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Anupriya Acharya takes charge as CEO of Publicis Groupe South Asia, as Publicis Communications chief Saurabh Varma exits

Anupriya Acharya

Publicis Groupe has promoted Anupriya Acharya as CEO of South Asia – a newly created role. This follows the exit of Saurabh Varma as CEO of Publicis Communications India and South Asia. Acharya was most recently the CEO of Publicis Media.

In an internal email seen by Mumbrella, Publicis Groupe Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa CEO Loris Nold said: “Effective immediately, leaders of Publicis Communications will report to Anupriya.”

Saurabh Varma

Varma’s exit marks the end of a 17 year stint with Publicis across India and Singapore. He first arrived in Singapore in 2006 as director of engagement planning at The Greenhouse. 

He left Singapore in 2013 as chief strategy officer for Asia-Pacific at Leo Burnett to take charge of the India operations of the agency. That year, Leo Burnett India’s reputation had taken a beating after being associated with a scam ad for Tata Salt in a local award show.

On his arrival, Varma made it clear that he was not interested in incremental changes. He said: “The only reason I am here is to disrupt the market and change the game.”

Three years after his return, Varma was given the mandate of CEO of Publicis Communications, running its creative, PR and activation agencies in India as Publicis Groupe underwent a transformation. 

On his watch, Publicis Groupe launched Prodigious which, according to Varma, grew to become the largest production house in India.

His management style was believed to be “authoritarian” by some of his contemporaries, but Varma disputed the critique and insisted that his agenda was to take people along as the group navigated a challenging transition.

Acharya’s career in Publicis moved on a seemingly similar track to that of Varma. She shifted to Zenith Optimedia in 2013, having previously worked extensively across GroupM agencies including TME and Mindshare Fulcrum. She also had a stint in Singapore as the CEO of Aegis in the early years of this decade. 

She was given the mandate for Publicis Media in 2016 with responsibilities extending across Starcom, Zenith and Performics. At the time of the formation of Publicis Media, Acharya had stressed the importance of holding in-person meetings between all the different agency stakeholders to ensure clarity of communication and so that there was nothing lost in transmission. 

A release from Publicis Groupe on her role as head of Publicis Media said: “In this stint, she has more than doubled the operations in three years through expanding capabilities in digital media and services, analytics, consulting, content, commerce and adding new clients including Parle, Fiat, Ola, GSK, KrafHeinz, Lenovo, Motorola, Nykaa among others.”

In her new role, Acharya will lead the Publicis Groupe across India and Sri Lanka. Her mandate will include driving greater integration across the Groupe’s operations for existing clients, winning new business and attracting the best talent. 

Speaking about Acharya’s appointment, Nold said: “I am thrilled. She and I have been working together for a number of years, I am really impressed with her achievements to date and I cannot think of a better leader to take on this extremely important responsibility. 

“India is an absolutely critical market for us, one of the very best talent pools in the world, with strong innovation and a great resonance well into the region and beyond. It is a strategic priority for us, and shifting to a Groupe leadership is a catalyst to accelerate our investments in India. 

“Over the past three years, we have made significant progress in making the power of one a reality in India, with great examples of collaboration for the benefit of our clients and talents and having Anupriya at the helm is very natural. I am truly looking forward to partnering with her in this new role.” 

On Varma’s exit, Nold said: “Saurabh Varma, currently CEO of Publicis Communications has decided to pursue other career opportunities, and will be leaving Publicis Groupe after 17 years. 

“In the past few years, we have built very strong momentum at Publicis Communications and I want to thank Saurabh for his partnership and wish him good luck in his future endeavours”.

Speaking of her new role, Acharya said: “It is a great honour to get this mandate and am both excited and humbled by getting this opportunity. 

“We have such an incredibly talented leadership team in India, who has been the very reason for our success over the years. And moving to the power of one model that puts our clients at the center of our Groupe offering has infused unmatched vitality and energy across the entire organisation. I look forward to building on this momentum and innovate further with new products and approaches.”

Varma’s exit marks the second recent senior leadership departure at Publicis Communications. Late last month, Anil S Nair who was part of the founding team at Law & Kenneth which eventually became L&K Saatchi & Saatchi announced his exit to start a charitable biking company called Goodwind Moto Tours.

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