Interview: Rana Barua & Mohit Joshi on the inner workings of Havas Mumbai

Havas Mumbai

Social Samosa gets in conversation with Rana Barua of Havas Group India and Mohit Joshi of Havas Media India, understanding the fundamentals of their Mumbai branch’s operations, plans, and hyper-local marketing trends seen in the Maharashtra market

Havas Media Mumbai reported a growth of 150% in 2020-2021, this includes brands such as ACC Cement, Ambuja Cement, ICICI Securities, Wai Wai, Dr. Reddy’s, and OZiva. The agency’s Mumbai office also saw an update in leadership – Uday Mohan took over as President & Head – North & West India, Manish Sharma was elevated as Executive Vice President and Head of the Mumbai operations, and Sanchita Roy was appointed as Strategy Head of Havas Media Group India.

All the changes come in the background of a city that was one of the most severely affected during both the waves of COVID-19. Social Samosa gets in conversation with Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India and Mohit Joshi, Chief Executive Officer, Havas Media Group India – understanding the fundamentals of their Mumbai branch’s operations, plans, and hyper-local marketing trends seen in the Maharashtra market. The duo also talks about the hyperlocal trends seen in Maharashtra and the upcoming festive season. 

Havas Mumbai saw over 15 new accounts between 2020-21 – has the agency recovered from the economic slowdown witnessed with the arrival of COVID-19? 

RB: Havas Group Mumbai has grown exponentially in both Media and Creative. It has been an unprecedented spate of winning new clients, projects, and a lot of fantastic work, which has followed suit. I am thrilled with the momentum that continues to drive growth and business, adding marquee clients to the Mumbai portfolio, and continuously attracting new talent. The 15 wins you have mentioned are specific to Havas Media Mumbai, and we are extremely happy to be working with some of the best brands. Mohit can elucidate more on that.

MJ: Let me answer this question in 2 parts. In 2020-2021, Havas Media Group India saw a growth of 35% (RECMA June 2020), which is the highest amongst all media agency networks in India. Very focused strategies led to this growth. One, our global ethos of creating Meaning brands through Meaningful Media. Two, innovative and Cutting-Edge media solutions, and third, offering the most future-ready products and tool-suites to the clients.

Now the Mumbai resurgence part. Historically, Havas Media has been strong in the North and perceived to be resolute only in that market. We were clear that we had to build beyond North, and we focussed on growing both the other two markets of Havas Media Group India – West & South. Therefore, this growth is not a recovery from the economic slowdown or COVID-19, but a result of the vision that Rana and I set out to achieve, and am glad that it is showing.

What is your objective for the agency in the coming months? What kind of targets do & plans to achieve them do you have in place in terms of clients, revenue & practices? 

RB: Clients, talent, and critics now see us as a network that has fantastic skills, armed with technology, craft & expertise, size & stature, and thus able to compete with the more established and legacy networks.

To keep this momentum going, we have to be perceptive, be consistent in our deliveries, and ensure we have the best talent and tools. Only then can we continue to be effective and relevant. We are constantly hungry for more which doesn’t allow us to get complacent or slacken.

Our focus areas will be to further consolidate as an integrated network. To create meaningful brand conversations and winning awards. 

We are constantly evolving our core product group offerings and given the dynamic nature of this business, we have to keep adding new expertise. In addition, we have to keep scaling up the existing ones, like Havas CX, Havas Sports/Entertainment, Marketplace, Havas Life Sorento, and Conran Design Group, because each one of them are clear differentiators and potential disruptors for us. And there are several categories and verticals which are untapped. The focus is to foray into those and scale them up.

So, going forward, acquisitions will be a critical element for us. Currently, there are multiple conversations going on for both Media and Creative. We have identified certain gaps that need to be bridged quickly. And there will be new domains, companies, and expertise that will be added to provide greater strength to the overall ecosystem of our Group in India to further set us apart as leaders in the market.

Havas spoke about adapting to a village offering – do you have a separate P&L for all services or an integrated one? In this age of specialization, what do you think clients prefer more? Also, in terms of logistics & client management, which method is more practical & feasible?

RB:  The focus has always been to create a differentiated story and build a unique space for ourselves because we started this journey quite late in India, in comparison to other agency networks. From being inconsequential, today we are a force to reckon with. 

We position ourselves as a new-age integrated agency village, and it has been our continuous endeavour. We want to emerge as the most trusted think tank in the industry given the volatility that exists in the market. Hence as a network, we have become far more relevant and resonating better with our clients. And lastly, with the ongoing conversations and stories around Vivendi and group companies, we will gain more muscle and it will make us more diverse.

Look at the difference it has already made:

When I joined the company, late 2018 we were: 3 agencies | 200 people | few clients & awards. We had a small footprint of 3 agencies (Media/Creative/Health) and a perception in the industry which was extremely ambiguous and inconsequential. We needed a dramatic upheaval of who we were and how we were seen both externally and internally.

Today Havas Group India is integrated across 3 Villages (Bangalore, Delhi, and Mumbai) with a fantastic list of clients.  As of September 2021: we are 10 agencies | 3 Villages | 1000+ people | 25 members in the Senior Leadership Team | 75+ new clients | 62+ awards 

Coming to industry trends & movements, the second wave despite all the warnings came as a bit of surprise & was way more severe in all aspects. Do you think the festive season this year too will be a point of revival? 

RB:    There is definitely positivity in the industry, but it’s cautious optimism. The environment is transformative, yet resilient and cautious. This is also because of the fear and uncertainty around the possibility of the 3rd wave. While we are hoping it does not impact much of the planned activities. And God forbid, even if there’s a 3rd wave, both clients and agencies are much better prepared. So definitely, this festive season advertisers will spend more than last year. Though it will be a limited set of advertisers, who will collectively spend more. 

We estimate ad spends this festive season to grow by 12-15% than last year’s festive season.

Also Read: Opinion: How is hyper-personalisation helping brands to enhance user engagement

Who do you think will be the biggest spenders this festive season? Also, which medium in your opinion is slated to witness maximum spends? 

MJ: Except for the seasonal brands, almost all brands will be bouncing back and will be reviving their marketing spends in H2, given the overall positive sentiments. 

Categories including E-comm, FoodTech, gaming, education, FMCG, automobile, cement, tyres & consumer durables are expected to be some of the big spenders this festive season. 

The total time spent by Indians on various media channels has increased significantly. Digital, Connected TVs, and OTTS are now considered mainstream and are at par with Print, given the multifaceted applications and measurable ROI. TV remains the mainstay for entertainment and reach. Print has emerged as one of the most credible mediums and is regaining its momentum in the current scenario. OOH & Radio will also witness a comeback gradually as corporate India once again starts attending office. The sports genre will be highly hyped this season with the return of the Indian Premier League (IPL 2021) and the first-ever festive ICC T20 World Cup.

A lot of brands, including Tata Tea & Britannia have launched Maharashtra-specific campaigns – while Maharashtra has been an important market, why a sudden manifestation of campaigns? Do you see brands increasing spends in the region further?

MJ: Firstly, Maharashtra has been one of the most affected states during COVID-19 and the impact of it has been across sectors and businesses. The state has always been a high consumption state and with rising vaccination (17.1% fully vaccinated, ~45% partially vaccinated) business is expected to get back to normal and will see an over-indexing of spends by brands, especially to make up for the loss in the fast few months and also leverage the upcoming festive season. 

Secondly, there are close to 30 IPOs that are in the pipeline in the coming months. Maharashtra being the financial and commercial hub of India will by default see advertisers upping their marketing investments to capitalise on the positive market trends. 

Any hyper-local marketing trends that you have witnessed in Mumbai & those that brands should look out for? 

MJ: The last few years have seen a growing trend of vernacular adoption and we see that trend continuing. Also, we’ve seen a growing demand for vernacular content. Brands are creating Maharashtra-specific content to better engage with consumers.

TV series Samantar 2 and Shahtit Kranti launched in ‘21, are hugely popular shows among the Marathi speaking audience on MX Player & SonyLiv respectively. OTT players are going aggressive on regional content with Zee5, Sonyliv & Mx leading originals to strike a chord and increase penetration across specific local markets.

Influential influencers, content creators & influencers are becoming popular (ex. BhaDiPa – Bharatiya Digital Party, Rajashree Marathi, Vinayak Mali are very popular channels & content creators locally)

Mumbai traffic police handle uses a lot of moment marketing and is very contextual. 

Mumbai as a market has more BFSI clients being the financial/commercial capital of India. BFSI is among the top 3 spending categories on digital. The requirement for the market is to be focused on result-oriented marketing initiatives when it comes to pushing the financial instruments to the consumer. 

3 media planning tips for the festive season 

MJ: Given the advertising clutter during the festive period, brands will need to drive awareness and ensure top-of-mind recall throughout the consumer’s purchase and consumption journey. 

The 3Cs (tips) to elevate a consumer’s Media Experience are – 

  1. Build the right Connection (your target audience) 
  2. Don’t just target people, target Context (the right moment)
  3. Create Meaningful Content (right messaging) 

Last but not the least, invest in Meaningful and Ethical Media!