Top 20 news stories from 2023

1 Saudi Arabia received its very first Grand Prix at the Festival of Creativity. Wunderman Thompson Riyadh brought it home with its campaign Subconscious Order for KSA-based delivery platform HungerStation, under the Creative Commerce category. Meanwhile, Impact BBDO also bagged a Grand Prix for the Print & Publishing category, marking the agency’s third Grand Prix win at Cannes Lions over the years. 

2 In October, WPP Holding announced that it was merging creative agencies Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R to create a new entity – VML. Described as the “world’s largest creative company”, marking a “major evolution in its offering to clients”, VML will be led by Jon Cook, VMLY&R’s chief executive, as global chief executive, and Mel Edwards, the global chief executive of Wunderman Thompson, as global president.

3 In November, Motivate Media Group and TRACCS came together to host the first-ever Athar – Saudi Festival of Creativity. Held in Riyadh, the three-day festival saw an attendance of more than 1,400 people and featured talks from Saudi creatives and marketers. The festival conducted a three-day academy for young talent and a women’s empowerment programme. It also hosted a special awards ceremony to celebrate Saudi agencies and their contribution to the industry. 

4 Impact BBDO’s creative chief Ali Rez was appointed as the first Jury President from the MENA region. Rez was appointed as the Print & Publishing Lions Jury President as a part of the Lion’s 2023 jury president line-up.

5 Gambit’s young talent Judy Bakieh and Sarah Alsalem picked up gold at the Cannes Young PR Lions competition, where they competed against 28 national winners. The duo were the first from the region to win the competition. 

6 In January, Ascential, the British owner of Cannes Lions, told investors that it would split in two
and separate its digital commerce business into a separate US-listed company. The change saw Duncan Painter, the long-serving chief executive of Ascential, become CEO of the digital commerce business. Scott Forbes, the chair of Ascential, moved to become chair of the digital commerce business. Phil Thomas, who already oversaw Cannes Lions as CEO of Ascential Intelligence and Events, succeeded Painter to become CEO of Ascential.

To celebrate the best of business successes and talent, Campaign returned with its Agency of the Year Awards Middle East, following its inaugural edition last year. The winners were announced in a glittering awards ceremony on 7 December 2023. You can find out who they were on page 10. 

Dentsu rolled out its merger in the region in January, following its global merger announcement at Cannes Lions last year. The merger saw the consolidation of shops Dentsu MEA, John Brown Media and Isobar to form one creative brand, Dentsu Creative.

9  OSN and Anghami announced a merger deal to bring together their content under one common app. The new platform will combine Anghami’s technology and music catalogue with OSN+’s library of video content. Earlier this year, Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG)’s venture capital arm also pumped an investment of $5 million into Anghami.

10 Saudi media giant MBC announced its plans to go public with its shares. It said that it would be listing 10 per cent of its shares on the Saudi Exchange.

11 Riyadh was chosen as the host for the 2030 World Expo, after defeating challenges from South Korea and Italy. The event is expected to represent the apex of Vision 2030 and showcase the Kingdom’s achievements. The country also successfully bid for the FIFA World Cup 2034, after it was announced as the sole bidder upon Australia’s withdrawal.

12 MullenLowe underwent a complete overhaul of its visual identity by adopting a minimal-designed octopus. The agency wasn’t the only agency that updated its identities and positioning this year. It was joined by Havas, Landor & Fitch, Hill & Knowlton, Brazen, Huawei Ads and Sticky Ginger who all switched up their branding. 

13 Saudi’s national carrier, Saudia Airlines, revamped its logo and visual identity and shifted its focus from bringing Saudi to the world to bringing the world to Saudi. Other brands that rebranded this year were Air India, Air India Express and Careem. Insurance companies RGA and NLGIC took a step further by even renaming themselves to Liva.

14 In February, the region also saw the World Out of Home Organization launch its first in-person MENA regional forum. The event saw many out-of-home industry speakers from the region and the wider globe come together to discuss the outdoor media industry.

15 Khaled Al Shehhi, executive director of marketing and communication at UAE Government Media Office, was awarded the Loeries Marketing Leadership and Innovation Award. In March, Al Shehhi was named as the advertising person of the Year at Dubai Lynx. 

6 In November, WPP’s Group M confirmed that its agencies EssenceMediacom, Wavemaker, MSix & Partners and Mindshare would no longer be responsible for their own budgets from 2024. Moving to a country-level profit and loss model, the restructure will see the allocation of budgets and resources solely on a country-by-country basis.

17 With COP28 taking place in the UAE this year, industry conversations focused on sustainability. The event also looked for partnerships with brands, priced at millions. Majid Al Futtaim announced its participation as a partner at the event. 

18 Following the VMLY&R merger last year, Group Partnership’s senior team members banded together to create a new digital marketing services agency, GP Inc, a short form for “Growth & Performance”. The agency was joined by veterans, Rahul Nagpal, Alok Gadkar, Rahul Kantharia and Dhaval Desai to name a few. 

19 IPG Health announced the expansion of its presence to Egypt with the launch of McCann Health Cairo. The launch was a part of IPG Health’s efforts to strengthen its regional hub in Dubai.

20 Investment group Multiply announced its intention to acquire a 55 per cent stake in the outdoor company Media 247 in an AED 184 million deal. The deal was completed in September with Multiply acquiring Media 247 for a readjusted rate of AED 225 million.