Sygma Gets New CEO

Posted on 6/9/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



June 9, 1998

On May 20, 1998 Hubert Henrotte, CEO of Sygma press agency announced his

departure and that of Monique Kouznetzoff, Director of the Entertainment

Division, effective in early June 1998. Mr. Henrotte cited irreconcilable

differences with Sygma's shareholders in regard to future capitalization as well

as management orientations.

Mr. Henrotte founded the agency in 1973 in Paris. It is one of the leading

editorial agencies in the world with headquarters in Paris and offices in New

York, London, Budapest and Hong Kong.

About a year ago Mr. Henrotte sold controlling interest to the Smadja family in

Paris. Jean-Marc Smadja, presently General Manager of Sygma, has become CEO. In

a press release Sygma said that "Smadja will maintain the agency's responsibility

toward its photographers, the media, and its clients, and will strengthen the

link between journalistic excellence and image quality, under tight management."

Based on comments made at that time of the sale, it is believed that Mr. Henrotte

had a long term employment contract until the year 2001. Sources outside of

Sygma, indicate that Mr. Henrotte was fired, rather than voluntarily leaving as

the press release would indicate. No one from the Sygma offices in either Paris

or New York was willing to clarify this point.

No one at Sygma was willing to comment or elaborate on the "irreconcilable

differences," but knowledgeable sources in both Paris and New York believe the

following may be the case.

There is much less demand for still images of world news events than there used

to be. The U.S. market has been a "dry hole" for many years, but in the '80s and

early '90s, Europe and the rest of the world was a strong market for still

coverage of news events. Now, by the time publications can get on the streets

with still news features, TV has already done the story to death.

The expenses of major editorial feature coverage of social and political issues

had been exceeding the revenues from the licensing of this material. The only

type of editorial material that continues to be in strong demand are photographs

of celebrities, personalities and fashion.

Mr. Smadja wanted to concentrate on the celebrity and personality aspects of the

business and, at least, stop paying the expenses of photographers to run around

the world covering social issues, political issues and wars. It appears that Mr.

Henrotte believes world news event coverage is still necessary, in spite of the

economics, because Sygma has built its reputation on producing that kind of work

over the last 25 years.

We understand that since the May 20th announcement some Sygma photographers have

been told that in the future Sygma will not be supporting assignments as they

have in the past. From now on photographers who want to cover wars and social

issues will need to do this as self-assigned projects and cover all the expenses

themselves, unless they can find some magazine that is willing to underwrite the

costs of the project. As one source put it, "Only dreamers think someone is going

to put money on the table to pay for assignments these days."

On the other hand, while it would appear that fashion and personalities would

continue to be a strong emphasis at the "new" Sygma, fashion photographer Helmut

Newton has announced that he is pulling out of the agency.

In its press release Sygma says, it will be "consolidat(ing) its primary position

among photo agencies worldwide, (and is) committed to the highest standards of

news, entertainment, feature and stock photography. The ongoing production, the

archives, and the Keystone and L'Illustration picture collections will be

highlighted through promotional means to facilitate access to all clients,

researchers and agents worldwide."

Another issue that could have been part of the dispute, according to sources, is

the three catalogs that Sygma plans to launch in September. One will have

traditional Stock material, another News and Reportage and a third will be a

Graphics catalog.

People who have had a chance to look at the images selected for the News &

Reportage say that the editing was poor and that Sygma has better images in its

files than those selected. We have no insight into the images that have been

selected for the stock catalog, except that many editorial agencies have had

trouble producing a good "stock" catalog. Editorial photographers do not

normally shoot, nor do editorial agency editors select images for the file, that

are the kind of subject matter use regularly by the corporate and advertising

clients who are "stock's" big purchasers. Therefore, there may have been a

difference of opinion over the investment that is being made in these catalogs.

In their press release Sygma also said, "Electronic technology will remain a

major element in the development of Sygma," but others in the industry say that

Sygma is behind other agencies in its ability to deliver images rapidly to

clients on-line.

Since the announcement there has been some talk in the industry about Sygma and

Gamma combining files in order to produce a more marketable product. That rumor

has been emphatically denied.

Another strong rumor that is circulating in Paris is that Mr. Henrotte may start

a new agency. I have not been able to confirm this rumor, but it would be normal

to have a "non compete" clause in an employment contract, and thus it would seem

unlikely that any new agency would be started in the near future.

Sygma Photo News, Inc. headquartered in New York will not be affected by the

change of management in Paris. Eliane Laffont will remain as President and

Jean-Pierre Laffont as Director.


I first heard of this development almost two weeks ago, and since then have been

trying to get someone from Sygma to comment or clarify the situation for me. Since they

wouldn't comment, I sought out other sources. I have called Jean-Mark Smadja in Paris

and he won't return my call. Finally, yesterday, I called Eliane Laffont in New York and

she took my call, but wouldn't comment on the matter at all. She would not even confirm

the date when the Smadja family purchased Sygma -- a matter of historical record, I would

think. She wanted me to wait two weeks to do the story.

I wrote the story based on the information at my disposal, but delayed putting it on-line

until I could send Ms. Laffont a copy to give her one last chance to comment, or correct any

errors in my information. She sent me the following response:

Dear Jim:

The reason I picked up your call this morning is because I have a lot of respect for you

and what you did for the National Geographic problem, and out of this respect I cannot

let you send your newsletter today. It is so out of line and so full of enormous errors

that you cannot send it as it is... You are totally misinformed.

Why don't you send out the Sygma press release the way it is now, and as I told you on

the phone this morning, I will be able to help with your article in two weeks.


Eliane Laffont


Photo District News reported in July that Sygma's revenues are about $22 million annually and that

it's Paris office employs about 120 people. Eliane Laffont, president of Sygma's New York office,

confirmed to PDN that Monique Kouznetzoff, Henrotte's wife and the former director of Sygma's

entertainment division, is expected to start another agency.

Copyright © 1998 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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