Impromptu: Of Prudence, Pragmatism & Realism

The task was a steep one and the challenges were too many as it was to turnaround both external and internal perception, and the overall stature of the group in the country, in a given period of time.

We have rationalised the numbers during Covid year and we should be able to get to our more reasonable targets; that itself will be applaudable, RANA BARUA, CEO, Havas Group India tells SOUMYA SEHGAL in an interview. Excerpts:

When you took charge at Havas, it also unified Havas creative and media together. What were some of the first guidelines you chalked for yourself to define Havas’ India strategy?

The task was a steep one and the challenges were too many as it was to turnaround both external and internal perception, and the overall stature of the group in the country, in a given period of time. In terms of focus for the first few months, it was about ensuring happy (and winning new) clients, attract the best talent, integrate the existing stable of offerings and close acquisitions processes. From a 300-member base across three agencies, we became a 1,000-plus staff across six agencies in less than a year. From a quiet agency, we have become a network that is agile, aggressive, and busy with positive conversations and happy (new) clients.

Acquisitions were a big part of your first-year growth plan and was able to bring the three-fold growth target also for you. How much did new businesses contribute to growth?

There is never any better business, or more joy, than winning new business and exciting new clients. It propels growth, attracts talent, diversifies calibre, demonstrates new work, and keeps you in the news for the right reasons. And the win of multiple new clients and projects has just done that for both the creative and media group which makes it satisfactory undoubtedly. All of them have contributed substantially to our growth and added immense value. But as they say, ‘miles to go before one sleeps’, so I continue to drive the teams to pitch and win more as we have a long way to go.

Covid hit when you were still a year in your growth strategy — what were some of the changes to your plan to stay on track as much as possible?

Like all companies, we had to take the obvious steps in these challenging times. Prudence, pragmatism and realism became the culture overnight. While steps have been taken to control all forms of costs, so that we remain on track as far as possible, we continue to be positive that this will pass, and the economy shall start showing signs of recovery sooner than later. Thus, we continue to drive growth by winning more clients, building our organic relationships further, collaborating on many new projects, integrating to deliver effective results as an integrated village across the group and keeping all talks going on newer acquisitions and expertise.

Give us a sense of the percentage expected revenue loss for Havas India due to the pandemic?

We have rationalised the numbers during the Covid year and have revised our targets proportionately. The way it is going, we should be able to get to our more reasonable and feasible targets. This itself will be applaudable for a group which is truly coming together and looking at growth in a resurgent way.

As some of the regional markets open up, for some businesses the ‘recovery mode’ has already set in. Will Havas India fall in this too?

We will keep observing and mapping any opportunities that may arise from the recovery mode. It is early days but  one is hoping that if the next few months stay a bit stable with the market and consumption, we will gradually move back to some form of concretising plans for the balance year and firming ambitions for next year and going forward.

How does the pandemic impact some of the annual work that used to come from Havas — like the Meaningful Brands survey, especially given that this looks more relevant in current times?

We continue to invest in the Meaningful Brands survey, and we will have many conversations around it once we have enough data and research reports ready. I agree it is more than relevant currently. There is a lot we are planning to share in this. In fact, we will have a small synopsis and a study of the post-Covid impact in some key categories being released in the next few weeks. Going forward, we have some more exciting insights coming out in the customer experience platform.

Given the economy and industry changes, what are some of the things that we will see Havas India focus on in 2020?

Right now — I will just say — let’s all keep our heads down, remain determined, stay focused at ensuring that the economy builds faster on the momentum it is showing. This will give all our clients more confidence and if the consumer sentiment resonates with a positive feeling around the festive season that drives consumption, sales and movement, we will then have a lot of work to be finished. Havas for the next few months will be focusing on completing a lot of new brand challenges and conversations of our clients that remain critical while we continue to look at possible acquisitions to add to our repertoire which will give us an edge over the competition and will add value to our clients.I am confident that we will soon be on track on the momentum that we have created for ourselves— individually and as a group.