How To... Crack the French Ad Industry as a Foreigner
Native Italian Andrea Stillacci, founder and CEO of Herezie Group, has learned a few lessons when it comes to forging a career in France - not least the contractual requirement for wine at lunch.
When I moved to France in 2004, after several years in Italy and in UK, I had to quickly learn that the words 'French' and 'different' are somehow synonyms.
It’s in their DNA, it’s in their history. France’s cultural influence is a fact. Fashion, cinema, design, literature, contemporary art and, it goes without saying, advertising. Some of the biggest global networks in communication are French despite the relatively small size of the market of the “hexagon” and that should already give a glimpse of how they work.
So what have I learned so far?
Working hours are very different.
In the UK, one hour is made up of 45 minutes. In France it's 75 minutes, and in Italy, it depends on the people.
Meetings become more 'dense'.
In France, rhetorical skills are considered an inextricable part of the human being. They nourish those skills at school and at university; even between friends over a glass of Bordeaux. As a result, meetings in France last longer in order to let the participants dress their views like well-experienced tailors of words. In the UK, au contraire, the words are usually more direct, sharper and the meeting are inevitably shorter. In Italy, again, it depends on the people.
"The main difference is how 'politics' are handled. In France, it's at lunch; in the UK, at the pub; in Italy, all the time."
When it comes to lunch, all the cliches are true...
In France, a long lunch with a bottle of wine is a cultural statement. I was impressed to see that the unions of the film crews demand a “film shoot contractual lunch break” with wine on the tables. You can imagine the horrified reactions from American film directors. But when it comes to hard work, there is not much room for stereotypes. France, the UK and Italy are able to deliver quality in the same way. The main difference for me is how 'politics' are handled. In France it's at lunch, in the UK at the pub, in Italy, all the time.
... and there are certain rules and regs peculiar to France.
If we put aside the work law-related topics like working hours per week (35) and holidays per year (5 weeks), there are some “local” regulations that is good to keep on the radar. In France, the Loi Evin has governed all marketing and communications around alcoholic beverages since 1991 and it applies extremely stringent requirements. I have no knowledge of anything similar in Europe. Strict rules are also imposed when it comes the use of foreign language. Every word that is not French has to be translated whatever the touch point. And, of course, there are tons of rules when it comes to promotional messages but I don’t want to bore your readers to death.
Meritocracy is an important word.
I was very happy to discover that, in France, professional relationships are based on results and not on nepotism. The way of conducting business in this country is driven by the business itself, with special attention to the people, their quality of life and respect for their private life.
"Everyone accepts views and perspectives from anyone that wants to go from A to B. The secret is to understand the road signs."
The way to succeed as a foreigner in France is with a mixture of talent, curiosity and empathy.
French clients are more than open to hearing 'foreign' perspectives. I have to say that, in many years, I never saw any form of local chauvinism. It’s a country that in a few years allowed someone like me, who didn’t speak a word of French, to become an entrepreneur. In France, in our industry, everyone accepts views and perspectives from anyone that wants to go from A to B. The secret is to understand the road signs.
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