The MENA Power List 2021: Shift happens, by Mediacom’s Eyad Abdul Khalek

By Eyad Abdul Khalek, CEO, MENA, Mediacom.

Years in role: 5 | Years in company: 5

Advertising executives have long traded in hyperbole, but it’s fair to say even Don Draper would be forgiven for over-playing the impact of the last 18 months.

The pandemic is a bona fide game-changer. Much like we use 9/11 as a turning point in time to define the world before and after, the pandemic will be what marketers reflect back on to identify the moment we saw a seismic shift in the way consumers behave and think.

The acceleration of change brought on by the pandemic has been remarkable. The digital genie has well and truly exited the gift shop, and according to WPP chief executive Mark Read we have seen “10 years of innovation crammed into a few months”. How right he was.

Yet, long before March 2020, the advertising industry had been scrambling to redefine value propositions to clients, who had become tired of legacy models that no longer served their needs. We acted by augmenting organisational structures and revenue models, and addressed the scalable shift to digitisation whilst tackling how we respond to the influence of consultancies over C-suites. As a result, the speed of transformation seemed dizzyingly fast at the time.

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Whilst this notion of rapid evolution is applicable to the entire advertising agency marketplace, the transformation of media agencies has been more acute than most. From our rather functional beginnings as ‘executional MBUs’ – very much the Andrew Ridgeley to the creative agencies’ George Michael – media agencies are now as central a cog in informing and developing a brand’s entire communication strategy, with their role arguably never more crucial in driving tangible business outcomes.

But perception and stereotypes are hard to shift. As a client’s largest marketing expenditure, media has always been looked at predominantly through a lens of cost, rather than the value it can deliver. Procurement departments have become increasingly adept at driving media pricing efficiencies, so, as businesses became financially challenged in an increasingly tough economic climate, the view of media as a cost centre has only increased. Pitches, particularly in this region, have become price-driven, with agencies guilty of adding fuel to the fire by committing to balance-busting media pricing and commercials that simply don’t add up. It is short-termism, which kicks the can down the road a little further but is never picked up and leads to a cycle that benefits absolutely no one.

But there is hope.

The shift in the media agency’s role is a silent yet tectonic morph that we are witnessing, and one that is steadfastly gaining momentum.

In expanding our scope as enablers and drivers, we now have a position on the table: clearly articulating and realising for clients the incremental value we can bring holistically.

This can take various forms depending on the agency head you speak to – but in our case it can be summed up very simply as ‘ACE’.

While most agencies have role-played to the purist form as ‘Activation specialists’, we’ve taken our remit to the next level by developing a ‘Consulting layer’ that truly understands upstream and downstream growth white spaces; and then ensures that we deliver differentiation for the client offering through ‘Enablement solutions’, which could come in various avatars (such as business science, commerce readiness, martech deployment or even process-modelled digital acceleration).

All of which nicely ties into how today we as MediaCom are engaging our clients in ‘Seeing the Bigger Picture’, an agency proposition that is innately designed to be full-spectrum for their businesses. Why should media professionals be relegated to just placements when they can have a data-informed say in creative effectiveness, messaging relevance and the next best offer to consumers.

In my discourse with C-suite and senior marketing leadership, I have witnessed first-hand how much clients recognise and appreciate this. As an industry, the more we demonstrate our broader value proposition to our clients, the sooner we raise the ceiling in terms of our perceived role, delivering long-term, sustainable growth for everyone. Who knows, with a concerted industry effort, media agencies can allow people to listen without prejudice.

Professional highlight of the year

We have experienced another capricious year in the workplace and have had to really look at how we work and how we are structured to best serve our clients’ evolving needs. More than ever, we are really committed to the well-being of our people. The highlight of the year would be a shift in perspective, a learning experience, which has provided a more accommodating and flexible attitude to the workplace.


What are you working on?
I have just turned 50, so living longer.

What are you worrying about?
The future wellbeing of our people.

What are you smiling at?
My kids.

What are you reading?
A Line in the Sand.

What are you watching?
Whatever series my wife happens to be watching.

What are you eating?
Healthy food, mostly at home.

What are you listening to?
A broad range of music (depending on my mood).

What are you playing?

What’s your hobby?

What’s your good habit?
I love to talk.

What’s your bad habit?
I love to talk.

Who are you learning from?
Everyone around me.