Shreyas Kulkarni

Havas CX leaders on India, AI, and consulting

Global CEO David Shulman, global CTO Arthur Fullerton, and India MD Prashant Tekwani bank on experience over everything else.

It is not every day the global CEO of a multinational agency visits India twice, six months into their appointment.

David Shulman took over the reins of Havas CX, a global network that delivers brand experiences for customers, in January 2024. He says his visits to India, one in March and the second in May, were “intentional.”

The agency, he heads, is divided into three verticals. There is the foundational Havas CX which does journey-based marketing for its clients. Ekino, coming in next, is the agency’s technology offering, and following the two is Think Design, a UI/UX specialist agency the Havas Group (Havas CX’s parent) acquired in 2019.

Its Indian clients include Bosch Mobility Solutions, Tata Steel, Bandhan Life, NIIT, ⁠FIITJEE, ⁠Malayala Manorama, ⁠and TV Today Network (TVTN). 

“I do feel like if you're just starting to have conversations about incorporating a smart chatbot into your ecosystem, then you're behind.”
Global CTO Arthur Fullerton

A major reason for the CEO’s visit is because the India office’s talent and expertise on offer are seeing a global demand. “… Other markets across the Americas, across Europe, are looking to tap into the expertise here.”

Prashant Tekwani, managing director, Havas CX and Ekino India, doubled down on the India office saying it has seen “tremendous growth in terms of not just numbers, but also in projects. 'Our expertise is a lot more in-depth rather than surface level.'”

Transformational consulting is the poster child of Havas CX’s offerings, explains Shulman, where the agency assists an organisation to identify growth areas, and then pursue them.

Most of the agency’s activities happen in and around experiences where it looks to create personalised customer journeys for individuals and groups. “Loyalty and membership,” reveals the global CEO, is in great demand from clients.

When asked about traditional companies the agency services where to bring change is akin to finding oneself in a slow bureaucratic process, Tekwani agrees it is not something that will happen overnight and needs commitment from all quarters.

“It is essential for any legacy brand who's trying to get into newer practices to find the right partner,” he says and adds that legacy companies are catching up with new-age brands regarding customer experiences.

Asked about the knowledge and awareness levels of clients on CX, Arthur Fullerton, global chief technology officer, Havas CX, says while there are different levels of “sophistication” depending on who you are speaking to, “the modern-day CMO has kind of come up with the internet and you can't start with something shiny with them.”  

The global CTO made an interesting point when he said, “There's an aspect of consultation in everyone's role now.”

The AI wave

A fundamental shift in companies is the use of artificial intelligence. “A lot of the clients, a lot of the brands have come up and they've asked, 'We want to do something around AI,'” states Tekwani. However, Fullerton believes organisations should first ask themselves the problem they wish to solve and whether AI can do it.

The conversation started with how some of the first signs of digitisation and AI experiences for a consumer from a brand were chatbots and Fullerton was clear: “I do feel like if you're just starting to have conversations about incorporating a smart chatbot into your ecosystem, then you're behind.”

CEO Shulman harks to what Fullerton said earlier and adds that AI-like tools are enablers, “brands are built on what they stand for.” He believes “experience cannot be a thing you tack on to the end of a campaign.”

The global CTO, when asked to make a prediction about AI, said he sees assistive technology and AI agents get a lot smarter in the coming years.

Havas CX the consultant

The leadership trio during the interview mentioned ‘consulting’ a few times. Yours truly wondered how many times Havas CX offers such a service separate from an agency pitch which included the creative and media and other services of the Havas Group.

Shulman replied, “…for as many times that we come in as a standalone experience practice, we are coming in as a partner with our creative and media partners, because that's the best opportunity for us when we're building experience at the front.”

Five to six years ago, Indian advertising considered the consulting firms its biggest rivals and a few agencies opened their consulting shops too.

The global CEO, however, clarifies that there are times when a client comes to Havas CX because their competition or a new entrant is winning on experience, “so we do both.”

India is no different, says Tekwani. "Many times, Havas CX gets called in for its data practice with Havas creative group, with Havas media group…”

Shulman expects to return to India again before the year ends. We’ll update this story if Havas CX goes through some form of expansion or if India turns the main performance hub for a global account; questions the global leaders grinned and deflected when posted to them. 

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