Conscientious Wellbeing in the Time of COVID-19

Havas New York on mobilizing to meet this crisis.

Havas New York
Publicidade/serviço completo/integração
New York, Estados Unidos
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Harry Bernstein
Chief Creative Officer Havas New York


Havas’ people-first culture is living up to its promise during the pandemic. Unlike many agencies across the advertising industry, thus far Havas has not made any layoffs in the U.S. due to COVID-19, and they continue to increase their well-established wellness programming and practices to help their employees better cope with these trying, unprecedented times. Neither have they seen any downturn in new business pitches. While it’s not quite business-as-usual, this family-owned, global top ten agency is sending positivity out into the world.


The network’s mission to make a meaningful difference to brands, businesses and people has never been as pertinent to us globally as it is now. Almost in an instant, the agency quickly pivoted to this new normal, guiding clients through what COVID-19 means for their business, while safeguarding businesses’ newfound journey to help us all create a more meaningful life. But for the agency, making sure that their people continue to feel energized and empowered for what lies ahead remains their utmost priority. Celebrated for its innovative and collaborative culture, Havas’ leaders are ensuring that business not only continues, but more importantly, that employees feel safe, connected and that they are able to thrive in this new context.


What this actually means though and how it can be put into practice inside a business, is harder to pin down. For many it is perhaps an aspirational philosophy rather than an actual pillar of business strategy.


In the heady pre-COVID-19 days last year, AdForum talked with Havas CEO Laura Maness and CCO Harry Bernstein to explore Havas’ ‘being more meaningful’ ethos and how it is practiced. Now, in the middle of the pandemic, we find that the agency is remarkably strong. Is it possible that the agency’s beliefs and practices have created a healthy resilience?


We revisited (virtually) Laura and Harry this week to explore. 


Laura was quoted recently saying that ‘crisis reveals character’. She adds that this is true of leaders, of brands, and that Havas is no exception. ‘What’s been great for us is that we had a clear purpose and a strong culture going into the pandemic and many of our beliefs and behaviors (our reactions and actions) are consistent with that value system. We’re just reinforcing it and scaling it now in a new context’. 


Creative Consciousness is open to all homes

To assist and provide support to employees during the pandemic, the global network launched Havas from Home, a platform for collaboration where staff can share tools, tips, inspiration and learnings and most crucially, maintain community, continuity and camaraderie. ‘We’re seeing some incredible positive shifts in behavior across our industry peer set. People are coming together in new ways to fight this common enemy: COVID-19. There’s more collaboration — and more openness to collaboration — than ever before,’ said Maness. 


It doesn’t stop with Havas though. In the spirit of altruism, Havas NYC is prioritizing it’s creative consciousness community practices as a key part of the WFH work regime, and not just for Havas staff. The agency has made their community portal – ‪ - available to all, in a move consistent with their core beliefs that a healthy mind will have a healthy impact on people’s work-life. True to their ethos of ‘cultivating, inspiring and giving back’ to the community, the agency immediately switched their weekly health and wellness practices spanning meditation, yoga and other stimulating workshops to online gatherings and opened up attendance to anyone in the world. To kick off their Inspiration Series, Laura’s leadership in gender equality and female empowerment included a fireside chat last month with New York Times best-selling author Janice Kaplan on her latest novel, The Genius of Women, and Harry helped ignite creative thinking from home with a recent talk on making art with code with openFrameworks co-founder Zach Lieberman. The agency also plans to broadcast a virtual fireside chat with meditation pioneer and industry leader, Sharon Salzberg, on the state of the world and how to cope and finding happiness during this time, when Mental Health Awareness Month kicks off the first of May.   


Business Redefined 

We asked about clients, work and new business. Amid daily news of lay-offs, furloughs and salary cuts in our industry, both Laura and Harry’s responses are refreshing. We found that Havas continues to pitch for new business, although the purpose behind the pitch is now different. The same with work for existing clients, as brands lean into Havas’ expertise to pivot and develop new strategies relevant to our world today.


‘We had instantly mobilized teams globally that went right into COVID-19 research, to understand and interpret the news, to discover how consumer behavior is shifting, and to assess the opportunity it presents for brands. This research is updated regularly in this ever-evolving situation and is continually shared publicly. The first round was a celebration of humanity and connection. We believe the brands and businesses that pivoted to gestures and took action on behalf of the collective will be the ones that continue to win hearts and minds so long as their ongoing actions in a post-COVID world are consistent with using their businesses as a force for good,’ said Maness.


Maness’ answer is also uplifting. ‘One pitch was cancelled, purely because it was event-driven, and that event is simply not going to happen. But everything else is still moving forward either at the same or on an accelerated timeline. Clients are factoring-in our ‘new’ new normal. We spend much time talking about the context that COVID-19 has created and the responsibility that brands now have to ensure safety, structure and relevance to our ‘new normalcy’. Our role at Havas is still to provide ‘Meaningful context and creativity’ for how people live now. 


Bernstein adds that they are more laser-focused on achieving goals through creativity and that in turn, there is opportunity by facing new conditions head-on. ‘How do we deal with this new new normal? How do we rebuild the world around us? Creativity is the pillar to do that. It’s not going to be about strategic firms releasing their post-quarantine theories and codes. For me and our creatives it’s a chance to do things differently. How can we transform this into positive change in our lives?’ 


‘Not to Waste This Crisis’

Maness knows that this statement sounds just a little controversial, but we get where she’s going with it. ‘We’re being forced to challenge almost every norm and paradigm that has existed. Social distancing has actually created mental capacity for us to think and create in new ways. First and foremost, as the CEO and Chief ‘Energy’ Officer, it’s about the safety, health and wellbeing of our employees. Second is partnering with our clients to bring unique, enduring value. We’re focused on innovating in the best ways and leveraging our agility to be their most meaningful partner.

 And back to not wasting this crisis: ‘the quality of our work (yes, we’re concepting, producing and launching new work as we speak!), the generosity, accountability and level of engagement of our staff, the collaboration and innovative problem-solving, it’s all on the rise.’


Here’s a look at a few examples of work their teams created from home — 


Keurig Dr Pepper, Keurig Connections



Con Edison, Together We Will Power On New York 



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