Ad land's Young Guns: Harbir Singh Rai, Havas Media India

To bring out what it actually takes up to be there in advertising, Adgully introduced a new feature last week – ‘Ad Land’s Young Guns’, where the spotlight is on the brilliant young ad professionals who have been bringing tremendous value to their organisations and creating work that are being appreciated in various forums.

This week, we present Harbir Singh Rai, Vice-President, Havas Media India. Rai started out as a management trainee with Max New York Life Insurance Company in 2002. After one year with the organisation, he moved on to Dabur India as a Media Executive. Since then he has been in the advertising industry with stints across Starcom Mediavest Group, MPG – Havas Media, and Madison World. Rai joined Havas Media Group in January 2015.

What it takes to climb up the ladder in advertising, here is Harbir Singh Rai in his own words …

How I got into advertising

“I started off in a completely different industry. Having interned with a multi-national insurance company during my MBA programme, I was subsequently absorbed by them within their marketing department. However, being a finance driven company, there did not seem to be much scope for marketing, so within a year I applied to Dabur, seeking FMCG experience. While there wasn’t any opening on the brand, I was inducted into Adbur – their in house media agency and that’s how I came into this line.”

Skill sets I bring to the table

“Having started off with a buying profile in my initial years before moving into a hardcore planning role later on, I managed to get a complete orientation and a well rounded perspective on the job, leading to a structured thought process and approach. Having been given opportunities to front clients from early on, along with exposure to devising strategy and analytics, I have gained the ability to multi-task, with a fair balance of business management as well as strategy.”

The 5 most productive things that I do in my everyday routine

“I start the day by sitting with a team on a JSR to prioritise the day’s tasks. Then I sit with one of the cross function teams (Digital, Outdoor, etc.) to see how integrated cross functional solutions can be created for our clients. I also meet relevant media partners to work out integrations for the brand, basis the brand objectives, beyond the regular, conventional offerings. My daily routine also includes reading up on the latest trends and industry reports, besides sitting with the buying counterpart to ensure alignment between business team and investment teams on client deliverables.”

The campaign that I am particularly proud of

“There have been several such campaigns over the years. Among the memorable ones that I can recall, include the Aircel national launch in 2009.

The campaign I would be most proud of was the Hyundai Eon launch campaign in 2011. This campaign successfully managed to leverage influential audience touchpoints to accomplish the communication goals. The objective was to create differentiation for the brand and help build a distinct positioning in an increasingly cluttered entry car segment. Using our Havas proprietary research, we measured the influence of each touchpoint on the consumer decision process. Celebrity endorsements and recommendations from friends and family emerged as the strongest trust media. We cherry picked certain leading characters from the popular soaps on Sony Entertainment Television rather than going after larger than life celebs, as these characters were part of our audience’s daily lives and like family in a way. We ensured that the characters we chose were more from a context of a first time car buyer. We identified situations which were a natural progression of the storyline of the shows and developed a set of five unique customised vignettes, aired within the commercial breaks of these soaps, showing these characters experiencing and engaging with the brand.

These five vignettes were aired at high frequency as break-bumpers throughout the day, resulting in immense buzz and visibility. There were 400+ exposures per day. The ads were placed as the first and last spot in each break of the relevant shows, thus maximising viewership and impact. The increasing popularity and relatability of these characters had a positive rub off on the brand. Hyundai Eon got seven surrogate brand ambassadors. The results were stupendous, with 1.2 million website visits, 150,000 Facebook fans, over 100,000 enquiries and 7,000+ unit sales within a month, in addition to huge PR, articles and industry discussions.”

What it takes to create an effective communication strategy

“Apart from the brand objective, the brand proposition and communication plank are also foremost in one’s mind as one tries to explore/ create relevant associations and integrations which would help in proposition enhancement and bring out the brand values. While reach, frequency and exposure are basic hygiene, the endeavour is to make the brand more meaningful and relevant by marrying the brand proposition to the consumer’s passion areas and creating assets which amplify the brand attributes.”

Icons in advertising I look up to

“Apart from various industry stalwarts who all of us look up to, I have been fortunate in having had the chance to work with various stalwarts and seniors across organisations from whom I have learnt a lot. Names that are top of mind are Anita Nayyar, Ravi Kiran, Premjeet Sodhi, Mohit Joshi, Uday Mohan and Mona Jain. From them, I have learned so many aspects which help shape a professional – from precision and attention to detail, analytical ability, having a bird’s eye view and focus, to people management and ability to come up with solutions.”

Advertising as a long-term career

“It certainly is and all the more so, given how the Indian economy is on the move despite the global financial meltdown and the YOY growth in the advertising industry. In fact, even during recessionary times, advertising sees only a trickle down effect and doesn’t face the full frontal impact. With businesses booming, newer categories emerging and increasing consumerism and aspirational values, it is boom time for advertising. Also, with newer media and formats emerging, advertising is proving to be very dynamic and in tune with the modern consumer.”

My success mantra

“Passion, a never say die attitude, and people skills. The rest, including technical skills, can be learnt as one goes along.”

My advice to the newbies

“There are no shortcuts. One has to go through the grind as that helps in building the right foundation in one’s initial years. Also, with respect to those in media planning, one golden rule that one should learn early on is something very basic – double check everything, as attention to detail makes all the difference.”

Where I see myself in five years’ time

“It’s too far ahead to foresee, but moving in the right direction I hope.”

The agency that I would want to work with

“I have worked across a few agencies and have been associated with Havas happily for the last six years (with a six-month break in between). I am not really hankering after any other big organisation names, as profile and value addition is what is most important rather than badge value.”


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