in their naming department. My value proposition was that I was a diplomat’s kid who spoke multiple languages pretty fluently, lived abroad, and was steeped in different cultures growing up, so I was able to synthesize all these cultures into different means of expression. 

I didn’t want to do the Silicon Valley thing, but I did love working in branding so I thought, okay, that’s a path for me. I moved back East and landed in New York where I worked for a few smaller brands in brand positioning and identity. I started to freelance because I felt a little boxed in, and branding can get kind of repetitive, so now I could pick and choose the kind of clients I wanted to work with. 

The thing about branding is that you build the brand theoretically and then you hand it off. That’s probably where my interest in advertising was born probably, and it took a while. But eventually, I got to Havas and started thinking about what happens after you build the brand. Like how do you make it come alive in the world and in the culture?

Tell us a little about your role at Havas? 

Havas is a very strong brand. It’s got a very interesting culture. It’s not so French but it’s got a “Frenchness” to it. There’s something loose about what things get done here so there’s that part. I work with some great folks and they challenge me so that’s really good. I want conversations and collisions of thought to create some really interesting insights. And the client that I work on, ADP, is certainly one of the most important brands in the country, certainly, and likely the world. They pay 1 in 6 Americans, they’re 70 years old and they created the entire sector of human capital management. They’re keeping businesses running, and governments running, and they’re the means to track how successful you are. They’re the ruler that lets you know how far you have to go in life. 

What excites you about your work in strategy? What gets you up in the morning?

I’ve always thought of myself as a creative; it’s just a matter of how I am channeling that creativity. Strategy is my way of drawing words, and concepts, and attitudes and defining all of those things. I’m pretty good with words; that’s always been the case for me since I was a young child. I think what drew me to strategy is that ability to impact people and drive action in those people. That’s a pretty consistent thread for me. 

How do you advocate and work toward increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

This a very important question. In this business of advertising there’s a shockingly low number of minority representation, specifically African Americans. I’ve been working in this business for 20 years and I’m very, very, very often the only black person in the room. So you feel like you have to represent the entire race, and make sure that you overdeliver and impress.

"Being able to play the strings of emotion to get people to act a specific way, to develop the confidence to dance, I thought was really empowering."

How did you get started DJing and what is your favorite part of DJing events?

In the time I was freelancing, I was able to fully focus on DJing to help pay the bills. That was really useful to fill in the blanks in my professional life. I saw how I, as a DJ, could impact behavior. I could get people to stand up and dance, and make out, and act silly. And when I stopped the music they stopped.

Being able to play the strings of emotion to get people to act a specific way, to develop the confidence to dance, I thought was really empowering. Advertising has a really interesting parallel to that. Through image, through sounds, through copy and with consistent application of those things you’re able to impact behavior. There are always these incredible traps people fall into just because they don’t have a black person, an Indian person, and Latinx person to go to and ask, “Hey is this offensive in any way?” We had an event here that I was really proud of called, Eat It Up Harlem, where we went out to Harlem which is where I live, and we were engaging with the community. We went in there, not just to recruit and build our brand, but to say, “Hey, there is a platform, a podium, and a microphone for you to speak the truth about how you live when you work in advertising.” 

You’re a father. Tell us how your kids changed your life and the impact they have on you every day.

When you’re single you feel like you have a million possibilities, but when you have kids those possibilities are reduced to just a few things that you can and should do. And everything becomes a subject about how I can ensure that my kids’ lives are full of opportunity and joy and laughter and learning and respect and humility and all of these things. That’s my brief. When you’re single you operate without a brief, so sometimes you get it right, sometimes not, and you can just fumble your way through life. But when you have kids you have a brief, and mine is a 7- -year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, and I just fill in the brief as I live life every day. Every morning I have to work on my brief and make sure that all the little boxes are filled. That’s what my kids do; they provide clarity, direction, feedback, and without the brief you’re lost and you waste time and you know you don’t hit the KPIs, which to me, is like how often are they laughing and eating their food and reading their bedtime stories? I want them to have a completely awesome life because I’ve had a completely awesome life. 

What are you really good at?

I’m really good at finding really interesting things—and those can be physical things like records, items of clothing, or home decor. By interesting I mean they’re kind of out of the ordinary but they fit a certain style, aesthetic, or narrative. I’m good at learning things really quickly. I’m good at languages and accents of any kind. And I used to be good at basketball, but I’m not really anymore.

What do you hope to be better at?

I’m bad at running long distances. I wish I could cook things more successfully, but I like cooking. I wish I could play an instrument; I would learn bass and drums. And I’m bad at Japanese. 

What is the best advice you ever received? 

A good piece of advice that I don’t follow as often as I should, is to let things go. I used to hold grudges easily and for a long time. A guy that I knew who ultimately passed away from lung cancer once told me that none of that stuff that we hold on to really matters. Letting go makes you lighter, allows you to see things more clearly and breathe. 

How do you inspire others?

Being a minority in this position and showing people that it’s possible. I live in Harlem, and even though it’s rapidly gentrifying, there are still some kids out there who struggle. To talk to them and show them that there’s a path for them too, because I’m just like them. You know, there’s an intern here and just by showing him the day to day and how I command a room, and demand respect because I know my stuff. Just being authentic and visible and true to who I am. I’m trying to be a genuine person, and I think that things workout how they’re supposed to be.

"Strategy is my way of drawing words, and concepts, and attitudes and defining all of those things."

Havas New York Group Strategy Director Lucien Etori is 6’5 with a booming voice and a big smile. He is comfortable being visible and commanding a room as he works to increase diversity, inclusion and representation for minorities at Havas. Etori shares how his upbringing shaped his career and his desire for creative expression in and out of the office that pulls together themes that run through all the elements of his life from DJing, to strategy, to being a dad.

 

How did you start your career? What attracted you to a career in advertising?

I went to school at McGill University in Montréal and graduated in three years with a degree in international business and entrepreneurship. At the age of 20 I moved to San Francisco to be in a different environment and spark some new thinking about where I could go professionally. This was in the dot-com, venture capital days and I was interested in what was happening at that time. There were these brands—new players in a specific category making an impact. 

That led me to start working for a company called Interbrand, which I think is still one of the biggest brand consultancies in the world still to this day I think. I started working in their naming department. My value proposition was that I was a diplomat’s kid who spoke multiple languages pretty fluently, lived abroad, and was steeped in different cultures growing up, so I was able to synthesize all these cultures into different means of expression. 

I didn’t want to do the Silicon Valley thing, but I did love working in branding so I thought, okay, that’s a path for me. I moved back East and landed in New York where I worked for a few smaller brands in brand positioning and identity. I started to freelance because I felt a little boxed in, and branding can get kind of repetitive, so now I could pick and choose the kind of clients I wanted to work with. 

The thing about branding is that you build the brand theoretically and then you hand it off. That’s probably where my interest in advertising was born probably, and it took a while. But eventually, I got to Havas and started thinking about what happens after you build the brand. Like how do you make it come alive in the world and in the culture?

Tell us a little about your role at Havas? 

Havas is a very strong brand. It’s got a very interesting culture. It’s not so French but it’s got a “Frenchness” to it. There’s something loose about what things get done here so there’s that part. I work with some great folks and they challenge me so that’s really good. I want conversations and collisions of thought to create some really interesting insights. And the client that I work on, ADP, is certainly one of the most important brands in the country, certainly, and likely the world. They pay 1 in 6 Americans, they’re 70 years old and they created the entire sector of human capital management. They’re keeping businesses running, and governments running, and they’re the means to track how successful you are. They’re the ruler that lets you know how far you have to go in life. 

What excites you about your work in strategy? What gets you up in the morning?

I’ve always thought of myself as a creative; it’s just a matter of how I am channeling that creativity. Strategy is my way of drawing words, and concepts, and attitudes and defining all of those things. I’m pretty good with words; that’s always been the case for me since I was a young child. I think what drew me to strategy is that ability to impact people and drive action in those people. That’s a pretty consistent thread for me. 

How do you advocate and work toward increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

This a very important question. In this business of advertising there’s a shockingly low number of minority representation, specifically African Americans. I’ve been working in this business for 20 years and I’m very, very, very often the only black person in the room. So you feel like you have to represent the entire race, and make sure that you overdeliver and impress.

"Being able to play the strings of emotion to get people to act a specific way, to develop the confidence to dance, I thought was really empowering."

How did you get started DJing and what is your favorite part of DJing events?

In the time I was freelancing, I was able to fully focus on DJing to help pay the bills. That was really useful to fill in the blanks in my professional life. I saw how I, as a DJ, could impact behavior. I could get people to stand up and dance, and make out, and act silly. And when I stopped the music they stopped.

Being able to play the strings of emotion to get people to act a specific way, to develop the confidence to dance, I thought was really empowering. Advertising has a really interesting parallel to that. Through image, through sounds, through copy and with consistent application of those things you’re able to impact behavior. There are always these incredible traps people fall into just because they don’t have a black person, an Indian person, and Latinx person to go to and ask, “Hey is this offensive in any way?” We had an event here that I was really proud of called, Eat It Up Harlem, where we went out to Harlem which is where I live, and we were engaging with the community. We went in there, not just to recruit and build our brand, but to say, “Hey, there is a platform, a podium, and a microphone for you to speak the truth about how you live when you work in advertising.” 

You’re a father. Tell us how your kids changed your life and the impact they have on you every day.

When you’re single you feel like you have a million possibilities, but when you have kids those possibilities are reduced to just a few things that you can and should do. And everything becomes a subject about how I can ensure that my kids’ lives are full of opportunity and joy and laughter and learning and respect and humility and all of these things. That’s my brief. When you’re single you operate without a brief, so sometimes you get it right, sometimes not, and you can just fumble your way through life. But when you have kids you have a brief, and mine is a 7- -year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, and I just fill in the brief as I live life every day. Every morning I have to work on my brief and make sure that all the little boxes are filled. That’s what my kids do; they provide clarity, direction, feedback, and without the brief you’re lost and you waste time and you know you don’t hit the KPIs, which to me, is like how often are they laughing and eating their food and reading their bedtime stories? I want them to have a completely awesome life because I’ve had a completely awesome life. 

What are you really good at?

I’m really good at finding really interesting things—and those can be physical things like records, items of clothing, or home decor. By interesting I mean they’re kind of out of the ordinary but they fit a certain style, aesthetic, or narrative. I’m good at learning things really quickly. I’m good at languages and accents of any kind. And I used to be good at basketball, but I’m not really anymore.

What do you hope to be better at?

I’m bad at running long distances. I wish I could cook things more successfully, but I like cooking. I wish I could play an instrument; I would learn bass and drums. And I’m bad at Japanese. 

What is the best advice you ever received? 

A good piece of advice that I don’t follow as often as I should, is to let things go. I used to hold grudges easily and for a long time. A guy that I knew who ultimately passed away from lung cancer once told me that none of that stuff that we hold on to really matters. Letting go makes you lighter, allows you to see things more clearly and breathe. 

How do you inspire others?

Being a minority in this position and showing people that it’s possible. I live in Harlem, and even though it’s rapidly gentrifying, there are still some kids out there who struggle. To talk to them and show them that there’s a path for them too, because I’m just like them. You know, there’s an intern here and just by showing him the day to day and how I command a room, and demand respect because I know my stuff. Just being authentic and visible and true to who I am. I’m trying to be a genuine person, and I think that things workout how they’re supposed to be.

Danielle Smith is the Communications Manager of Havas Group. She’s believes every meal can be tacos if you have tortillas and the heart to try.

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