Eularie Saldanha
May 22, 2023

We’re not an agency that says yes when it is supposed to be no: Tracey Barber

The global chief transformation and growth officer of Havas Creative speaks about how the creative function at the agency works, the need for CMOs at agencies, challenges in the advertising space and more...

We’re not an agency that says yes when it is supposed to be no: Tracey Barber
Last week Tracey Barber, global chief transformation and growth officer, Havas Creative Group, was in India, during which Campaign India caught up with her to learn how the network transformed. 
 
After spending almost a decade at the agency across different marketing functions, she revealed that she came on board as a full-time employee only four years ago, and was given her current role in January 2023. 
 
Edited excerpts: 
 
What brings you to India? How is the country growing in a global scheme of things?
 
India’s my favourite place. In addition to the creative network, I also oversee PR and Comms for the health network. I’m particularly intrigued by this market since it has the greatest potential. Historically, people focus on North America and Europe and Paris, since we’re a French company. But if I look at the creative function across APAC and in particular India, we have a 40% growth Y-O-Y in terms of new business. We’re seeing wins that are instrumental in terms of my global capability. 
 
You’ve had several different roles across your almost-decade-long stint at Havas. As chief transformation and growth officer, what's your current mandate?
 
My role has not stayed the same - it moves across media and creative. I enjoyed creative more and that’s because I love the output and the work. I moved from that into a European role, and from the European role into the global role. Now, in addition to growth and marketing, I look into all client experience, growth transformation, acquisitions and new growth opportunities. It’s more like a consultancy perspective across all of our networks. 
 
What separates a marketer’s role from that of a corporate communications professional at an agency?
 
I would hope that within the agency environment, we don’t separate the two. I’ve been on both, the client as well as the agency side. Yes, it is a marketing angle, but we also advise on acquisitions. I think it’s wrong that agencies do not have marketers. We are the centre within the agency that can inspire and create change. My team spans all countries and I sit on the executive board across all functions. 
 
Growth is something Havas is enjoying in India in terms of new clients, with the creative side of the agency finishing second in terms of new business in 2022. What do you attribute this to?
 
We are a building full of people. What makes a difference in that building full of people is talent and culture. If you don’t get these two right, you won’t succeed. We’ve got both talent and culture in India. If you look at the leadership team, and everybody in business in India, we’ve got individuals who are genuinely inspiring and motivated to deliver a meaningful difference. 
 
You’ve worked as a CMO for most of your career. But this role is a relatively new role for most agencies. How important is it for an agency to have a CMO? 
 
New business marketing is the function that changes an agency. When you talk about new clients, that’s when you deliver the most unusual work. Without the ability to bring new clients into the agency, you more or less stay the same. You don’t innovate, inspire or change the culture of the agency. Without the ability that the CMO brings to the table, I don’t think an agency can do something like Havas does.
 
What is your take on the bouquet of creativity in India? What would you rank India in terms of creativity at The Havas Group?
 
In essence, we’re a creative network and the output is based on how we’re judged. We have several markets including the UK and the US that are shining. In India, we’re seeing a focus on creative change. People assume that creativity comes from a department, but it comes from a group of people working together differently. The benefit we have is access to a bunch of individuals from Vivendi. We also have individuals within advertising, experiential and design. In India especially, we pull people together when the client needs it and create a collective which drives the creative output. I don’t classify my markets in that way. I have favourite clients - the work we’re delivering for Reckitt is particularly impeccable. It's driven by purpose and meaning. The Durex work is phenomenal. 
 
In terms of transformation and growth, AI cannot be overlooked. What's your take on the same? Is Havas Creative offering this for clients?
 
What we've got to be slightly wary of is that we don’t jump on the bandwagon of just about any new initiative. AI-generated intelligence has been around for a significant time. What we’re doing is - we’re looking at how it is relevant, and what we can do to educate and inform our clients to use it in the right way. We’re also hosting a conclave to educate each of our functions across the UK and the US about how to use AI. We’re going to host the same thing in India too. 
 
Clients can be pushy about wanting to be in the face of anything trendy. How do you deal with this? 
 
Client experience is all about ensuring that you have a very clear partnership with your client. You have to be aware of what their objectives are, both on a personal and business level. Concerning the AI conversation, we’re involving the agency, clients and their different departments in these conversations. We’re not an agency that says yes when it’s supposed to be no. We have client assessments that happen four times a year, where we track the client-agency relationship. In addition to that, we also track the agency perspective of the client. It genuinely creates partnership and our clients respect that too. 
 
What are the biggest challenges in the advertising industry?
 
Acquiring and retaining talent. What we’re seeing in different parts of the world are people who are reluctant to return to the office. We’ve got people who are rightly demanding different paths and looking for mobility, how they transfer roles and how their careers are going to progress. 
 
What’s critical for me is allowing and encouraging people to have a career path that is of their choosing, drives to their strengths and gives them the most effective career direction that they need. Our global CEO Donna Murphy has facilitated an incredibly encouraging structure - especially from a woman’s point of view. I was a part-timer when I joined Havas and came on board full-time only about four years ago only because I chose - since I decided to balance my time with my family. 
 
Mobility is essential. Allowing people to manage their work and personal life, while also having a career is extremely important to develop their roles so they're not stuck in one path. Havas is a family-owned business and we operate as a family. 
Source:
Campaign India

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