Enthusiasm, innovation, and social engagement: since it was founded over twenty years ago, Altavia Italia has been a hotbed for the kind of ambitious projects that are normally seen at younger innovative start-ups. Interview with President Paolo Mamo and CEO Simona Lazzerini:
How did Altavia Italia get its start?
Paolo Mamo: We both joined the Altavia Group twenty years ago. At the time, we were managing PSO, a company that specialised in publishing and operational communications, which I had acquired in 1992. Our clientele was mostly made up of design brands and, to a lesser extent, cosmetics brands.
What led you to join the Altavia Group barely five years after acquiring PSO?
P.M.: To accelerate our growth, we needed a partner that was larger than we were. To this end, we opened negotiations with the DDB Group, though ultimately they didn’t win us over. It was at that moment that one of my friends told us about a small French company that was looking for an Italian partner. That company turned out to be Altavia. We were very quickly able to meet with Lorenzo Bertagnolio, who is now the Group’s International Development Manager, François Gounelle, the European Operations Manager, and Philippe Finkelstein, one of the co-founders. Right away there was a good rapport between us and them! When we visited their offices in Saint-Ouen, I saw the people working and said to myself: “What vivacity! What enthusiasm! This is the company that I want to work with.” We very quickly joined the Group after a short negotiation period. That is how our history with the Group began. Our history together has overall been very positive, from both personally and professionally.
Simona Lazzerini: It was a fantastic opportunity. We built up Altavia’s presence in Italy little by little. When we started, there were only six of us. Today, there are seventy!
What are Altavia Italia’s areas of activity?
P.M.: Historically, the company’s expertise lay in print management. Even today, this activity is the backbone of the company. At the same time, and this has been the case since the beginning, we also offer consulting services.
S.L.: Carrefour was the first big consulting contract that we landed. At the time, we weren’t yet experts in how large-scale distribution works.
P.M.: We spend three months studying the sector, made a proposal to the client, and they accepted! Later, we continued to offer consulting services, while still progressively growing our publishing activities. Over the last twenty years, we have managed many accounts for distribution companies based in Italy!
What differentiates Altavia Italia from its competitors?
S.L.: In terms of organisational structure, the way we manage our teams really sets us apart. First, we develop our business and then we assemble teams based on our clients’ needs. This adaptability is a real strength for Altavia Italia.
P.M.: Growth is never perfectly continuous. It’s important to understand the client’s needs and to plan projects that meet their expectations. When we win a client contract, we have to activate an entire network of partners to succeed in our mission.
In terms of services, our added value also derives from our multi-channel focus, which comes from the inclusion of new, mainly digital services into the range of what we can offer our clients.
The Altavia Group is highly committed to CSR. What responsible actions are you deploying in the areas where you have a presence?
P.M.: Altavia Italia has made many social commitments that focus on relationships with and between citizens. To give an example, we were recently chosen to be both beta testers and communication managers for Sei l’Altro, a new model of community social protection, partially financed by the State, which provides innovative solutions for critical issues such as the balance between work, family, and leisure time.
S.L.: We are also very involved in the life of our local neighbourhood, the sixth zone of Milan. Every Wednesday, we open our patio up to the public. People can come sit, eat, work, etc.
P.M.: Starting in September, it will be open every day! This is an incredible opportunity to foster meaningful exchanges. Many of the other businesses in the neighbourhood pursue activities similar to our own. When eating lunch on the patio, people have the opportunity to meet and discuss!
Can you tell us a little more about Altavia Lab, your department dedicated to innovation and experimentation?
P.M.: Altavia Lab was launched six years ago, and it was a smashing success. The only thing has been that until now, we haven’t had the necessary resources to fund it. It therefore remained dormant for several years, until we decided to give it the responsibility of managing ShopperMind activity in Italy. This relaunch was made possible by the creation of a consumer trends and innovation observatory, among other factors. Altavia Lab returned to success as it implemented several parallel projects, including some that have already begun to turn a profit!
What Altavia Lab projects are the most important to you?
P.M.: Altavia Lab oversees a project for the Isola neighbourhood of Milan, which is a very pretty area that has nevertheless suffered for a long time from its location outside of the city centre. Over the last few years, Isola has been redeveloped and reintegrated into the city. Along with neighbourhood shop owners, we created a plan to offer users services that are similar to those that can be found in shopping centres. To give an example, we are currently implementing a loyalty card system that can be used throughout the area. This card will also allow consumers to accumulate points that they can spend on renting the electric cars that are available throughout the neighbourhood.
S.L.: Our Social Printing programme is also managed by the Lab, which works with two print shops that form an integral part of a local social reintegration centre. When one of our clients has need of our responsible publishing services, Altavia and the client work together to contribute to the project’s development: training personnel, purchasing material or machines, etc.
P.M.: Altavia Lab’s other headline activity is called “Altavia Academy”. This project was born of our desire to create a new generation of Altavians. We asked ourselves: “What if we began recruiting young people using the X Factor’s methods?” And we launched a three-month sourcing and recruitment campaign.
How did you go about it?
P.M.: We preselected young graduates, all of whom had a Master’s Degree. Then, we chose ten of them and offered them theoretical and practical trainings within Altavia, to be led by our staff. The young interns spend a year at the company and they receive a salary as well as many other benefits. They are really great, they’re always enthusiastic, and they’re full of ideas. They are truly passionate: we are convinced that they will breathe new life into the company. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that these ten people will stay with the company after their training ends!
What medium-term goals are there to support these projects?
P.M.: We want to be recognised as a good place to work! Then, later, we hope to be named one of the best companies to work for. First, just in Italy, then all around the world (laugh).
Any final thoughts about the Altavia Group?
P.M.: Altavia is a very special place. Recently, we invited a well-known consultant to the kick-off for a directors’ seminar. He said to me: “The good relationships you all seem to have are really incredible.” I told him that we’re actually quite close, just like a band of brothers. And he said: “That means you must have a good father.”
Also, as our Move2020* initiative comes into focus, I’m more and more convinced that the future still holds plenty of good surprises in store!