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MullenLowe: Love, discipline, credibility

MullenLowe MENA has reinvented itself and brought in ECD Paul Banham to spearhead its new creative drive [Partner content]

CEO Mounir Harfouche

At MullenLowe MENA, things are different these days. The agency with that daring octopus logo is all ‘hands’ on getting the job done, and how. You’ll sense a confidence that only comes with being able to adopt something new, fresh and unique, and a bit left-field. As a team, there’s no stopping them; they’re way too young to get tired. They have commitment, they seem too passionate to get bored, too experienced to get lost and too professional to lose confidence.

If anyone thinks that an agency or any company can maintain its status without evolving, adapting and changing, they’re wrong. Somehow MullenLowe got that and did that. Commenting on the re-energised agency, CEO Mounir Harfouche holds nothing back. He says: “It all started with a management meeting to re-invent who and what we are. We had the courage to recognise our weaknesses and reconsider our purpose. We redesigned the way we work, the reason why we work, and with whom we do our work. I am very proud of where the agency stands today.”

This is the phase where they feel they have reached that sweet spot that combines creativity, business maturity, discipline and credibility, all led by a ‘collective genius’ approach. The CEO’s aim has always been to build a winning team. “It’s unique to find such a concentration of wonderful talent working seamlessly, tirelessly and as one in our region,” he adds.

Harfouche says: “It was bold to challenge our comfort zone in order to transform our skills, evolve our culture and modernise our model. But, despite the challenges and the risks involved, we have achieved it and it feels great.” That’s a mix of love and discipline that builds credibility.

“It’s about a vision, where we look at quality growth, award-winning creativity that works, and building genuine partnerships with clients,” he adds. “That vision is expressed in a whole new working model – where top clients today have teams embedded within the agency and agency teams sit at client offices, working together. To empower this, we invested heavily in training, tools and technology, helping us stay relevant, agile and nimble.”

Their first step was to tear down a few walls. Literally (they redecorated) and metaphorically, from a model-of-working point of view. People who work on a client’s business sit together: strategists, client service teams, art directors, writers, content creators and social media specialists. In one space. In one thought. In sharp, singular focus. For the client. For the brand.

MullenLowe have a portfolio of the best possible clients any agency could dream of, and this motivates them to become the best marketing partners for clients, and to continuously invest in the best international and regional talent to support them. This was a number one priority.

A highlight of this ‘top talent for top clients’ focus was the appointment of Paul Banham as Executive Creative Director.

ECD Paul Banham

Banham is one of just a few genuinely strategically minded creative directors that have worked in and won awards across practically every marketing channel. He has held senior creative positions at McCann, JWT, AIS, Agency.com and WCRS. Over the last 20 years, his unique cross-channel experience has given him the ability to deliver truly integrated solutions for any and every marketing challenge.

Harfouche said: “Paul’s joining MullenLowe is a major step for us that will bring immense value to the agency as well as to our clients. His personality and track record are a plus to any organisation. It was critical to find an ECD not just based on experience and achievements, but especially one with the same drive, passion, chemistry and set of values as us. Paul ticks all the boxes.”

Banham describes how it actually happened over coffee. It was one of those meetings where forward-thinking strategy is designed using ball pen and napkin. “It took no more than the briefest of clandestine coffee chats for me to realise that MullenLowe is where my future lies,” he says. “Their energy and enthusiasm for the business are infectious. Coupled with that, the ambition to build a winning culture and develop brave creative work was all I needed to hear. It also feels great to be heading back to MCN, which was my home for my first six years in Dubai. Its corridors are a wonderfully warm place, full of extremely bright and collaborative minds.”

Banham was earlier ECD at FP7McCann for five years, where he helped steer the agency to the enviable position of the ‘The World’s Most Effective Agency’ (Effie’s 2016); and won multiple Cannes Lions and other global awards. Like FP7McCann, MullenLowe is part of IPG | MCN, one of the largest and most progressively thinking marcomms groups in the region.

Matt Butterworth, MD for Middle East & Africa at MullenLowe, says: “We have had a hard three years of restructuring and transformational planning, to get us to a position where we can say we’re fit for the future. Paul is the final piece in our planning; he is a tremendous acquisition to the team. Not only is he wise and passionate, but he truly is a progressive creative who is respected for his outstanding contribution to brands in the region. His dedication, maturity, drive and ambition are the perfect match for where this agency is going and we are proud to have him in our family.”

In the midst of all the rapid and constant changes in the industry, while most agencies were charting out a strategy for survival, MullenLowe took a deep breath, took a long hard look at the future and began a process of true transformation in order to be relevant and successful in the years ahead. It was difficult and risky, and a challenge in an industry that has more or less stuck to the ‘Mad Men’ model for decades. But looking at the team, the eagerness, the level of readiness and the air of positivity, MullenLowe MENA is on its way.