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Dubai Lynx’s CEO Roundtable: Fever Pitch

Asking clients to pay for pitches was one of the hot topics discussed at this year’s Dubai Lynx festival, writes Campaign editor Justin Harper

The Dubai Lynx Festival is a must-attend platform for the creative industry in the region. This year, the one-day festival featured plenty of lively debate on issues affecting the creative industry in the region. Industry veterans also took the opportunity for some introspection, discussing what’s going well for the industry, and what’s not.

Campaign sat in on two fascinating roundtables, featuring CMOs and CEOs from across the Middle East. CEOs from the major creative agencies spoke of the common pain points they are facing and what the industry could do to protect itself.

Asking clients to pay for pitches may be a perennial issue but one that continues to gain momentum. Agency heads said that they invest a significant amount of time and resources into pitching despite no certainty of winning the business. Often they don’t hear back from the client for weeks or months. 

CEOs from Publicis Groupe, FP7 Mcann, Impact BBDO and TBWA/RAAD were among those challenging the industry norm of free pitches. Other talking points centred around establishing payment terms and minimum timeframes when it came to creating and delivering pitches. These were considered “low hanging fruit” by CEOs, which could be tackled first before they moved onto trickier issues. 

The CEOs came together to discuss the big question of ‘Is the agency model broken?’ in a roundtable moderated by Simon Cook, CEO at LIONS . “The model isn’t broken, but the behaviour inside the model is,” said David Fox, CEO Memac Ogilvy for MENA.

An earlier panel discussion at the Lynx festival, titled CMOs in the Spotlight, had uncovered some of the most challenging issues facing brand leaders in the MENA region. Speakers from the Saudi Tourism Authority, Volkswagen Middle East and LEGO spoke about the strategic role of creativity in moving brands and businesses forward.

Charles Awad, Chief Marketing Officer at Majid Al Futtaim, spoke of the three features that he felt creative agencies needed to work on – agility, speed and integration. Agency CEOs broadly agreed with the comments, although they felt integration and a full-service agency model is a movement many are already moving towards. 

Tarek Miknas, CEO at FP7 MENA, said: “How to be faster, more agile, more integrated. We have to figure out how to make all of those three things work, and we are all doing it in our own ways”.

“We’re going back to the future,” added Dani Richa, CEO of BBDO Middle East and Africa. “It’s not just that the clients want it. What we do needs it. Media has never been so close to creative and tech. This is really the shift, going backward to the way it used to be, we are working hard to make sure we have the core capabilities under one roof”.

Finding creative talent and attracting young talent is another challenge facing the industry. Bassel Kakish, CEO of Publicis Groupe for the Middle East and Turkey, felt the drive for fresh talent can often be overlooked among all the technological advances. “What hasn’t changed is that we will always be an industry of talent. No matter what happens you will always have talent at the core of them,” he said.

Another issue was that of exclusivity, with some clients forcing creative agencies to sign exclusivity solely to them. Agency CEOs felt this wasn’t a level playing field as the consultancy firms they compete with are typically free to pitch to multiple clients. In fact, consultancy firms were singled out as one of the biggest threats to the industry having bought or launched their own marketing arms in recent years.

“It’s also about client education and being partners with the agency. Start off on the right foot, don’t squeeze the life out of the agency,” advised Nick Walsh, Chief Executive Officer at VMLY&R MENA. 

An upbeat Reda Raad, the CEO of TBWA/RAAD, added:  “As an industry, there has never been a more exciting time. We are on the verge of a creative renaisaance with all this technology coming up and how it’s going to affect us. We have got a fantastic region.” However, Miknas of FP7 MENA, felt there is more opportunity for cooperation from agencies. “We call ourselves an industry but everyone does their own thing.” The CEOs highlighted the new threats on the horizon in the form of big consultancy firms, production houses, technology companies and social media platforms. The roundtable also included Ian Fairservice, Managing Partner of Motivate Media Group and Vice Chairman of Dubai Lynx, who suggested a number of ideas to help the industry protect itself.

The Dubai Lynx festival hosted a number of intimate get-togethers including a roundtable of leading CMOs hosted by Dentsu Creative, which discussed a range of topics on the minds of chief marketing officers.