Havas Me­dia Group In­dia, the me­dia arm of the French ad­ver­tis­ing group Havas, was launched in In­dia in 2006 and in its 12 years of ex­is­tence, it has been steered by Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Me­dia Group, In­dia & South Asia and CEO, Havas Group, North for 11 years.

In 2007, when Nayyar took over the reins, the agency had a dif­fer­ent name, and a very dif­fer­ent rep­u­ta­tion in the in­dus­try. Called the Me­dia Plan­ning Group (MPG) at that point, the agency was pri­mar­ily known in the in­dus­try as the ‘Reckitt Agency’, given that Reckitt Benckiser was the big­gest client that the agency was han­dling then. From there, the agency has come a long way, han­dling close to 150 clients cur­rently.

For Nayyar, it has been a jour­ney of many ups and downs. She re­mem­bers the re­sis­tance that she had faced when she had de­cided to joined MPG. “When I joined MPG from Star­com, many peo­ple said it was go­ing to be the death of me be­cause I was mov­ing into a rel­a­tively smaller agency. I re­mem­ber hav­ing thought then that if I don’t take up these chal­lenges now, when will I? When I had joined Star­com four and a half years be­fore join­ing MPG, it too had a small op­er­a­tion in Delhi, with only one client on board. So I knew I could turn it around but I needed good peo­ple around me to do that,” says Nayyar.

Build­ing strong lead­er­ship was prob­a­bly the first step to­wards chang­ing the agency’s per­cep­tion in the in­dus­try. “We al­ready had Mo­hit Joshi on board and Uday Mo­han joined af­ter a cou­ple of years. We have a strong lead­er­ship that has been with the agency for over seven years now. For me, it was ex­tremely im­por­tant to have the right kind of peo­ple around, to bond with them and work to­gether with them. That worked,” says Nayyar. She also shares that her style of work­ing is very dif­fer­ent as she doesn’t be­lieve in work­ing as a boss and con­sid­ers her­self as a part of the team. “The growth of the agency is a col­lec­tive ef­fort of the team,” she adds.

Per­haps that is what has helped build a lot of con­fi­dence among the agency’s clients. The agency boasts of hav­ing a high re­ten­tion rate of its clients. States Nayyar, “For us, win­ning new busi­ness is very im­por­tant. But re­tain­ing ex­ist­ing clients is equally im­por­tant. To­day, we have clients who have been with us for over six years now.”

So what is it that helped turn around the in­dus­try’s per­cep­tion of the agency? Nayyar feels it is the con­fi­dence that the team has in them­selves. “It’s got a lot to do with the way we went into the mar­ket­place, ag­gres­sively pitch­ing to clients and try­ing to tell them that we are not re­ally only an RB agency. One of the first pitches we went for at that time was Voltas. I can never for­get how Voltas gave us a chance and said, ‘Okay, go ahead and prove your­self.’ And that’s what we did. It’s partly got to do with the fact that we had a lot of con­fi­dence in our­selves to tell clients that once they hire us, they will not re­gret their de­ci­sion. What re­ally dis­tin­guished us from other agen­cies at that point, and even to­day, is the pas­sion with which we went to clients. We had a good, ro­bust prod­uct which has been im­prov­ing over the years. While at that time, our prod­uct was not as ro­bust as

it is to­day, our con­vic­tion, ded­i­ca­tion and the pas­sion that we brought to the ta­ble helped us win over clients,” she says.

To­day, the agency han­dles global com­pa­nies like Hyundai, LG and Emi­rates while also han­dling some home-grown brands like Daawat Bas­mati Rice and Radico Khai­tan, amongst oth­ers. One as­sumes that global wins of in­ter­na­tional clients helped Havas se­cure the ac­counts au­to­mat­i­cally in In­dia too, but Nayyar rebuts that. “None of the global ac­counts fell into our laps au­to­mat­i­cally. We did get sup­port from our global teams, but for each of the global wins, we had to work on proper, sep­a­rate pitches for their busi­nesses in In­dia. As they say, suc­cess begets suc­cess. Once we won these big clients, peo­ple started tak­ing no­tice of us and things turned around from there.”

While the agency started off with a team of around 50 peo­ple, to­day the num­ber has gone up to 300. The agency has a to­tal of seven of­fices across In­dia. An­other thing that dif­fer­en­ti­ated the agency from most of its com­peti­tors, feels Nayyar, is the fact that they re­al­ized, quite early, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of Dig­i­tal which made them one of its ear­li­est adopters. Says Nayyar, “One very im­por­tant thing which we did dur­ing my ten­ure and are con­tin­u­ing to build upon is keep­ing Dig­i­tal at the core of the agency. We have been one of the ear­li­est adopters and have been push­ing Dig­i­tal right from 2008-09. While In­dia has been a lit­tle late in terms of dig­i­tal adap­ta­tion, glob­ally we have been the first movers. That made us stand out.” She adds that the ro­bust­ness of the tools that the agency has built over years has also helped make a strong point at pitches.

Cur­rently, the mar­ket-share of the agency is some­where around 7%. So where does Nayyar want to see the agency in the next few years? She says, “I don’t know whether I want to look at it from a mar­ket­share per­spec­tive be­cause the largest agency holds a 45% mar­ket-share. I want to be seen as an agency that is a part­ner to its clients, and most of our clients see us like that. I want to be seen as an agency that is pas­sion­ate about the client’s busi­ness. These are two very im­por­tant things that we have been able to demon­strate over the years, and we want to con­tinue do­ing that. The client has to see value in the part­ner­ship with us. They should not be treat­ing us like ven­dors. For­tu­nately for us, once we bond with our clients, they do not see that hap­pen­ing. They value us al­most like an ex­ten­sion of their mar­ket­ing arm. And I would re­ally like to see my­self move in that di­rec­tion. To­day, we have a 7% mar­ket-share and are not a part of WPP, IPG or Publi­cis. But to­day Havas, as an agency, af­ter be­ing ac­quired by Vivendi, has be­come the world’s big­gest me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment com­pany. We are big­ger than WPP to­day and that brings in a lot of cred­i­bil­ity. The mar­ket is sit­ting up and tak­ing no­tice of us, and I hope that this con­tin­ues.”

To cel­e­brate Nayyar’s 11-year jour­ney with Havas, her team at the agency has come out with a book en­ti­tled, ‘A Decade+1 To­gether’. The book doc­u­ments her jour­ney with the or­ga­ni­za­tion and talks about how Nayyar and the agency have evolved to­gether.

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