Havas Group India has seen a tectonic shift from what it was perceived to be 3 Years ago and what it is today. Today the Group offers Media, Creative, Digital, Experiential, Healthcare, Design, and several others under one roof. The mission the group operates on is, ‘To make a meaningful difference to the brands, the businesses and the lives of the people we work with’.
In today’s Leaderspeak Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India, talks to us about the turnaround, the integrated services the group offers to its clients, and the culture of the group.
Havas Group India has seen a dramatic turnaround since you joined. Your insights into this.
When I joined Havas Group India, we were around 200 people comprising of 3 agencies and had an extremely ambiguous perception in the industry. What we required was a dramatic transformation and resurgence of who we were and how we were seen, both externally and internally.
We (Bobby and I) began by fixing our core product offering. Then moved our focus on strengthening the teams by hiring the best talent, creating interesting stories, setting business targets, winning some fabulous new clients, and integrating our acquisition agencies. And finally, forming a core team that stood together and delivered; and continues to do so across multiple disciplines. For me, “growth” has been of utmost priority. It is one mantra that I have been driving relentlessly. Evidently, it has led us to fantastic results.
Even in 2020, when every market around the world came to a grinding halt, Havas Group India was nimble-footed, we were busy integrating and collaborating, winning marquee clients, launching new expertise (Conran Design Group, Havas CX, MX, HI-Cricket etc), and hiring the best professionals. We continued our focus on raising the benchmark and achieving certain targets and milestones that we had set for ourselves when I came onboard.
And in just 3 years, from a non-entity, today Havas Group India has entered the big league. There is a positive buzz around the network. We are now seen as an effective partner by marketers, intermediaries, the industry and people, in building meaningful brands and delivering engaging, impactful, and innovative work while building adhering to a strong workplace culture that we are extremely proud of.
The perception around Havas Group India has changed completely. It’s no longer just a Media buying agency, but a fully integrated network including Creative, Digital, Experiential, Healthcare, Design, and several others. What are the factors that changed this perception through which you built this integrated model?
We position ourselves as a new-age integrated agency village (this is a never-ending quest for us). Therefore, from the overall talent at work, the companies and expertise we have, to the pitches that we are now called for, that constitute the biggest names in India, had to be revitalized, which were all imperceptible earlier.
The journey from 3 to 10 agencies, 200 to 1000 people, 3 bustling villages in Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore, that too in such a short time is not just a stimulating experience but also one that made us into a formidable force in creative, media, communications, digital, data and technology, design, experiential and healthcare. Our companies are unique, yet they all share a common ethos; the Havas vision of making a meaningful difference to our clients, the brands we work with, and our people.
The Village philosophy is unique – it allows us to maximize and collaborate our strengths to truly be an Integrated Group, which has 3 verticals – Creative, Media and Health. Our 10 agencies come under one integrated Havas Village model, enabling us to offer a seamless experience to all our clients. Between just 2019 to 2021, Havas Group India witnessed exponential growth and a significant part of this growth has come through integration. We have now streamlined our integrated structure further with a Group head and a team from each agency. I plan to focus and put more impetus on the integration model, going forward.
Tell us about the additional businesses like Havas CX, Conran Design Group, Shobiz – the new companies which you launched through 2020 & 2021. How has been the individual performances of these functions and what kind of value they are driving for the network?
Havas CX – Towards the end of 2020, Havas Global launched a dedicated customer experience network called Havas CX to deliver meaningful brand experiences across the entire customer journey and Mumbai was identified as one of the hubs. Digital has a crucial part to play in the entire customer journey and brands need to curate a purchase journey that is meaningful, unique, and relatable for the consumer, this ensures loyalty. That is the expertise we provide through a great Omnichannel environment by emphasizing a digital-first and seamless experience. And the response we are receiving from marketers is simply overwhelming. With the business growth we are seeing in Havas CX (through many clients wins) it’s evident that there was a gap and marketers in India needed this expertise.
Conran Design Group India: We launched our London-based global design and branding company in India during the peak of Covid-19 as we identified another clear gap in the industry, which marketers were scrambling to resolve. In two months, CDG Mumbai will celebrate its first anniversary in India and the success we have had here is nothing short of stupendous. Our team of 15 super specialists is working on large-scale categories like pharma, luxury, e-commerce, and several others.
Shobiz: We acquired Shobiz, a pioneer in corporate experiential space, towards the end of 2019. And as the pandemic set in, the team quickly turned around and adopted the digital model of experiential. They went through a complete transformation – from upskilling/training the employees to building an in-house studio, Shobiz successfully adopted the hybrid model. This hybrid expertise of Shobiz has become one of the best in the industry, and even when we return to the on-ground events, the hybrid model will continue to generate additional revenue.
What are some of the expertise that you would like Havas Group India to build? Are you looking are more acquisitions to build this expertise?
India is one of the key markets of growth for the Havas Group global and we will continue to invest and expand organically (through JVs, bringing in global expertise) and inorganically (via many acquisitions). We will continue to build expertise that will add value to our ecosystem, making a relevant difference to our clients in the not-so-distant future.
There are definite acquisition plans and multiple conversations are on for both Media and Creative as well. We have identified certain gaps that need to be addressed quickly and I foresee new domains, companies, and expertise getting added at our end in order to add strength to the overall ecosystem for the Group in India, this will further set us apart in the market.
Havas Group India has gone through a resurrection of sorts in the last 3 years. And it has not happened just on the back of business growth. Tell us about the culture of the organization.
I am a big believer in culture and people. We are in a people’s business and to further build that, having the right culture is critical. Hence, building a strong culture of collaboration and integration, and aligning our group companies to the same ethos, is a priority. The cultural aspect is led by our Group CHRO VandanaTilwani. She works closely with our Global HR team and the senior leadership team in India.
What we are building is a people-first organization that makes every employee have a place of pride within the organization, a genuine happiness quotient, and a very strong sense of belonging. We need to make our India operations a melting pot of the best talent across all levels. Learning, training, mentoring are ingrained in our system across all levels. We have some amazing industry-first (Internship programme – Havas Spark, Women Who Inspire etc) initiatives and talent development programs – many led by our fabulous Global Talent teams and some that we created indigenously.
You said that increasingly clients want to work with agencies and vendors who adhere to certain DE&I initiatives. Tell us more about this and what has Havas Group India done to be future-ready in this space?
The case for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in organizations is stronger today than ever before. According to industry reports, the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time. As an organization, Havas Group India is deeply committed to its DE&I initiatives. And increasingly marketers are demanding to work with agencies and vendors who adhere to certain DE&I norms.
Towards the end of 2020, Havas Group India formed the Women Who Inspire Committee of 12 members aimed at fostering gender diversity and women leadership across our group companies. We used the gender gap analysis tools, the ‘Bounce Back’ program for women returning after maternity leave, and using a blind hiring technique that involves reviewing resumes without mentioning gender. As a result of our efforts, we have managed to build a secure space for all genders and identities and hiked our gender ratio from 21% when I came into around 35%. And the target is to be closer to 45% in the next few years.
In March 2021, we became one of the founding members of the United Nations Unstereotype Alliance India Chapter. The initiative addresses harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content and draws focus towards the realities of the advertising industry.
Havas Group India is also a signatory of the National Chapter Women’s Empowerment Principles, which will be utilized as a self-assessment tool through the creation of a Gender Action Plan along with the Gender Gap Analysis Tool (GAT). There are many more initiatives in progress at Havas India and we will continue to do what we must to ensure a healthy and balanced work environment.
What were the biggest challenges and opportunities of 2020 & 2021?
No word is enough to describe the catastrophe that hit us, changing our personal and professional lives forever. Gradually, as we built a semblance of normalcy around the pandemic, each one of us realized that we do have a steely resolve! I believe when adversity strikes, the only way is to either innovate or fade out.
Despite the enormous challenges, we looked ahead, stayed focused on the task at hand, built on our strengths, worked closely with our clients & people, and more importantly, stayed calm. Personally, for me, it was an acid test because I had just started rebuilding Havas Group India. But it’s really all about how you face these tough times and come out unscathed. Our pace of growth, especially in the last two years has been unprecedented and this wouldn’t have been possible without my entire India team as well as the global team who have been nothing short of awesome!
One big learning…
2020 and 2021 will remain etched in my memory forever. And like many leaders around the world, I will be always also be one of the pandemic CEOs.
I think the word ‘trust’ now has a completely new meaning in my life. And if we were able to sail through the last two years, it’s only because I trusted my teams to display unprecedented resilience and commitment. And that trust converged into amazing results. As the leader of this organization, I knew my teams trusted me that I will do everything in my power to smoothly navigate them through this storm. And I must say we have a lot to be proud of as it is clearly showing us incredibly positive and encouraging results.