Interview: Havas CEO Stephanie Nerlich looks ahead to 2022 and beyond

(Courtesy of Havas Creative Group)

To say it has been another unprecedented year would be a severe understatement, especially in advertising where agencies continue to be affected by 2019, 2020 and now 2021. Despite the challenges, our friends at Havas saw incredible growth and game-changing successes. Much of that success can be attributed to their CEO of North America, Stephanie Nerlich.

Nerlich joined Havas in 2020 as Global Chief Client Officer with the purpose of growing the agency’s business and building client relationships. Shortly after, in July 2020 to be specific, she was promoted to CEO of North America.

Described as a “passionate leader with a proven track record of building brands and delivering growth,” Nerlich has overseen the expansion of Havas’ global and regional clients including IBM, Lacoste, Diageo, GSK, Pfizer and Nestle.

Not only did clients achieve success in a challenging couple of years, so did the boutique agencies in the Havas network including Camp+King, Battery and Arnold (which nearly doubled its size from last year).

In other words, Nerlich and her agency partners are killing it. Reel 360 had a chance to chat with Stephanie about the upcoming year and what she foresees in 2022 for Havas and other agencies.

Congratulations on making it through another tough year! What kind of a strategic approach will you take to leverage your boutique agency partners, Camp+King, Battery and Arnold in 2022?

We will continue to focus on fueling independent creativity across the North American network and foster a fiercely collaborative model between our boutique agencies and our larger Havas Villages.

Our founder-driven agencies are a key part of our ambition to build a first-class creative network that delivers excellence for a broad array of clients. In fact, the vast majority of pitches see diverse partners team up under a single simple Havas solution. 

Can you discuss how Havas plans to win the war for talent with Commit to Change at the forefront?

At Havas, we believe competitive advantage is multiplied by gaining and retaining an unfair share of talent. We have reorganized all talent functions to ensure we lead the broader organization with an efficient People First approach—creating industry-leading practices and employee experience. Meaning is the red thread that connects everything we do at Havas.

And one of the ways we’re winning the war on talent is helping people find more meaning in their work through the intersectionality of DE&I, Sustainability, Philanthropy and Wellness.

This is the blueprint for the future of work and future of talent no matter what industry you’re in. We’re already seeing the benefits of this approach to talent. Our agencies are becoming more diverse—79% of new hires in 2021 to date have been underrepresented groups (BIPOC or women); we’re accelerating women and underrepresented groups; and the retention is significant.

In fact, 90% who have taken part in our Femme Forward program since 2017 have chosen to stay at Havas—even despite the current Great Resignation. We’ve also had tremendous success opening access to the industry through Havas Open House. We had more than 800 people from all over the world—from former CMOs looking to pivot to people with no formal education—participate. 

How does each Havas Village – New York, Chicago and your newest one in Atlanta – maximize its superpowers in 2022?

Although we are bound together globally with one core promise, to make a meaningful difference to the brands businesses and people we work with, each office stands on its own with clear positioning and purpose. With leaders who are focused on unlocking the unique creative potential of each city, we’re then able to matrix them to best serve a client’s needs. 

New York is our flagship, and recently became a Certified B Corp and Public Benefit Corporation, committed to helping underserved youth; reducing our environmental footprint and increasing social impact through philanthropy, pro bono and paid client-work. 

Havas Chicago is dedicated to growing iconic brands through craft and culture and is home to the network’s first female chief creative officer. 

Havas Atlanta can be scaled as both a specialty shop, with focus on its industry-leading Social Center—a dedicated digital and social media hub—and Sports & Entertainment side by side by side.

REELated:  2021 in Review: Lost, but not forgotten

Can you get into any of Havas’ focused acquisition plans, new offerings or elevated specialties?

We are capabilities rich with competencies that clients want and need. And through that lens, we are always focused on launching new offerings. In 2021, we introduced Havas CX, bringing together 1600 people across our network, Havas House, a custom publishing business, and AFK, a new gaming consultancy, with lots more to come in 2022.

And, we are always in market focused on scaling some of our practice areas through strategic acquisition. 

Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1