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Ideas can never be replaced by AI, says Rana Barua of Havas Group India

In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India, shares the impact of pandemic on the group's business and future growth strategy

Rana Barua

“We are bullish about 2021 and would like to be right in the front in many counts,” said Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India. 

Speaking to BestMediaInfo.com, Barua said the group will focus a lot on meaningful brand conversations, adding multiple expertise to its portfolio, driving the Havas CX network and expertise, add retail, branding and design capabilities, and launch marketplace as a specialist to partner e-commerce.

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“We are going to be pragmatic about our approach but aggressive in our growth targets,” Barua said.

Barua said Havas CX will be an engine for growth and expertise builder for the group and across all streams that it operates in.

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He said there are many new domain plans and expertise launches in both creative and media. All are aimed at adding greater strength to the overall ecosystem of the Havas Group and ensuring better and effective solutions for the clients. “2021 is going to be exciting for Havas Group India,” said Barua.

Excerpts: 

What was the overall impact of pandemic on Havas?

Media and creative businesses got impacted in the initial few months as the lockdown was necessary. But steadily as things became clearer and got into a certain mode, businesses started getting back into a rhythm and momentum and categories started upping their activities and spend. Honestly, 2020 has been a gruelling and a tough year personally but one that we are all proud of work-wise as I feel it has made us tougher and more seasoned as professionals and with all our clients more understanding and better marketing and communication partners. We managed to be resilient, focused and turned the tide as the last quarter came in with a flurry of events and festivities, which made consumer spending go up and helped the economy. We held on to our key clients, did some interesting work with many, won some prestigious new businesses, attracted good and diverse talent and managed to win awards as well.

What have been the learnings from the pandemic?

The fundamentals and the so-called ‘givens’ got totally shaken when the pandemic hit us. The learning has been to reinvent, readapt, re-engage and relook at most things. All for the better and for the future. While some basics remain as they must, many gave away and that is good as change is a constant and a must for us to progress as humankind in both work and personal space. We are in better shape than ever before (as a group) and I am quite confident that with a renewed outlook and a more positive approach, we will be able to move ahead strongly.

What sort of marketing and advertising approach do you suggest your partner clients in unprecedented times?

Be meaningful, sensitive, and relevant. Be pragmatic. It must connect and touch a chord. Or have a meaningful relevance in the consumers' life, make a difference, add value, bring a smile. Also, in terms of approach be dynamic in media selection as the consumer is absorbing media in various places – so we must be omnipresent. Have multiple levels of engagement and conversations to build a relationship and convert. And if we can solve a problem or boost the consumer in any way, then that is an amazing attribute that must be highlighted and spoken honestly about.

What will be your focus areas for 2021? 

Our focus areas will be to further consolidate, grow, and sharpen our core offerings. Havas Group India is right-sized in terms of people, talent, and clients, and the scope to expand the same is enormous.  I see a lot of new business pitches, wins and many new clients getting added to our portfolio. We are bullish about 2021 – and would like to be right in the front in many counts. We will focus a lot on meaningful brand conversations, adding multiple expertise to our portfolio, driving the Havas CX network and expertise, add retail, branding and design capabilities, launch marketplace as a specialist to partner e-commerce. So, the calendar looks good and will be extremely helpful for all our clients, partners and acquisitions.

What overall growth are you expecting in 2021 and what will be your strategy to drive that growth?

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 so while we need to gallop, we also need to ensure steady and effective partnerships, work, and results. There are many new domain plans and expertise launches in both creative and media. All aimed at adding greater strength to the overall ecosystem of the Havas Group and ensuring better and effective solutions for our clients. Many answers lie in the question above. So, 2021 is going to be exciting for Havas Group India.

In 2020, Havas launched a dedicated CX network — Havas CX. What are your expectations from this division in 2021? 

Havas CX is a new international network dedicated to delivering meaningful experiences across the entire customer journey. Organised under a common structure, governance, methodology and mission, we bring together more than 1,500 CX specialists from across our local agencies and combine the power of rich insights, user-centric technology and experience-led design to transform business performance for our clients and partners.

Havas CX for us will be an engine for growth and expertise builder across all streams that we operate in. And we have already started building our capabilities, hiring new talent and winning some great clients.

Any other new acquisitions in the pipeline to strengthen the agency's capabilities?

Yes, there are clear acquisitions that will be announced over the year. We are focusing on adding additional capabilities that the group believes we must invest to enhance our expertise in this dynamic world.

Globally, and in India, we saw a merger between creative and tech, performance-driven agencies. Is it going to get followed by other advertising agencies? Can we say it as an agency model of the future?

While I see and realise the importance of performance and tech agencies, I do not believe that ideas can ever be replaced by AI as long as there are humans. Tech and performance are support mechanisms to bolster and sharpen deliveries of ideas. Ideas for brands in any form – content, storytelling, joke, etc., will still be from advertising agencies that understand brands, consumers, trends, insights.

Many independent agency heads say clients prefer agencies that are accountable for business growth, and large network agencies can no longer hide behind flowery language and unsubstantiated claims. What are your comments on this opinion?

It is just an opinion and that I honestly cannot comment upon. What I am clear about is that there are immense strengths, calibre, expertise, and partnership that networks bring onto a client, which they look out for and thus admire. While I applaud the independents, I think the pandemic has made it clear what the client wants and from who and how quickly. So, I am not sure if the opinion holds true anymore.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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