147 SYGMA GETS NEW CEO
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
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
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:
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.
JULY 1998 UPDATE
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.