Introduction by Austyn Allison
This is Campaign’s first Power List. If it looks a little familiar, it’s because it’s in some ways a new and improved iteration of our long-running Power Essays supplement.
For 2021 we decided to mix it up, revising the supplement’s practical definition of power (the ‘what is power?’ question is worth a lot of pages on its own; we’ll side-step it for now). This year we insisted that the only people we would ask to contribute and agree to include would be the heads of major companies – holding groups, agencies, media reps.
This gives us a real view from above. The people in the coming pages oversee thousands of staff and budgets worth tens of millions of dollars. And that’s before you even get to their experience.
Many of these people have risen through the ranks of their companies, while some have been brought in especially for their specific skillsets and expertise. It might be because this editor is getting older, but it seems industry leaders are getting younger. The old guard are starting to step back and letting new faces in to run the show and take it forward.
There are no women in the list, and that’s a shame. It’s an embarrassment to the industry that so few top spots are taken by women. This list isn’t comprehensive, and some people declined or were unable to take part. But even if it had every single top player in it, the list would still be overwhelmingly male. We need more women leading the industry at CEO and chairperson level.
While you’ll see our ‘rapid fire’ questions are uniform, there was no set brief for the essays each person on the list wrote. We asked them to explore the issues affecting them and that they feel the industry should address. Therefore, similarities between essays are not scripted. You’ll spot some themes I didn’t, I’m sure, but here’s some things I noticed:
There’s a focus on people over technology. In some cases this is manifested as a drive to make client brands more empathetic and values-led; in others it comes through as prioritising the welfare of staff.
The use of empathy as a branding tool has been growing for some time as greater choice and consumer agency appear in the market, through e-commerce and more direct social conversations. Covid-19’s effect was to accelerate the growth further, as isolation and the memento mori of a deadly pandemic reminded marketers that consumers like to believe there is more to life than late-stage capitalism.
Focusing on one’s own people is perhaps a more coronavirus-initiated phenomenon. The industry has been talking about employee welfare for years, but that hasn’t put a stop to the high stress and long hours. Now there’s what feels like a more genuine drive towards, or at least concern about, employee wellbeing.
This could be due to humanitarian revelations about the thousands of lives these men are responsible for, or simply a more business-centric need to avoid ‘the Great Resignation’.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the industry’s people problems, and the leaders realise that neither they nor their peers can offer a panacea. As one writer says, “the days of single-format leadership are numbered”.
So here you will find a lot of different ways of looking at similar problems. It is fascinating to see where the media, marketing and advertising industry’s leaders are going and how they plan to get there.
Another shared trait you will see is that power players are unified in thanking their teams and families and learning from those around them. And a lot of them also say they are on healthy diets and meal plans – further proof that they are looking to put the side-effects of the pandemic behind them.
The MENA Power List 2021: Challenges are growth opportunities for those who dare, by W Group’s Habib Wehbi