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Havas NY CEO wants to help rivals become B Corp certified


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

November 22, 2021 | 7 min read

Laura Maness talks The Drum through its two-year process, telling us how Havas New York is now looking to guide other agencies toward B Corp certification in an effort to “uplift the whole industry.”

laura maness havas

Under Laura Maness' leadership, 9Havas New York is the largest agency in the Havas network to gain B Corp certification so far

More agencies are taking the step of applying for B Corp certification, a measure that means not just adopting sustainable practices, but encoding them into the corporate fabric of an institution.

A B Corporation is a company certified by nonprofit B Lab as meeting a minimum threshold of ’social and environmental performance’ and incorporating a set list of commitments into their governing documents.

Havas New York is one of the latest advertising agencies to cross the line, announcing its certification earlier this month. It claims to be the biggest advertising company to achieve the marque so far, though its sister agencies Havas London and Havas Lemz in Amsterdam have already been through the process. It has also gained benefit corporation status – a legal status available in the US that knits a company’s performance on a specific social issue into its corporate constitution.

”It’s a pretty significant undertaking for a company of our scale. But this is a marathon,” chief executive officer Laura Maness tells The Drum.

She explains to The Drum how the process worked for Havas, the changes it made to achieve the accreditation and why the agency embarked on the process.

Following Maness’s appointment as CEO in 2016, Havas NY had already begun to institute shifts in the way it worked, with an eye on the environment and its working practices; among other policies, it offered weekly meditation sessions and a subsidized partnership with a local farmer’s market, as well as banning single-use straws from the office.

Maness says that she was inspired to go further by a visit to the 2020 edition of CES, and a session between Unilever chief exec Alan Jope and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff. ”I was there to be inspired by self-driving cars and the latest consumer tech, but I was sitting in this convention center and they were talking about planting a trillion trees. It was an ’aha’ moment, a lightbulb moment.

”Being in advertising is not an excuse. So, in that week of January 2019, I asked what decisions I could make, and our London agency had been certified. I had a catch-up with Xavier Rees, my counterpart in London, and once I understood that B Corp not being just a green initiative or even a sustainability initiative, but that it’s a pillar of a continuous improvement framework for how you run a better business, I was in. That day, we downloaded the B Lab impact assessment and started unpacking the questions.”

Applying for B Corporation status, though, isn’t a walk in the park. Once a company believes it meets the necessary criteria, it has to submit to a formal auditing process from B Lab, meeting a minimum score of 80 to qualify; Havas hit 87.2.

Maness says the agency put two staffers on the job for the best part of two years – James Huerta, executive director of creative technology, and Lindsey Bagg, director of talent. In addition, it enlisted an external consultant, Sam Wilson of Syntiro Associates, to help fill any expertise gaps prior to the formal auditing process; she’d already helped Havas London complete its transition.

Maness says the use of consultants was probably a luxury, ”but I think for our own sanity, it was nice to have a third party validating some of these things for us.”

Environmental changes the agency has made include offering filtered drinking water to office staff (it previously stocked disposable water bottles), making sure corporate merch comes from B Corp-certified vendors and working toward another certification, this time as a Zero Waste Company. As well as these ”1,000 small things” that Maness lists, Havas NY is already committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2025, along with the rest of its network.

On the social side, the agency offers employees extended parental leave, while using gender-neutral language to respect every form of parenting; it has established miscarriage and bereavement policies, and subsidizes childcare and (since the beginning of the pandemic) pet care costs. In 2020, the chief executive says it successfully closed its median gender pay gap, and has been measuring its pay gap across dimensions such as seniority and ethnicity since it joined the 3% Movement, again with the help of a third-party consultant.

Maness says that while some of these policies were already in place, many were granted at the discretion of managers: ”We were doing many of these things, but they hadn’t been formalized into a specific policy. Now, for example, we have formalized our community engagement policy.”

The agency has instituted a blind resume process, and to ensure it continues improving in line with B Corp requirements – Havas NY will be audited again, in three years’ time – all its job descriptions now include KPIs tied to sustainability. ”It’s a top-down and bottom-up approach to drive through sustainable change,” she says.

Havas is already seeing benefits from B Corp status

While Havas NY went through the B Corp process, it also transitioned to become a benefit corporation, with a focus on aiding underprivileged youth.

”As a result of that we have a fiduciary responsibility to annually publish how we are meeting that public benefit,” she explains. ”We have had a history of helping underserved youth, so that’s our stated public benefit.”

It’s also hired its first ever chief of social impact, Lindsay Stein, in a role that includes responsibility for the company’s internal and external social activities.

”The role is both reputation-building and revenue-generating,” Maness says.

As well as the ethical arguments in favor of B Corp accreditation, Maness points out that it has helped boost Havas’s image in the eyes of clients and staff.

”We have candidates that are reaching out, proactively seeking employment solely on the basis of having shared values and referencing the B Corp as something that is attractive.”

It was appointed recently by Yash Pakka, an Indian packaging manufacturer and fellow B Corp. ”We’ve had some outreach, just in the last couple of weeks, from some other prospective clients that are in the process of an agency review and prefer to work with a B Corp,” she says.

Though the client attention is welcome, Maness says the certification isn’t about giving the agency an edge over rivals.

”We’re asking anyone who’s interested, any company but especially agencies, to reach out to our social impact team via It’s an active email inbox where we’re providing tips, resources and hosting some virtual meet-ups to share our learnings and accelerate progress.

”We don’t want this to become some unfair advantage or distinction that we have. This can uplift the whole industry.”

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