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5 Minutes with... Pierre-Emmanuel Muller


The managing director of Plan.Net France on his various origins in journalism, web hosting, popular science and radio, and how it’s all fed into the agency that he founded and has run since 2005

5 Minutes with... Pierre-Emmanuel Muller

Today Pierre-Emmanuel Muller is managing director of digital design agency Pan.Net France. Part of the Serviceplan Group, the agency works to design, implement, manage and boost performance of digital platforms.

In a world where benchmarks move in real time, Plan.Net’s philosophy is ‘digital design for humans’, taking a human and reasoned approach to digital interactions. Working from offices in Paris and Rennes, Plan.Net France has worked recently with clients as varied as BMW, French logistics giant GEFCO and the city of Le Mans.

Pierre-Emmanuel founded his agency in 2005, but his career before then was drastically different. Starting out as a passionate proponent for the early internet, he became a journalist for the internet bubble in the ‘90s, before going on to work on the more technical hosting side of things. He’s also written popular science books, taught at a university and hosted a radio show.

To find out how all of this informs the agency he leads, LBB’s Alex Reeves chats to Pierre-Emmanuel.

LBB> What creative content inspired or interested you most when you were growing up?

Pierre-Emmanuel> It's a mix, I think. Firstly, choose-your-own-adventure books. The idea that the story didn't exist until I flipped the pages and made my choices, that it was constructed as I read, fascinated me. Then, the early video games where, once again, the choices made during the game influenced the course of events. I imagined the branching paths, the customisations, the weightings. I was just as captivated by the game itself as by the underlying technology. This led to an interest in hypertext and everything that followed.


LBB> What was your journey into the digital industry like? From college to your first jobs, mistakes you’ve never repeated, and advice you’ll never forget!

Pierre-Emmanuel> My journey was perhaps a bit winding. I started working at a web hosting company, LeVillage.Org, as a journalist. The website published an online weekly magazine. With the internet bubble, a print newspaper was launched, and I became its editor-in-chief. 

I later became product manager for hosting services, particularly for streaming. That's where I understood what an industrial accident could be. Managing a mailing list with 300,000 subscribers could lead to some magnificent mishaps. 

Afterward, I wrote about 10 popular science books on computers, taught at the University of Rennes 2, and hosted a radio show before founding my agency in 2005, during the time of the French law on digital accessibility. The idea was to assist local authorities in creating tools and services accessible to as many citizens as possible.

LBB> In those early days at Plan.Net France, what were the good lessons that have seen you through to what you're doing now?

Pierre-Emmanuel> I come from the open-source world. A world in which everyone can speak up, challenge those who have been there for a long time, those who are in positions. My agency has always given a lot of space to young talents, whether in project management, business development, or even the internal organisation of the agency. 

Another lesson from open source is ‘release often, release early’. We share our ideas and projects early and often. The more we expose ourselves, the more we confront, the richer we become. This has allowed the agency to grow in a culture of openness and welcoming new ideas. I also think we have avoided many pitfalls and listened to some quite good ideas.

LBB> How does all that shape the way you do your job and the working environment you maintain at Plan.Net?

Pierre-Emmanuel> We know that in our industry, every situation is transient. Technologies and tools won't last. What truly adds value is our ability to support, listen to our clients, and provide the right solution, the right idea, the right technology at the right time. Colleagues know that they will need to continue to learn, challenge the way they work, and the tools they use.

LBB> You’ve been in the managing director role at Plan.Net for many years now. What are some of the most rewarding and challenging aspects of the role?

Pierre-Emmanuel> The most rewarding aspect is having colleagues who have been working with me for 15 years and still are. And others who have left but still reach out to the agency, who call us when they are working for the advertiser. Someone once told me, in your profession, you only have your reputation. I think that's not entirely untrue. The most challenging aspect, even though it's what we seek when working in an agency, is always having to prove, show, and convince. It's a discipline we must adhere to. It's tough, but I think it's necessary and beneficial.

LBB> What have you been proud of recently?

Pierre-Emmanuel> All the work we've done with BMW Group France and in Europe over the past four years with The Marcom Engine, our dedicated in-house agency. We've assisted our client in transforming their communication and organisation. It's with them that we've invented new ways to collaborate, share, and improve our collaboration. It was a real challenge and made it with our client.

LBB> And what are some challenges you expect to face, or some challenges that are in the industry currently – how will you overcome them?

Pierre-Emmanuel> I firmly believe that in our profession, generalists still have a place. The temptation of specialisation, following trends, can be strong because it provides comfort and reassurance. I believe we should offer our clients the broadest view possible. The context of actions is just as important as the action itself. In history, as in the digital world.

LBB> What's the most exciting thing on the horizon right now?

Pierre-Emmanuel> Besides the weekend? Artificial intelligence, in all its forms. We don't know how much our jobs will be transformed. We don't know what new needs will emerge. We can create images from a query. We can summarise text or meetings. The sliders are moving too fast on fuzzy dials we can’t read. What a fantastic time to continue doing our job!

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Serviceplan Group France, Mon, 18 Sep 2023 14:20:31 GMT