The MENA Power List 2021: 2021, the year of assimilation, by dentsu’s Tarek Daouk

By Tarek Daouk, CEO, dentsu MENA.

years in role: 3.5 | years in company: 3.5 | years in the industry: 22 | other roles: Member of The Board of Advisors for the Olayan School of Business at American University of Beirut”; Strategic Advisor for the early-stage technology venture fund Quest Ventures; Member of the global YPO leadership community

For me, and the rest of the world, 2021 was a year of assimilation. As people, we have been settling into a balance of pre-and post-pandemic behaviours and attitudes. While it will still be a long time until we fully understand the long-term and lasting impact of the past 18 months, there are a few patterns that have emerged amidst all the rapid change and disruption, and behaviours that are becoming a part of everyday life.

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Societal Trends

1. Flexi-living

Covid-19 is the now-proven case study for flexible working, disrupting the traditional nine-to-six desk routine and opening new opportunities for consumers and brands alike. Many new consumer segments will emerge as people take control of how and where they spend their time. Brands need to understand this and create clear and meaningful communication that demonstrates a much higher level of emotional intelligence.

2. Wellness to wellbeing

With the world experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety, we saw an accelerated focus on wellbeing which manifested in a myriad of ways. Mindfulness became mainstream, we gave ourselves permission to treat ourselves without the feeling of guilt, and wellbeing at work became a must-have as opposed to a nice-to-have. Supporting people with their wellbeing goals is a prime route for brands to tap into; however, companies must be mindful that their internal policies and practices should hold up to the standards the brand is setting.

3. Activated empathy

Brands are now more than ever expected to be part of the change and conversation driving social, governmental and business change on the issues most urgent to their audiences – such as sustainability and inequality. Brands are no longer immune to criticism and their transparency and societal actions have never been more pertinent.

Media Trends

1. Brand safety to societal safety

There is a greater emphasis on brand safety in all its forms. Advertisers and agencies are moving from brand safety to societal safety, looking to not only ensure their advertising does not appear in inappropriate content but to ensure that it does not fund inappropriate content or publishers.

2. State of subscription

We have seen the explosion and diversification of new paid content services launching in MENA with entertainment and media becoming more virtual, streamed, personal and more centred on the home than anyone could have anticipated. With the influx, more questions are being raised around existing ad-funded models, with consumer revenue now overtaking advertising revenue, and the sustainability of these subscriptions as financial strain and fatigue kick in.

3. One-stop shops

As the big technology companies consolidate their power, they are building synergies between their different services, making life easier, quicker and more seamless for consumers – and in turn shortening the traditional consumer purchase funnel. Integrating their services means that these companies are becoming one-stop shops for all of your needs, rather than a disparate group of apps and sites. This will continue to impact the smaller players with more specific specialities.

4. Virtual in-person (VIP) access

As Covid-19 put an abrupt end to in-person events and live entertainment, new spaces and venues were created through virtual experiences. We became privy to artists live-streaming intimate acoustic sets, were welcomed into chefs’ home kitchens, and elite fitness trainers’ backyards. While in-person events are now recovering, there are still a myriad of new opportunities for brands to play a role in providing access to, or enhancing, such content with the added benefit of a level of scale not afforded by physical events.

Today, the world feels like a very different place than it was at the end of the previous decade. For brands, the volatile times mean a greater need for emotional intelligence; listening to and understanding how their consumers feel and helping people navigate the new world through their products, services and actions. As we prepare for 2022, our focus will be on helping our clients create a more meaningful value exchange with people by adapting to the long-term societal trends that will continue to shape the 2020s.

Professional highlight of the year

2021 has been a rollercoaster. We’ve rebranded the company to dentsu, optimised our offering to six global brands and achieved outstanding organic quarterly revenue growth after an extremely tough year in 2020. For me, the highlight has been seeing how all of our people have adapted and grown, making the impossible possible through their relentless commitment and hard work.

Rapid fire

What are you working on?
What my legacy should be.
What are you worrying about?
Losing excitement.
What are you smiling at?
My daughter.
What are you reading?
This Is What America Looks Like, by Elhan Omar.
What are you watching?
Delhi Crime.
What are you eating?
Medium rare ribeye steak, at home.
What are you listening to?
The Drop Out.
What are you playing?
What’s your hobby?
Scuba diving.
What’s your good habit?
Eating well, good food.
What’s your bad habit?
Who are you learning from?