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Village, Vernacular, Vivendi differentiator – decoding Havas’ India gameplan

It’s been well over one year since Rana Barua took over the reigns as Group CEO of Havas Group India, in October 2018. A month after Barua’s appointment, Bobby Pawar joined Havas Group India as Chairman & Chief Creative Officer. The agency has been aggressively growing its India team, which is soon going to be 1,200+ strong.

An innovative brand and marketing communications leader with over 22 years of experience, Barua has held CEO roles at Contract India, Creativeland Asia, as well as worked with agencies like Ogilvy, Rediffusion Y&R, McCann, JWT and held leadership profiles in leading Radio stations such as Red FM and Radio City.

In conversation with Adgully, Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India, speaks at length about achieving his vision for Havas, fortifying the Village, the road ahead for the agency in 2020 and much more.

When you joined Havas, you had a certain vision in mind for the company. Have you been able to roll those out?

Yes, I would say a lot of our plans have rolled out. We were clear that our mandate was to consolidate and strengthen the existing businesses and grow the group via acquisitions. From 300-odd people, we have grown up to a team of 1,000-odd people who are energetic and motivated and work in an integrated way – called the Village. We currently have 6 companies in key cities all working together, offering expertise that it benefits the clients. Our acquisition strategy emphasises on further strengthening our offering with the right set of capabilities in sync with our culture and building a strong future ready team.

In May, Havas made its first acquisition in India with Think Design, the leader in user experience consultancy and design in India. We brought in Langoor in September, a full-service digital agency led and driven by creative technologists, to add to the strong credentials. And in December 2019, we have announced our third acquisition – Shobiz, the country’s first and one of the largest experiential agencies.

With these acquisitions, we have further strengthened Havas Group’s integrated offering, ensuring an agile, effective and unified service to our current clients and prospects.

How was business in 2019?
Overall as a business, we have done well and as planned, in line with our vision to ‘consolidate – build – grow – focus on the core’. All the companies (Creative, Media, Health) have grown and ensured stability while delivering extremely effective results, which is encouraging and lays a good foundation for the immediate future.

In Creative, we have not only strongly cemented our relationship with our largest client – Reckitt Benckiser, but also produced fabulous, path-breaking work on most of the brands like Durex, Veet, Harpic, and Vanish, among others. At the Effies held recently, we won 1 Gold and 2 Silver metals for Durex, which is so satisfying as we are just beginning to see results for all the groundwork done last year.

PSA (Citroën), which is another prestigious relationship of ours, has been a fabulous win and some exciting work has already started as we prepare for the launch this year. Along with that we have many new client wins and partnerships: Hike, Harman &Kardon, LOT (Polish Airlines), Nubia gaming phones, Itel mobile, Prega News from Mankind, Strides, Pfizer, Lionsgate, Sodexo, projects from Dabur, Hindware, Studds helmet, JAL and, Emirates – it’s been quite an eventful year.

When I look at our media results, it’s been super exciting with consolidation of Hyundai/ Kia, wins of British Council,, Piramal Healthcare, Sri Lanka Tourism, Accor, Tinder/ OK Cupid, GamesKraft... among others.

We also did some great innovations for our clients like:

  • Voltas Adjustable AC - Print and Radio innovation
  • Philips Hue Cricket Live - brand/ product integration in cricket show
  • Michelin Bibendum’s integration into various reality shows
  • Swiggy’s brand integration on premium Cricket events

We have also won numerous media awards for Voltas, LG, Tata Motors campaigns at various forums like DIGIXX, Maddies, Mobexx.

While you have a strong foothold in Mumbai and Delhi, are you also looking at smaller pockets to bring in business?

We have a stronghold not only in the above 2 cities but also in Bangalore. In fact, in Bangalore we are now 350 people+ when we add Havas Media, Think Design and Langoor Havas. Yes, we are also looking at opportunities that take us beyond these cities as there is a huge potential. We do believe that Tier 2 and 3 markets hold immense opportunities which can give us business, new partnerships, clients and a lot of interesting conversations.

What have been the changes in the organisational structure?

When I was brought on board, my mandate was to build an integrated Village structure to deliver the best to our clients. While the villages existed, what India didn’t have was an integrated leadership that would run all the practices and positioned our agency as an integrated full-service agency. Bobby and I are in charge of the overall group. Our group CHRO, Chief Digital Officer, Finance Head, Marketing Director and Chief Strategy Officer work closely with us and the senior leadership team.

We have worked steadily to build a team which is stronger and future ready, with an extremely competent and diverse senior management. Creative is full of many and extremely talented people, led by very capable leaders – Manas Lahiri, Arindam Sengupta, Ravinder Siwach, Gururaj Rao and Shubhrojyoti Roy.

Media is totally restructured under Mohit Joshi, with a renewed focus in building the digital capability while consolidating the existing strength of the traditional. Supporting him is a very strong team led by Uday Mohan, Saurabh Jain, Venkat, Rohan Chincholi and Ravi Ganesh.

Health has got a renewed focus of expanding into digital and wellness under Sangeeta Barde and Susan Josi. With our three acquisitions in place, our value proposition as a village has become more holistic and robust than ever, which add an enviable strength to our group. We as an organisation are committed to making a meaningful difference to brands, businesses, and people.

What are the trends in 2019 that will carry over in 2020?

Drawing from the basics, the challenge of consumer engagement and keeping them hooked will continue to be the biggest debate and challenge. And varied forms of storytelling, which will continue to engage this consumer in many mediums critical. We must understand the consumers’ consumption mind space, for which there is enough data, and analysing, deciphering, simplifying the same is very important. Data enables us to measure in advance what will work and what will not. It is the only way to successfully target new and existing customers in this rapidly evolving industry. Content is going to become extremely critical. You might define content as a TVC, webisode, music, but everywhere we are discussing how content will keep consumer interest alive.

What shape will media take in 2020?

Media will continue to be phenomenally dynamic this year and many years to come. While sports, cinema, news, music will continue to grow – Video content will be the greatest form of engagement. The content tsunami across any form of media has engulfed the consumer and is going to continue in 2020 as well. Regional/ vernacular will grow from strength to strength and we must realise and start seriously focusing here. Mobile will continue to grow as a medium and we must figure out content that fits and engages via this medium better. Voice, a global trend, will become an emerging differentiator as more gadgets start getting into the homes of consumers.

What are the key trends you forsee for 2020?

Building on the strength of Havas Village: Integration as a working model for all our group companies is for real as they are all housed together under one roof called – Village. Going forward having experts from creative, media, experiential, UX / design and digital innovative technology that integrate seamlessly and provide solutions that help clients will be a real strength of Havas Group India.

Leveraging the Havas – Vivendi differentiator: A unique and new opportunity for us to work closely with clients to create unique & innovative solutions to a lot of their challenges by bringing Havas agencies and Vivendi expertise of music (UMG), gaming (Gameloft), content, production and many others.            

Focus on Growth/Wining new clients: with the group becoming bigger with so many companies in the village model, and with us becoming 1200+ employees our ambition continues to be high in terms of winning multiple clients across many categories. We will also continue to look at further acquisitions to add expertise that we feel is required.

Talent and Culture – We not only have some fabulous talent existing within the group but also have attracted many new people across levels in creative/media and in our acquisitions. With such an amalgamation our focus will be to build an extremely positive and a happy culture that allows them to demonstrate their best.




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