Shreyas Kulkarni

What drove Škoda Auto’s Tarun Jha to join Havas Creative India?

Little did the newly minted CEO know how an unlikely meet and drink at Taj Lands End would pivot his career in such a direction.

The year was 2022. The location was Mumbai’s Taj Lands End Hotel. Tarun Jha, Škoda Auto India’s chief marketing officer and part of the automobile brand since 2008 was leading the brand’s global chief marketing officer and her team up the hotel’s staircase for dinner after a two-day workshop.

During the ascent, he bumps into Rana Barua, the group chief executive officer, Havas India. Little did Jha realise he’d not only run into a familiar face but his new employer.

Jha met Barua for a drink after dinner. Right as the talk touched on brand Škoda Auto’s performance and results over the past few years, “If you have done such a good job for one brand, how about doing it with multiple brands?” asked the Group CEO.

Jha says he did not understand the question when he first heard it.

Barua wanted the Škoda Auto India CMO to lead Havas Creative India, but Jha thought “he was pulling my leg.” The two met again and Jha saw Barua’s serious intent. “He explained his vision in great clarity, and I saw something very interesting.”

Jha saw in Havas what he’d done for over two decades as a marketer – integrate things. What excited him was Havas’ village concept where all disciplines sit together on one floor. “I could be sitting next to my media colleague who could be sitting next to a CX colleague who finds himself sitting next to a design colleague.”

The other aspect of Havas he found interesting was the building of meaningful brands. “No brands exist for the sole purpose of fulfilling basic needs otherwise they become a commodity. Commodity can fulfil needs, meaningful brands go beyond that,” he says.

His appointment was by design.

“With Donna Murphy – Global CEO, Havas Creative & Havas Health & You, taking over Creative along with her Health, profile last year, we have undergone a total transformative journey, marked by the implementation of new structures, processes and a bold new vision which has firmly planted the network as a frontrunner in the global creative landscape,” says Barua in a press note shared by the agency.

Havas Creative India never had a CEO position, it was created for Jha; he would not have gone for it if this was a replacement position because “you're being measured against somebody who has done the job before. And, there is very little scope of doing anything new…”

Havas Creative India includes agencies Havas Worldwide India (Mumbai/Gurgaon/Bangalore), Havas CX (customer experience), Conran Design Group Mumbai (Branding & Design) and Havas QED (Kolkata).

It has a roster of marquee clients including Reckitt, Dabur, Tata, Citroën, P&G, Nestle, IKEA and several others. As per afaqs! Top 50 Marketing Agencies List, Havas Worldwide saw its revenue jump from Rs 28.10 crore in FY21 to 39.30 crore in FY22 at a growth rate of 39.90%.

Jha has an open mandate and this aspect of his new job tipped the balance in Havas Creative India’s favour over many possible internal elevations at Škoda Auto.

What is noteworthy is he sees see Havas going forward as a consulting and advisory group which can work on meaningful brands, integrate their marketing efforts under one umbrella, and help the clients grow their businesses.

Havas Creative India’s CEO as of now sees an agency which specialises in integrated solutions. He says business has become complicated the “last thing a marketer wants to do wants is to spend time and effort on briefing and getting work out of multiple partners.”

He reminiscences about the 90s when as a client servicing executive, he’d meet clients and service them for media, creative, and direct marketing (called DM then), end to end. Then came the era of super specialist agencies.

“As a client, I'd like to speak to two people who could go back and brief 20. Who comes back with a solution which integrates 20 solutions into one? It's a formula which has worked in the past and will work for us going ahead,” he states.

And speaking of formulas, he believes in brand building of the old where brands are in it for the long run, and not doing it overnight where “you blow up the city to do it and spend millions and millions of dollars to be seen. You can be seen but it will be a flash in the pan.”

Havas Creative India, regarding working on meaningful brands, is taking its integrated approach to existing and potential clients but it, as per Jha, is not trying to get clients to break their AORs with other agencies in its quest.

“We're not looking at breaking relationships, looking at building relationships, nurturing them and making them stronger.” The agency does not have a preference for project work or AORs.

Whenever Jha meets a client, he asks them to let him become their spokesperson. “They are very happy because it's reassuring that there is an ex-client who has done all of it what they are doing,” he explains.

He has informed the Havas Creative India team that “when I sit in a meeting, I will be the client. I will ask questions which a client would and then we will find the right answers. So that when we go to clients, we will present with more conviction, there will be more credibility.”

To do all this, Havas Creative has onboarded senior folks. There is Anupama Ramaswamy who joined as Havas Worldwide’s chief creative officer last year and Anirban Mozumdar who will helm the strategy duties for Havas Creative India.

Havas India, however, isn’t merely into hiring only senior folks. It has Havas Spark, an internship program which intends to provide freshers with educational and career development opportunities through practical experience.

With all this happening at Havas Creative India, one can only wait to see if the drive is worth the lust.

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