Industry leaders: The stars are aligned

Campaign Middle East editor Justin Harper sat down with leaders from the largest agencies in the region to find out what’s on their minds

(Left to right) Ghassan Maraqa, CEO at Memac Ogilvy, Reda Raad, CEO at TBWA\RAAD ME; Dani Richa, Chairman & CEO Middle East, Africa and Pakistan; Tarek Miknas, CEO at FP7 MENAT; Ian Fairservice, Managing Partner at Motivate Media Group and Vice Chairman of Dubai Lynx; Simon Cook, CEO, LIONS; Kristine Lasam, Managing Director at Accenture Song; Avi Bhojani, CEO at BPG Group; Mounir Harfouche, CEO at MullenLowe MENA; Tony Wazen, CEO at Publicis Media, and Majed Al Suwaidi, Senior VP at TECOM Group Dubai.

AI, finding top talent, mental health, paying for pitches, judging awards. These were just some of the topics on the table when CEOs, MDs and chairmen from the biggest agencies and networks in the region got together at Dubai Lynx.

As part of the exclusive Leaders Roundtable, moderated by Cannes Lions CEO Simon Cook, Campaign Middle East enjoyed a seat at the table to listen in on some intriguing debates among the power players of the industry.

The good news is that leaders are feeling positive about the industry, how it has developed over the years, and the roadmap for the future.

Reda Raad, CEO of TBWA\RAAD Middle East, said: “I think today what we’re seeing is unprecedented. All the stars are aligned. There is an influx of talent, and when you look around, at the short lists, the quality of work, and this world-class region, then I think it’s time we believe that and live that.

“I stopped thinking that, maybe we’re not as good as the rest of the world. I would say this is one of best regions in the world.”

Tarek Miknas, CEO at FP7 McCann MENAT, joined the praise for the region’s advertising industry.

(From left to right) BPG Group CEO Avi Bhojani with Ian Fairservice, Motivate Media Group’s Managing Partner and Vice Chairman of Dubai Lynx, and Simon Cook, CEO, LIONS.

“I think we are very, very lucky in this part of the world. The kind of briefs you get, the ambition, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia today, is humongous.

“And what it means is that that ambition trickles into every single aspect of everything. And for us to be a part of the society here, it’s our responsibility to take what we do and elevate it to number one on the global stage. And I think that’s at least what drives me.”

The growing list of awards and accolades for the region’s creative talent supports the upbeat mood among the industry leaders. This recognition is helping to attract top global talent to the region, which had previously been a challenge.

From global talent to global brands, Dani Richa Chairman & CEO Middle East, Africa at BBDO, observed how the region relies less on global brands setting up hubs in the Middle East as it was now producing its own global brands. He gave examples of airlines Etihad and Emirates, Saudi’s Aramco, DP World and telcos such as Etisalat.

“There’s a long list. So we’re very lucky to be building and helping countries build global brands out of the region. And that is really a game changer. There’s definitely been a transformation. And all eyes are on the region, which is fantastic.”

Talent and AI

While talent is attracted to the region, there are still shortages, given the rapid pace of expansion, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

I think that we can really nurture local client, and create an opportunity to usher in a creative renaissance. But it’s almost as if we need to architect or create a talent academy,” added Kristine Lasam, Managing Director at Accenture Song.

The Leaders Roundtable discussed the disruptive nature of AI but saw many positives, such as freeing up creatives to really focus on impactful, creative work.

“The creative output needed to change,” said Tony Wazen, CEO at Publicis Media. “If we want to really continue to evolve, we have to integrate technology and create output a bit differently”.

The general consensus among the leaders, and across Dubai Lynx, was that AI is being welcomed as a useful tool to help unlock greater creativity. But alongside this technology, the human touch can’t ever be replaced, and will be more important than ever.

On steroids

BBDO’s Richa summed it up perfectly: “Clients really value the power of ideas because what AI will never replace is creativity and innovation. It will help it, it will amplify it, it will put it on steroids, but it will never replace it.”

Indeed, the industry is investing billions in AI as it embraces not just new technology, but perhaps a new business model.

And no roundtable with advertising leaders would be complete without a heated debate on pitches. Some smart ideas were suggested for being remunerated for RFPs, and to get feedback from clients. While we wait for the tide to turn, some agencies are actually being charged to pitch. Yes you read that right.