Meaningfulness is Key: Sandra Onofri, Havas Germany

In the latest installment of our New Business & Growth series, we spoke with Sandra Onofri, Group Strategy Director at Havas Germany.

par India Fizer , AdForum

Havas Germany
Publicité/Communication intégrée
Duesseldorf, Allemagne
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Sandra Onofri
Group Strategy Director Havas Germany


How would you define your role? Please tell us about your responsibilities.  

In my role as Group Strategy Director for Havas Germany, my responsibility is to champion and foster strategic thinking to help brands solve their communication and brand challenges. Most brands operate in a very competitive environment where playing a vital role in a consumer’s life has become the decisive factor for success – which we describe as “meaningfulness”. Thus, creating meaningfulness for brands is key in my job and this relates to aspects such as, ensuring that the agency stays ahead of socio-cultural trends, understands business dynamics of industries and that we use data wherever possible.


Where does most new business come from, where does the process tend to begin? 

Bigger companies tend to follow a very structured, sometimes extensive process. Often this starts with a detailed RFI, some chemistry sessions, and is eventually followed by the pitch assignment with one or even two steps, as well as post-presentation sessions. Dealing with a smaller scope of assignment or project work, the process often begins with a chemistry meeting, which is happening more via video calls these days. 

At Havas Germany we are contacted by prospective clients thanks to recommendations or due to the fact that they have read about us in the media. Of course, we are actively screening calls for proposals, and we maintain relationships with intermediates too. The Havas network also plays a crucial role as one of our new business sources – be it German Havas entities, our media office, or international Havas network offices and agencies.  


It seems that many clients are moving towards project work rather than the old AOR model. How, if at all, has that changed how you approach a pitch?

This is a trend that we have observed over the past two years – more project work and a lot of smaller-scale pitches. We use a structured, but not rigid tactical process to tackle the strategic challenges of briefs, which has proven to also be successful for project work pitches. But we have to be much faster now. More often than not, pitch timelines have become incredibly short, requiring us to change internal processes to speed things up. Agility and pragmatism are ingredients that are more important than ever before.


In your opinion, what are the key things a client looks for in a pitch presentation, aside from the work?

From my experience, these are the top 3 things clients are looking for:

  • People they like to work with. And this is crucial as relationship is key and you have to share an agreed mindset to work well together, which counts for both sides. To assess that, clients need to a chance to get to know the personalities of the agency team and their expertise, as well as vice versa.
  • Understanding of business issues and the true challenges of the client. It’s not sufficient to replicate ideas that have already worked in the past, or to assume one-size-fits-all. Each client’s work is a unique task. The more you understand of their business, the better the cooperation and the final product is.
  • Enthusiasm. Every client wants to be treated exclusively and not optionally by the agency; they want to feel that they are wanted business partners, not just a necessary nuisance for raising revenue. You wouldn’t maintain a personal relationship with someone who is not interested in you or always deprioritizes you, would you?  


How did you adapt your process during COVID? Were there any advantages that emerged

Right from the first lockdown in spring 2020, we noticed that remote work is a great asset for many topics. Working together remotely made us braver at bringing new task forces and people from different countries or time zones together that had never met before. We were lucky that these new, purely virtually operating project teams began to work together so smoothly with new rules of collaboration. Across all borders, everybody was part of the team. The fact that we have a unified strategic process for Creative, CX, and Media across all international Havas offices helps tremendously to capitalize on the advantages of virtual teams.


What are your predictions for agency growth in 2021, where do you see opportunity?

Many clients are still coping with Covid-related impacts on their business and seem to be insecure or at least very cautious about investments for traditional campaigns. Instead, we see more and more CX projects coming in. The digitalization of our daily experiences has received an unrivaled boost due to the pandemic: from grocery shopping to ordering medicine to buying furniture. Thus, delivering not only a great product but a superior customer experience has become a key opportunity for many brands now.

Additionally, the inflation of purpose campaigns, especially since the pandemic began doesn’t necessarily mean that this topic is done, quite the contrary. In fact, our global Meaningful Brands Study from 2021 shows that consumers are continuing to raise their demands of brands, with growing expectation around how they to contribute positively to society or at least to support a good cause. People crave attitude and authentic purpose. How to deliver and communicate these messages without stumbling over the pitfalls of purpose-washing will remain a C-level, as well as marketing question that needs to be solved individually.