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Havas Plays Dress-Up with Shell’s Image, Forgets Climate Promises at the Door

Havas is putting on its best shoes to dance with the devil. As Havas contemplates further embedding itself in Shell’s oily embrace, it risks not just its reputation but its very soul.

Posted by John Donovan: 8 Feb 24

In an epic tale of irony that could only be concocted in the corridors of corporate wizardry, Paris’s own Havas is putting on its best shoes to dance with the devil. Yes, the communications titan, under the spellbinding leadership of Yannick Bolloré, is eyeing a shiny new PR contract with Shell, the poster child for greenwashing and environmental love letters that somehow always end up in the trash.

Deep inside the grapevine, whispers from DeSmog have revealed that Havas, along with its London-based arm H/Advisors, is gearing up to polish Shell’s tarnished halo. Because, apparently, what’s a little environmental degradation among friends? And let’s not talk about the estimated 41.9 million euros Shell splurged on U.S. advertising in 2023 alone. Chump change for a makeover, right?

The plot thickens as Havas, having already snagged Shell’s global strategic media buying account to the tune of 220 million euros last year, decides it’s not quite done playing dress-up with the oil giant. And why would it be? With Bolloré at the helm, quietly orchestrating deals that leave the rank and file gasping for air, it’s all in a day’s work.

But hush now, we wouldn’t want to disturb the “culture of silence” Havas has meticulously maintained. Heaven forbid the staff gets too loud about snagging work with the world’s most famous environmental charmer. One insider lamented the ghost town that is internal communications, remarking, “There has been zero internal communications.” Clearly, when it comes to big pitches, Havas prefers the silent treatment.

Meanwhile, Havas can’t help but pat itself on the back for its B-Corp status and its all-staff emails trumpeting new sustainability initiatives. Yet, cozying up to Shell might just be the eraser to all that hard work. “Would wipe all that work immediately,” quipped a concerned insider.

And let’s not overlook H/Advisors, the shadowy unit within Havas’s London office, now vying to whisper sweet nothings into Shell’s ear about public affairs and crisis management. Because if there’s anything Shell needs help with, it’s convincing the world it’s not that bad, right? With shareholders revolting and demands to align with the Paris Agreement’s carbon emission targets, Shell could use a friend.

As for the other agencies sharing Shell’s PR love? Edelman, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, and Weber Shandwick might be watching this new romance unfold with bated breath, wondering if Havas will be the next to wear the crown of “Shell’s favorite image launderer.”

In the meantime, Extinction Rebellion has been knocking on Havas’s door, not once but twice, protesting its flirtations with Shell. But who can blame them? As Havas contemplates further embedding itself in Shell’s oily embrace, it risks not just its reputation but its very soul.

And as for those B Corp certifications that Havas so proudly displays? They might just be on the chopping block if this courtship goes any further. B Lab is on the case, investigating whether Havas’s dalliance with Shell spells doom for its supposed climate commitments.

In the end, Havas’s budding romance with Shell reads like a tragicomedy of epic proportions. As staff voice their concerns and the world watches in bemused horror, one has to wonder: At what point does the pursuit of green (cash, that is) trump the green of our planet? Havas might just be pondering that very question, all while counting its potential Shell dollars in a dimly lit room, far from prying eyes.

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