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The MENA Power List 2021: A paying hobby with twists, by GroupM’s Ravi Rao

By Ravi Rao, CEO, GroupM MENA

years in role: 2 | years in company: 13 | other roles: Member, X-Media Committee, ABG

Advertising is a great paying hobby. I joined by accident like most people, but I made a career out of it!  I have enjoyed every moment of my career for the past 30 years. The Middle East, with its myriad mosaic of differences, attracted me the second time around in 2015.

In the advertising industry, there is nowhere like Dubai. Dubai offers more opportunities and development both professionally and personally. This made it more attractive than London and New York. Not a single day is the same, this has made me stay in my profession despite all the challenges that we witness in the region. One can gain a lifetime of learnings working with 30+ nationalities, cultures across 13 markets.

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Client-centricity in our profession helps us gain immense knowledge of industries and sectors that most other specialists yearn for. From tissues to tech companies, one learns how the consumer journey varies as well as what influences them to buy one brand vs. another. Or imagine the creativity that combines with data while formulating strategies for growth. Having seen the era of manual work change to AI-infused models, one can’t ask for more in any profession. If you are curious, you will always enjoy working and make the most out of it. No wonder, it is a great paying hobby.

No wonder, it is a great paying hobby with real twists:

Client dynamics: For many years, top clients in the region were dominated by global MCGs including the likes of Unilever, P&G and Nestle.  This has given way to increased Government spending across the region– for all sectors from investment to real estate to tourism. A healthy competition exists between Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Egypt across airwaves and digital platforms opening up globally.

Skill sets in a continuously evolving media landscape require more attention. Generalists need to understand specialists, specialists need to have strategic macro views. Data, analytics and tech are increasingly at the heart of all we do. Today our teams need to match this with a world view and be well versed in media beyond MENA geographies. A star talent embodies the art and science of planning.

Consumers are demanding that brands do better. We need to be responsible for shaping the next era of media, where advertising works towards a better society. Agencies should now adapt their business, services and products in their portfolio so they are woven into clients’ processes. The ultimate goal is to make your campaigns as ethical and effective as possible.

Industry responsibility: Working as one industry is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a necessity for the MENA industry specifically to continue to thrive. How are we as an industry building credible market-sizing data, tracking market growth? How are we working as one to build a legacy of talent to lead the industry here and globally? What do we need to do to reinvent our industry to be future-focused?

A parallel that I can draw is how new discoveries in archaeology continue to change history. This is a hobby of mine that has changed over the years. It continues to evolve in ways that require nothing but us to adapt and change every day.

Of course, it continues to pay. Enjoy the ride!


Professional biography

Ravi Rao has a track record in marketing, account and media management in Asia and MENA. A management graduate with a career of more than 30 years in advertising and media, engaging with top clients like P&G, Unilever, PepsiCo, Henkel, Mars and Dubai Holding, he came back for a second stint in MENA in 2015. Prior to his GroupM role, he led Mindshare in MENA and South Asia and contributes regularly to the promotion of research in the region.


Rapid fire

What are you working on?
Budgets and five-year plan.

What are you worrying about?
Upskilling talent.

What are you smiling at?
The industry’s challenges.

What are you reading?
The script of Indus Valley Civilization – 16 in Academia.edu.

What are you watching?
Netflix.

What are you eating?
Festive savouries.

What are you listening to?
Of course, the Beatles.

What are you playing?
Badminton.

What’s your hobby?
Painting, philately and history.

What’s your good habit?
Learn from everyone.

What’s your bad habit?
Give 100 marks to any newcomer
I meet.

Who are you learning from?
My colleagues and peers.

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