Havas Malaysia aims to create a meaningful difference for brands with bold and innovative campaigns

Nizwani Shahar, Donevan Chew and their team want to put Malaysia back on the creative world map.

 Give them five minutes, and Nizwani Shahar and Donevan Chew of Havas Malaysia can put a smile on your face as they spark innovation with creative ideas in everything they do.

 While they may be creative magnates in the industry, you will be swept away by their humility, grace, and approachable demeanour.

 Nizwani and Donevan are the beating hearts of Havas, a creative agency based in Petaling Jaya. They plan to disrupt the marketplace by uplifting the local creative industry with game-changing creativity.

 Nizwani joined Havas over six months ago to become its Chief Executive Officer, and has worked closely with Donevan, the company’s Chief Creative Officer for the past year.

“I grew up from strategy to account management to general management, and then, CEO during COVID-19.

 “Nobody prepares you to be a ‘wartime’ CEO, but that helped me cut my teeth in the industry. After 12 years, I parted ways with Ogilvy,” said Nizwani.

 She then took a six-month sabbatical to contemplate her next move and also, dive into product and digital-app development passion projects.

 “I had a few offers but was thinking of taking a different path until the opportunity with Havas came along.”

 To paraphrase Michael Corleone, Al Pacino’s character in ‘The Godfather’, just when she thought she was out of advertising, it pulled her back in!

“Donevan and I did some amazing work together in the past. The opportunity to work with him again convinced me it was time to get back into the advertising game,” adds Nizwani, whose strength is understanding a client’s business challenges, mapping out pathways for growth, and responding via a multi-disciplinary approach.

“We are perceived as an agency that is primarily focused on Media. That’s not the case at all. Havas Malaysia comprises of Havas Creative, Havas Life and C-Cube Studios.”

“Havas Creative does the strategic and creative heavy-lifting of ideas, brands, social, and digital marketing. Havas Life is our health and medicomm division, and C-Cube Studios is our content studio that does exceptional content adaptation and production at scale.”

“As you know, Havas is part of a bigger group called Vivendi, one of the largest entertainment groups, and this is a great competitive edge for us. Being part of Vivendi also allows us the flexibility to partner with great platforms like Canal+, Viu, Dailymotion, Gameloft, and Universal Music, to deliver meaningful creative solutions that help brands stand out.”

With Nizwani’s vision and Donevan’s creative prowess, the duo assembled a diverse, proactive leadership team comprising Yeoh Li-Ching (Chief Finance Officer), Karen Ho (HR Manager), Wai Sim Liew (General Manager), Amelia Teoh (Business Director, Havas Life), Bowie Tiong (Business Director, Havas Creative), Jacqueline Chin (Business Director, C-Cube Studios), and Shireen Ang (Creative Director).

 The decision to invest in top talent has paid off for Havas. Since Nizwani joined, they have won new clients and were awarded to the Top New Biz League in Malaysia by R3.

In a recent global talent engagement survey by Havas, the Malaysia team scored the highest marks in Southeast Asia, making it the most engaged team in the region.

“We are a good agency, but my brief was to make us a great one. That is why I surrounded myself with some of the top talents in the industry,” shares Nizwani, who works closely with the United Nations Women and LeadWomen as an advocate of diversity and inclusivity.

“We do not have an operating manual where Havas is the same in every market. It’s the spirit of entrepreneurship embraced by the network that truly resonates with me. It’s what drew me to Havas initially and has since convinced me that my future lies here.”

 Nizwani says Havas calls its community a ‘village’. This strategic positioning aligns with the operating principle of One Havas, “our unique Village proposition”.

”Unlike other big multinational groups where every company is an advertising or media agency fighting each other for market share, we have the capability to do integrated work as all our sister companies are complementary and not competition,” she said.

Our One Havas philosophy unites all our business units under one roof, fostering constant collaboration within the Village model.

“Havas’ mission has been to make a meaningful difference. When we come to work, we come with the mindset to make a meaningful difference, not just for our brands, but also for our people.”

“We all know the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. We believe it takes a village to create a meaningful difference in this industry.”

Donevan said being meaningful is what makes Havas’ brand of creativity distinctive.

“Don’t be fooled by short term advertising tactics. What will create a real difference are ideas rooted in a brand’s DNA. We have data that shows that meaningful brands drive business growth.”

 While Havas is on the right path, Nizwani and Donevan know it’s not easy to become the No. 1 creative agency in the market.

“We are just at the beginning of something amazing, and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves to create more meaningful creative work,” said Donevan.

Its numerous victories in the recent Kancil Awards put Havas among the top 10 agencies in the country, but it has a long way to go.

 “We have been winning (new) clients, but we need more people to see the kind of stuff that we do,” said Donevan, a mentor to young creatives in the London International Advertising Awards Creative LIAison mentorship programme since 2021.

“We did some cool stuff during the festive season, and now, it is about creating more and more campaigns for the world to see.

We want people to take notice of the Malaysian creativity industry. We have a proud history of creating memorable campaigns and want to put our country back on the world map.

We are making headway, as Havas Malaysia is the only Malaysian agency that won a metal at the recent AdFest in Pattaya, and one of only two agencies that won a metal at Spikes Asia.”

Donevan is particularly proud of the creative way his team developed Armor All’s ‘Dirty Display’ campaign.

His team found an unconventional media space in the 11.4 million abandoned cars in the country to demonstrate the effectiveness of Armor All’s car cleaning products. Armed with Armor All products, a team of detailers cleaned abandoned cars in major city centres – making them as good as new.

 “After cleaning, we put a large eye-catching sticker on the cars saying ‘Revived by Armor All’ with a window that framed the car’s original dirty condition,” said Donevan, who added that the idea came from one of the team’s younger members.

 “Instead of buying into the regular mediums, we wanted something different to showcase what Armor All could do. The cars became a real-life product showcase and made many people take notice.

 “It was different, but consumers could see how well the products worked.”

 Similarly, Havas’ 100Plus Ramadan advertisement – ‘Pancit’ (punctured) – was a humorous take on how the isotonic drink can revitalise those who run out of energy.

 “There are many things to do during Ramadan, and even after breaking fast, many run out of steam or ‘pancit’,” said Donevan, a jury member in local and international advertising award shows since 2012.

 “It was definitely an out-of-the-box thinking for an ad, and we are grateful that the client approved it.”

“We have a tough fight ahead of us … to be relevant and to be among the top three for consideration whenever there is a new business opportunity or pitch,” Nizwani said.

“We need to be a part of those conversations or opportunities because if clients see what we can offer, we stand a good chance. We want to satisfy our clients and shake the market up through innovative ideas. And, we love having fun along the way,” she added.

So, if you want a creative way to drive growth and build meaningful brands, give Nizwani and Donevan five minutes.

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