49 Days in Provence, ...


We’ve completed the “assignment” in the South of France. The last grains of sand have found their way through the hourglass.

The experience has been better than what Heather and I expected.

And we had high expectations.

Reflecting on the professional side — and putting to rest talk of a boondoggle — so many things come to mind.Boondoggle 10-15Let’s start with the Agency’s global position. We’re never going to be bigger than the Bursons and Edelmans of the world. Yet, our size can absolutely be an advantage in cultivating global teamwork and campaigns in which everyone, regardless of geography, sits on the same page.

Experiencing our operation from outside of HQ for nearly two months was a great reminder that a global mentality doesn’t just happen. It takes work and relentless communications to drive this into our DNA. The payoff comes in caring about the success of colleagues in other parts  of the world. That’s where the magic happens. A global mentality already differentiates the Agency, but I have some ideas to provide an extra push.

As for the European operation itself, it’s been satisfying working side-by-side with our European MD Mike Sottak — literally since the end of the dining room table I inhabited sat right next to Mike’s desk in our Aix en Provence home office — and digging into the day-to-day operations. We conducted a workshop on integrated communications for a client in the Nordics, collaborated on new-biz proposals and traveled to Berlin, Paris and London for meetings that defied convention. To Mike’s credit, he doesn’t feel wed to the “How to Build a PR Agency 101” handbook.

For example, who says the center of gravity for a European PR operation must be in the UK and London? We met Florence Giuly-Davis who heads a boutique tech shop in Paris called PR Paradigm for the first time last June. Florence speaks our language, a big agency refugee who finds satisfaction in the actual doing of tech PR. We continued the dialogue with Florence in Paris. Mike and Florence are still hashing out the details of the partnership, but the “alignment” is clear.

Turning inward, Europe has afforded me the opportunity to air out my brain. With the various tugs on my time in Silicon Valley — in the spirit of honesty, some self-induced — it can feel like I’m sprinting from one fire drill to another. The rhythm of my days in Europe was different, permitting time to take a breath and think. The daily walk from our apartment to Mike’s home took 20 to 25 minutes depending on the number of tourists I had to dodge. This meant each day was bookended with a chance to rewind conversations, brainstorm and dissect Oasis lyrics.

There’s also something to be said for parachuting into a foreign land where you don’t speak the language. With everything new and different, it opens up one’s senses in a way that isn’t possible from the status quo.

On the topic of language, I will forever have the image of a stop at a pâtisserie when for whatever reason I had a brain freeze asking for a ham sandwich with the Spanish word for ham, “jamon.” That had a group of older women cackling hysterically with the word “Espagnol” dotting their laughter.

I also got a kick out of the French waitress who didn’t quite get an American catch phrase right, “See you tomorrow, alligators.”

Of course, living in the South of France has advantages that Heather and I enjoyed to the hilt. While we took some excursions — Luberon region, Nice, Cassis, Santa Margherita in Italy — simply immersing ourselves in the Aix en Provence lifestyle was the highlight of our stay. There’s beauty every time you turn a corner.

The shot below captures the passage in front of our apartment located in the town centre right off of Rue Mignet.Town Centre Passage 10-15This photo offers a swath of rooftops in the town centre.Rooftops 10-15And the food isn’t bad either in this part of the world.

Naturally we had to “test” many of the local restaurants and brasseries. In the course of doing so, we embraced what’s called “café gourmand,” three to four tiny desserts along with an espresso. It’s cool how they’re plated.Cafe Gourmand 10-15In short, we had a great time.

We send our heartfelt thanks to Mike, his wife, Toni, and Aix en Provence for being the perfect hosts.

Dans l’attente de notre prochaine rencontre.


  • Bill Magill

    Lou, it was such a privilege and pleasure meeting you and Heather and having time to share a few wonderful apéros and meals ensemble. I look forward to seeing you back in Aix soon. A bientôt! – Bill

    • Lou Hoffman

      Bill, the pleasure was ours. The art of conversation + friendship made for a special stay. Stay in touch.

  • Raf Stevens

    Merci beaucoup pour votre inspiration, Lou. Genial! ?

    • Lou Hoffman

      Thanks Raf. It was an amazing time. Now the real challenge arrives in not falling back into bad habits.

  • Dude Stro

    Tres bon. Uhhh . . . how can I get a gig like that? After you hire me for a similar gig, please coordinate my working time there with the latest Bob Tour? Merci.

    • Lou Hoffman


      Honeywell doesn’t have a program that allows high-performance employees like yourself to work out of the South of France for an extended period of time in the spirit of global collaboration?

      Je suis étonné!

  • Olivier Riviere

    Such a nice and lively report, Well done Lou. You hit the nail on head with your statement that you don’t need to be based in the UK to coordinate a Europe-wide PR Network – or another type of Agency. In fact, based on my own experience as a Client and as part of a global Agency, I would even claim that, provided you have hired the right people, you will probably do a better job for national and internationak clients by not being based in the UK (my apologies to my many UK-based PR friends …). Now, that an American from the West Coast, operates an international network from Aix AND falls into the ritual of the Café Gourmand demonstrates, if this would ne needed, that diversity is the salt of life!

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