Two weeks ago, Mark Sinnock, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Data and Innovation Officer, Havas Creative Network walked into the network’s Mumbai office on a sleepy rainy day when the city was at a standstill, and was surprised to find the floor bustling with activity. In fact, in the past couple of years, the Group in India has also had its hands full, with all the acquisitions, the latest one being PivotRoots, which is leading to speedy inorganic growth of the agency network. Parallelly, they have also launched some global Havas brands in India going from a 200 strong workforce to nearly 2000 in five years, as also on the Group’s Creative side transitioning from a single creative agency model to having efficiencies in multiple disciplines like CX, Design, Healthcare, Digital, etc.
Sinnock tells IMPACT, “Had the earlier leadership followed the customer and the audience more, or spearheaded a business that was focussed on the evolution of channels and platforms, brought in entertainment properties as opportunities for brands, they could have captured the market.” He adds, “The brands that managed to push into social, digital quickly, and created speed in these environments, gained a lot of traction. But today at Havas, we have managed to create a brilliant set of capabilities in all of these areas.”
As for Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas India the acquisition spree will continue, with a PR agency amongst others being on top of the agenda, along with winning big businesses, now that he feels that the foundation has been laid and Havas is successfully part of most large and mid-sized conversations on accounts that take place in the market, unlike a few years ago when the agency network was rarely considered.
Q] Havas India set out on a very different path in the past few years after Rana Barua took over. Would you call it a structured global five-year plan that hit the right spot in India or the product of a very ambitious leadership here?
Sinnock: You need both structure and ambition. So, we are in a really good place in India as we have all the tools and capabilities to get more depth and breadth here, and also have a powerful set of ambitious people who want to drive that forward. The culture that is driven from the top is really potent and infectious, and that reflected when I walked into the Mumbai and Delhi offices here in India.
Q] What is the target growth for 2023, specifically for Havas India?
Sinnock: From a brand perspective, I would love for us to grow our share of mind amongst our audience, to move ahead in our business.
Barua: Havas India has been growing at a rate of 25% easily, and is targeting above 20% growth this year. The first five years have seen quite a dramatic growth because it was both organic and inorganic. Now we want a more structured growth as opposed to growing exponentially, and you’ll also hear more conversations on work; creative, and effectiveness awards. I will complete five years in a month, and feel it is time for us to get our product to deliver greater results. We just bagged Mamaearth, Joyalukkas, etc., it is looking good.
Q] While there is a definite makeover, if one compares Havas with the other holding companies in India revenue wise, you have been appearing for years at the bottom of the list of the super 6 global names, how soon will that change?
Rana: We won’t be at the bottom of the ladder anymore, by the end of this year we would have scaled up to the top 4 holding companies in India in terms of revenue.
Q] Havas India was always media heavy, would you like to turn that on its head, and bring creative on par with media revenue wise?
Rana: Media is naturally going stronger and bigger. It’s still the largest engine for us, but the creative group has got a bunch of agencies in it now. From an 80-20 ratio till a few years ago, we have managed to bring it to 60-40 this year. Post next year it will probably be closer to 50-50 as there are some acquisitions on the way. I came in five years ago, Bobby was with me when Covid struck. We lay low and tried to just get the momentum going. By 2021 we knew we had to start fixing the gaps, so now our CX and design agencies are in place. We didn’t have a structured CSO or a CEO on the creative side, so we brought in Anirban Mozumdar after two wrong choices along with Tarun Jha, who I am very happy to have, and Anupama Ramaswamy, who is a delight to work with. She’s always arguing, which is what we want in the room. So, we are laying the foundation right.
Q] You just launched global agency brands in India like Havas Play, Havas People and have acquired agencies like Pivotroots, ThinkDesign, etc., which of the two will drive growth for you?
Barua: There are many more acquisitions coming up. We have heard of networks that have grown on the back of winning businesses and others on the back of acquisitions alone. My strategy is that you have to keep both going. It’s not one versus the other. We’ve got the acquisition strategy right. The organic growth has happened, and now it’s time for us to get the product to start delivering by winning more of large businesses and big clients. In India, Havas was all about Reckitt, and Hyundai. I see a lot of untapped potential. If it’s a globally aligned business or an AOR with somebody, I know we may not win it. But then there are many such large businesses that are not truly globally aligned. We must start winning those just how our Havas Creative team bagged the IKEA account in Australia. I see growth now coming in, but we need to win those large businesses.
Sinnock: On the creative side, if we can actually drive work that starts changing our client’s view of us, that, according to me, is where we shall truly win. We would like to get into new spaces, tap new platforms, technologies and capabilities and use those ecosystems for our clients. That is where our focus will lie in the next 18 months
Q] Why didn’t the same strategy to win big businesses apply till a few years ago? Isn’t that fundamental for all agencies?
Barua: Because we didn’t have the efficiencies. Till two years ago we would have to go out and say, ‘Hey, I’m Havas. Please take me seriously’. Now the good thing is that we’re part of most conversations. So, if any decently large, mid-size conversation happens in the market, whether it’s in media, creative, or health, we’re part of the invite list, which is great. We were known more as a media agency and as a single brand agency which manages Reckitt. It has taken a lot of effort to change the perception in the market.
Sinnock: The strategy to win requires a different set of tools. So, in order to win these large businesses and national businesses, you need a different set of components. They may need an advertising campaign, but in reality the way you crack that problem is by bringing all of the different component parts together. And that’s what we are doing. There is added value in seeing how it all fits together in an ecosystem.
Q] Tell us about your immediate shopping list for Havas India, what more are you seeking in the acquisition space?
Barua: Clearly there is PR, then maybe a social media agency. We have a conversation going on in the design space and MarTech space. The initial pressure of building has happened. Now we have become picky and are not in a hurry to close the deal. People keep coming to us now because they know we are probably the only network barring another smaller one, which is active in the space.
Q] Mark, you have had a very long relationship with India and Mumbai. As the architect of ‘Meaningful Brands’, what according to you are the most exceptional brands from India?
Sinnock: I shall select businesses from very different aspects of Indian culture. I have to say Bollywood because from a cultural perspective it would be part of India, also Indigo is a really compelling brand, they’ve been incredibly successful over time. And lastly, I probably would pick a Unilever brand because they do compel people to think differently about how they interact with culture and play a more broadly societal role in terms of empowerment.