“A raison d'être is not just a decorative sentence that looks pretty on a wall. "
Valérie Lauthier, Director of External Communications
At Groupe Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs
The #(Un)ConfinedComDirectors series Epresspack continues between mandatory mask ports, lockdown easing, and reimposing some form of it all over the world. Because the health crisis is mobilizing the communication field of work in a more than uncertain economic context, Epresspack surveys the communication and marketing professionals that it supports in France and in Europe. This week, Valérie Lauthier, Director of External Communications for the Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs Group, tells us about it.
Valérie Lauthier has been defending and promoting the Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs Group for more than 17 years alongside Gérard Brémond. Over time, the group has grown from the single-brand created in 1967 to 5 brands in nearly 20 countries. She is the director of external communications at the head of a small team of 7 people who, from Paris, pilot the corporate communications strategy, the crisis, media relations, social media, public relations, and events. Without forgetting 5 PR agencies that support it in Europe. Holder of a Masters in communication at ISCOM Paris, Valérie, 49, began her career in 1994 with a demanding discipline, financial communication, as a consulting director within the FRI communication agency ... before moving to 'take care of the comm of a leisure group listed on the stock exchange.
1 / The crisis has given a boost to the notion of utility for brands and their raison d'être. What's yours?
The Pacte law and the launch of our transformation plan last September accelerated the need to define ourselves and to give a new vision and mission to our group, which is over 50 years old. It is always a complicated task to define a purpose, especially when you bring together several brands and market several concepts. We must then find a common denominator on the basis of collaborative work. Ours can be summed up in one sentence: we are a European player in local tourism, committed to helping everyone rediscover the essentials in a preserved environment. We had to tell about our roots in the territories, our environmental conviction and responsible commitment, the idea of reconnecting with ourselves that is the very definition of holidays, and then also the authenticity and new experiences. But a raison d'être is not a phrase that looks nice on a wall, it only exists because there is evidence to illustrate it and an appropriation by teams. We are therefore going to organize workshops with employee ambassadors so that each brand can adopt it and bring it to life ... before the next step, which will be a name change for us.
2 / This summer, the French and Europeans will favor nearby destinations. Is it a good thing for you?
Proximity is our forte. Our accommodation in apartments and cottages may also work in our favor. But we must not proclaim victory and I prefer to remain modest vis-à-vis our colleagues who, like us, are living through a complicated period, because what is lost is lost. After two and a half months of total closure of all our sites, we hope to achieve sales in the 4th quarter close to last year.
3 / The announcement of a social plan and a restructuring in January, then the sudden shutdown of your activities for more than 2 months. How are you doing?
The tourism sector has been contested for several years and the health crisis is an additional ordeal for us. We have seen the arrival of new players such as digital and collaborative platforms and we have had to adapt, rethink customer relations, carry out product innovations, and develop digital communication. Last September, under the leadership of our new CEO, we also defined a new, more agile, and entrepreneurial organization and a targeted development strategy for each brand. Our objective is to return to a positive net result in 2021. The crisis has impacted our turnover of 284 ME and despite this, we are continuing our transformation, which mainly concerns the head office in France and leads to the layoffs of a maximum of 220 people within the framework of an Employment Protection Plan. For the rest, we don't give a forecast, we never do. Our communication is always very careful for the sake of realism.
4 / With the crisis, we are talking about frugality and we are witnessing the rise of ecological aspirations. How do you adapt your business and your offers?
It turns out that our concept of proximity is perfectly in line with the times. 80% of our customers already travel by car and our offers have been designed to offer the “nature” dimension. Pierre & Vacances is the sea and the mountains, which are in great demand this summer. Center Parcs are preserved areas. After two and a half months of confinement, people need fresh air. They express a greater need for nature, seek authentic holidays, and favor the discovery of French regions. Our visits to organic farms, our treasure hunts, our discoveries of llamas in Ardèche, or carnivorous plants in Normandy… all of this works very well. The fact remains that we are working on innovation, involving the collaboration of start-ups. The work undertaken relates in particular to the customer experience with projects such as connected bracelets, digital terminals at Center Parcs, or new receptions at Pierre & Vacances.
5 / Your first car-free village dates to 1967, the concept of "new property" from 1979, the launch of Nature Villages 3 years ago… Gérard Brémond, is he a truly green visionary?
We do a lot of things in terms of CSR and the group has always been discreet on the subject. The abandoned Center Parcs project in Roybon, like all the others, has been the subject of consultations, field studies, and environmentally friendly construction methods. Wooden materials, the use of geothermal energy, wood-fired boiler rooms ... we use renewable energies almost everywhere and we have had a sustainable development department for over 15 years! Our founding president has always been very sensitive to these questions. We try to promote our approach but some journalists prefer to relay the oppositions around the projects, which moreover generate more controversy than in the past. However, we can build sites that respect the environment and create values, which is not incompatible! CSR communication is precisely the roadmap he has set for us for 2021.
6 / Has the health crisis amplified or atrophied your communication?
During the crisis, we remained very focused; informing the general public about site closures, then informing internal staff and customers about health measures before reopening, then reassuring customers about the measures to protect open sites. We were in a total lack of visibility and confined to day-to-day management… waiting for government announcements. Not to mention that each country had its own tempo and its own rules. The press was our main vector of communication, we were in great demand and created content for our social networks and brand websites.
7 / We all remember the motto « du bonheur si je veux » from ClubMed. Does it say anything to your group?
To us, the group does not advertise, it is the brands that communicate their offers and signatures. The Center Parcs “ensemble vraiment” invests in 2 or 3 TV campaigns per year, Pierre & Vacances with its « A chaque envie, ses vacances » is also very present in billboards and on the web. For an advertising campaign to be effective, it must be massive and repetitive. Pierre & Vacances thus invests 7% of its turnover in off-line and online advertising and promotion, and Center Parcs France devotes 5% to this. The new budgets will be validated in September. To support our raison d'être, we are going to bet on a content strategy in all formats that will be intended for our digital storefronts, sites, and social networks, for the press and internally, which will benefit from a real launch.
8/17 years of good and loyal service for the same company. Does loyalty still make sense today?
My passion is my job. I've always wanted to do communication, after high school already ... When the founder of FRI communication died, my client Pierre & Vacances called me to help him for a week and ended up recruiting me overnight without an interview. It was another time ... 17 years already! I did not notice anything, the group has evolved, it has grown, not to mention that the profession has changed. You never get bored here, there are always projects, new issues and crisis communication. And then the values of entrepreneurship and living together appeal to me. However, my name is not Valérie Brémond! I do my job, develop notoriety and ensure the reputation of the group, its brands and its managers. Over time, a relationship of trust has developed with the founding president, who is very present. He knows that I know the codes of the house and that I will go fast. However, I am careful not to be satisfied with this comfort ... the innovations of the trade or the formats are there to help me.
9 / So no vacation this summer?
Yes Yes …. it will be a local holiday, with friends, in Bretagne which is my region of the heart. Do you know the Emerald Coast in Saint-Lunaire?
The European leader in local tourism, the Group is developing vacation and leisure concepts to offer its customers destinations by the sea, in the mountains, in the countryside, or in the heart of cities. Created in 1967, the Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs Group today operates 5 brands (Pierre & Vacances, Center Parcs, Villages Nature Paris, Aparthotels Adagio, and Maeva.com), 3 product lines (residences and villages, estates in preserved environments and aparthotels in town). In total, the group, which offers short or long stays, packaged, with activities or à la carte, manages a tourist park of 46,200 apartments and houses in 285 sites in Europe. Thanks to its integrated model combining tourism and real estate, the Group controls the entire value chain: the choice of location, urban and architectural design, financing, construction, and operation; a business model, which enables it to guarantee the quality of its offer, to innovate & meet the needs of European customers & to better resist economic or sectoral crises. In 2018/2019, the French Group, listed on the stock exchange, welcomed 8 million European customers in nearly 20 countries and achieved a turnover of 1,673 ME. It brings together 12,550 employees.