From a quieter agency, we have now become an agile network: Rana Barua 

Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India, claims the agency, in the last two years, has transformed into an integrated network with many new clients across the group

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Feb 1, 2021 3:40 PM

As Havas Group goes through a series of churns in the last few weeks, we speak to Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India about the reporting to global leadership, their struggle with pandemic, recovery and much more. Below are edited excerpts:- 

Q: Let’s start with the latest talking points. Havas was in the news twice last week, earlier for some key elevations in India and most recently for Vishnu’s resignation. Meanwhile, you have now been asked to report to the global CEO. Can you share more details of the recent changes and the strategy behind these developments?

There hasn’t been much change in India. We have been reporting into the global leadership for over a year now, since India is and continues to be one of the priority markets for Havas Group globally. The last two years have been transformative for India, from an agency that was known for one big client (RB) – we have now become an agency network with an integrated village offering, many new clients across the group, expertise of six specialist agencies across three groups: Havas Media Group – Havas Media, Arena Media, Tribes (out-of-home),  Havas Creative Group – Havas (integrated creative), Shobiz Havas (experiential marketing), Havas CX - Think Design Havas (design), Langoor Havas (digital), and Havas Health Group with Havas Life Sorento (healthcare). 

From a quieter agency, we have now become a network that is agile, aggressive, busy creating meaningful work, positive conversations and have many happy (new) clients.

Alberto Cantelli, CEO Middle East and Eastern Europe Havas Group, remit has been extended to include South East Asia and North Asia including Singapore, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Indochina, Indonesia and Vietnam, while I will continue to run Havas Group India as Group CEO, and both of us will report to Chris Hirst (Global CEO Havas Creative Group) and Peter Mears (Global CEO Havas Media Group).

Q: The pandemic has affected us all. However, going by numbers of all the leading agencies, Havas seems to have been more affected than many others. Although your performance has been showing a steady improvement, there still seems to be gaps that need to be covered. The numbers for the last quarter are still not out. Can we expect to see a significant recovery in the bottom line in the last quarter?

We have rationalised the numbers during the pandemic and have revised our targets. As a group, we are working together and looking at growth in a resurgent way. We will keep observing and mapping any opportunities that may arise to reach our targets. 

Q: What has been India’s contribution to this overall scenario? How is India contributing to the growth?

India is a crucial market for Havas group globally the strategy and focus areas for India going forward is to further strengthen the Indian offering this year. All aimed at adding greater strength to the overall ecosystem of the Havas Group and ensuring better and effective solutions for our client, with our meaningful brand philosophy at the very core.  

During the tough 2020, we were able to drive significant value for all our clients, new business wins as well as new initiatives, and win recognition. Whether it was through our integrated wins like Fortis Healthcare, JBL & Harman Kardon, or  Havas Creative winning accounts like Dabur Honey and its extensions, William Grant & Sons, Hike, Suzuki, Norton LifeLock, myPaisaa. Or then Havas Media bagging the Domino’s Pizza business and other accounts like Smule, ACC cement, Vikram Solar, MyGate, Gamezy, Seedworks, Boult Audio, NortonLifeLock Antivirus, Transforming Rural India Foundation (TRIF) + Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) among others. Havas Creative bolstered its digital and CX capabilities with Havas CX. Havas CX is a new international network dedicated to delivering meaningful experiences across the entire customer journey.

Q: Need for a robust technology was one of the key lessons we learnt from the pandemic. What were some of the key steps you took as a group on the technology front that helped you navigate through these stressful times?

We were one of the early agencies in India to announce work from home.  We were very fortunate to already have some great technology in place around the network globally, we had invested in the latest version of Microsoft, had already started utilizing Teams, and so it was easy to adapt to along with platforms like Zoom, WebEx, and others. The most important step for us was helping our employees leverage the tools. We prioritized training around how to present in a remote setting, best practices for pitching virtually, tips for setting up a home office, and ensuring employees were as comfortable and prepared to do their best work. 

We’ve also been very thoughtful about learning and skill development. We've added several online learning courses to our Havas University online learning platform, ranging from leading through change to managing anxiety. We'll continue to monitor the tech we have in place, as well as hear from employees on what's working and what could be improved. 

Once our global network became remote, we knew we needed to find a way to keep everyone connected, learning, and focused on their wellbeing, and so we created Havas from Home. Havas from Home became a twice-weekly global communication with tips for settling into remote work, employee news and spotlights, learning opportunities available at home on Havas University, as well as tips for staying well such as at-home workouts, mental health advice for working parents, meditation practices, and more. It also captured how leaders were adjusting to remote work with a series called "At Home With..." which showed a real human side of our leaders around the world. The feedback from employees was extremely positive and carried through to social media where employees used #havasfromhome to document their WFH experiences.  

  • Now with our blend of office and remote work around the network, Havas from Home has transformed into Life@Havas, a once-weekly newsletter capturing all the great people/culture news around the globe--much of it informed by employees who send in their stories. It has become a very powerful way to capture all the great employees that make up Havas and celebrate all the good things happening around the network (#lifeathavas).


  • Learning also continues to be a demand from employees, and so in addition to weekly learning opportunities offered in Life@Havas, we started a program called Havas ChatRooms. ChatRooms is a virtual speaker series connecting employees with experts & thought leaders. Topics have ranged from multicultural marketing, creativity during COVID-19, leadership in this new world of work, changes in the media landscape, and more.

Q: Finally, now that the markets have opened again and businesses have started to pick up, what are your estimates from 2021 for the industry and what are the areas you see growth coming from? 

We are going to be pragmatic about our approach but aggressive in our growth targets. It is in a way rebuilding lost momentum and speed, by ensuring effective work and results. 

Expanding our strength and presence in the Indian M&A world our focus is on further strengthening our offering with new domain expertise. There are many new acquisitions, joint venture and expertise launches planned for both creative and media. All aimed at adding greater strength to the overall ecosystem and ensuring meaningful and effective solutions for our clients. 

We will focus on building meaningful brand conversations, adding multiple expertise to our portfolio, driving the Havas CX network, which was launched last year. The CX network is dedicated to delivering meaningful brand experiences across the entire customer journey. I see a lot of new business pitches, wins and many new clients getting added to our portfolio.

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