Growing up, it’s rare that you hear of someone gunning to become a strategic planner, let alone know what that job entails. “I would never have guessed that I might end up as a strategic planner at a creative agency – I mean, does that even sound like a real job?”, says Vera Dhras, who’s in that exact role at Havas Germany today. Though it wasn’t something she had on her mind, it turns out that it’s the perfect fit for her, balancing people skills with empathy, she shares how she found herself on this trajectory.
As a child, when it came to hobbies, it seemed that Vera tried her hand at a little bit of everything. “From fencing to playing the guitar and even ballet,” as much as she isn’t proud of it, it seems that she couldn’t stick to one hobby. “My true passion was my grandparents,” she explains, “I spent countless hours with them, enjoyed every single one and now, looking back, I would say they were one of the most important components of my childhood.”
With support around her from not only her beloved grandparents but her parents as well, she says, “I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving family, always supporting me in whatever I wanted, but without forcing me in any direction.” She reflects on how much of a privilege it was for her and her sister to be free to choose to do whatever their heart desired, while also being reminded how they could achieve anything they set their minds to.
So, when it came to deciding on further education, Vera settled on business administration and further studied for a master's in business management, with what she describes as an “emphasis on marketing”. The university experience was something entirely different from Vera’s schooling as she explains how it took her a while to learn how to study. “It was a skill I didn’t need during school but needed when first entering university. I had to first figure out which business discipline corresponded to me best. The moment I started focusing on marketing topics, my grades got better and better.”
Taking in everything she learnt, it wasn’t just the theory that she connected with but the soft skills as well. “I often hear people say that they had to learn things they never needed again afterwards. That doesn’t apply to me, and I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without my university years,” she says as she reflects on the people she met and the experience as a whole. She continues, “This period influenced me and my career today a lot. Else, I probably would not have gotten into the advertising industry.”
Starting her first job, Vera began at a media agency, as she explains, “Since I already knew I was aiming for a job in a creative agency in the long run, I thought it might be wise to first get some insights from working in an important, related aspect of the process.” During her time there, she learnt about the day-to-day of the business, saw campaigns on a holistic level and used this to consider different aspects of her work. Through this experience, she realised exactly what she wanted to go into.
With that sense of clarity, landing her current job was no coincidence. “I chose my specific position at Havas Germany fully on purpose and targeted since I expected it to be the perfect match for my personal profile and development. Ultimately, working in the creative marketing environment was just the type of task and challenge I wanted to work with.” By developing and learning along the way, she’s considered every job and planned for where she’d like to be. “I had a clear big picture in mind that I wanted to achieve and then collected all the little puzzle pieces for my very own experience mosaic – be it sales, marketing, media, or creative/communications.”
But it hasn’t always been plain sailing, as Vera describes her first digital only campaign for a website and how the tracking and optimisation for it left her suitably perplexed. “I was fully overwhelmed by all of the technical agency-related terms that I literally had no idea about after five years of studying business. It was a super intense collaboration with a highly demanding client and, I must admit, it pushed me to my limit.” Disagreeing with motivational insights that say ‘magic happens outside your comfort zone’, she does however agree that the experience taught her more about her strengths and weaknesses.
Through it all, the most valuable thing Vera has learnt is the power of authenticity. “Always stay true to yourself – if something really doesn’t work out for you, don’t force it. If you have a clear stand on something, fight for it. To me, this was the hardest lesson to learn.” She continues, “As a young and therefore less experienced person I thought everyone else would know better. But that’s not the truth in general means. And you should start to acknowledge your own value ASAP.”
In part, this mentality has given her the confidence to keep going. “At Havas, I recently had the chance to pitch for a client in the DIY segment. The timings were insane, and we collaborated with a newly onboarded company. Yet, I can now proudly say that we have a great new client with whom we managed to launch a new, integrated campaign in just three months’ time. The first pitch I have ever won gives me the confidence that there is much more to follow.”
Leaning into her favourite aspect of the process, Vera ensures she immerses herself fully into topics, finds out how to master them and uses this knowledge to support with creative solutions. “Even though it might not be the actual creative output, it's my contribution to the project that I am proud of,” she says. Part of this involves keeping up with trends, brand studies and developments based on the industry. But with her eye for detail, it’s no surprise that what she struggles with is finding shortcuts for projects. “It can be challenging to restrict the quality or depth of detail of one’s work with respect to time – but still wanting to deliver best in class results. But I guess this is the challenge for all of us in an ever more dynamic marketing environment.”
Wider in the industry, she finds frustration in being between the gen y and gen z demographic, particularly “the pressure and anxiety resulting from the different crises” faced by each group. While grappling with all of the debates, there are a few that she stands strong on: “If you ask me, any effort towards more purposeful business is highly welcome. People expect large companies to contribute positively to the world of tomorrow and so do I.” It also includes Vera being part of an internal group which developed a hybrid working model for her agency, “A task that completely was given into employee’s hand by our management to come up with a solution that works for every employee working at Havas.”
Aside from that, there is of course inspiration within the range of creativity and scope of campaigns, which have motivated Vera. “I really like how advertising mirrors our reality more and more – not only focusing on pure luck and slick happiness, but showing conflict, anger, or sadness. The whole range of human emotion. Slowly – but hopefully continuously – integrating and embodying more diversity, which also makes it way more interesting and authentic as human nature is multi-dimensional.” There are two ads in particular that she highlights, one being the ‘Liquid Billboard’ by Havas Middle East, as well as the ‘Flags of Generosity’ for Cadbury Diary Milk.
When she’s not looking at or working on campaigns, Vera is a fan of meditating via Headspace, eating some Italian food, admiring the beauty of nature and watching Lord of the Rings. Though with so many streaming services available, she does also binge shows on Netflix, as well as lets herself indulge in the short form video app that has us all hooked. “TikTok is my guilty pleasure. It is not a specific creator for me rather than the variety of content and the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives of really talented and creative people.”
Her goal is simple, “to understand consumers at a level, where they take something positive out of an advertisement, I had a say in. Whether it brings them a smile, maybe even a laugh or touches them. In my ideal world, an advertisement transforms the audience; I want to transform people, I could say.” And of course, the team and support system she surrounds herself with is imperative to this, which she reflects on as she speaks about what helps drive her:
“I would say it is the lovely and inspiring people around me that bring out the best in me – if the team is great, you automatically want to support them with great work. And it is also much more fun this way.”