Will 2016 bring a new chapter for Y&R?

The upheaval of last year is being replaced by new management, new creatives and a new commitment to the region by Y&R’s global leaders, writes Iain Akerman

“I don’t comment on history.

“We’re not building a new Y&R. We have brought in new, dynamic, out-of-the-box management that we’re very excited about and our focus locally and globally is still the same – we believe that we are a global boutique whose value to our clients is that we’re local first.”

David Sable, Y&R’s global chief executive officer, is sitting opposite me at a conference table deep within the Fairmont The Palm. To his right is Tony Granger, the agency’s global chief creative officer. To Granger’s right is Ramzy Abou-Ezzeddine, the newly-appointed CEO for Y&R Group MENA. All are reluctant or hesitant to dis- cuss the past.

That past being the resignation of Menacom chairman and CEO Joseph Ghossoub last April, followed by the departure of Ghossoub’s daughter Nadine, who was Y&R Dubai’s managing director, and Shahir Zag, the agency’s chief creative officer. Ash Chagla, one of two exec- utive creative directors at the Dubai operation, left not long after. Of the agency’s senior creatives, only Kalpesh Patankar remains.

It is unclear why Ghossoub – one of the region’s most powerful and influential admen and the interim CEO of Y&R MENA – stepped down. But WPP’s director for the MENA region, Roy Haddad, oversaw the position until a Y&R replacement in the shape of Abou-Ezzeddine was found last September. In October, Georges Barsoum was also named CEO of Y&R across the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The appointment of two new CEOs and the current replenishing of the creative department is indicative of Y&R’s renewed commitment to the region with an emphasis on strengthening the network across the Middle East and North Africa and deepening collaboration.

“We’ve had two meetings here,” says Granger. “We’ve had the creative review and our management review or workshop. For the first two days – I’ve been here for a week nearly – we were look- ing at work per office, looking at opportunities, looking at what clients we have, looking at how we can put our best resources against [those] opportunities and how we can bring the very, very best work to our clients. And not only across the region but now we’re tapping globally into that as well.

“More and more over the last six months, there’s been more and more collaboration and cross-pollination and sharing of ideas, and actually what this has given us is an opportunity to really get involved in the region. The fundamentals of making the work better is to collaborate and to get opinions from the best people that you have. Kal’s [Patankar] starting to drive that.

“Of course Joe is a lovely man, so is Shahir, so is Ash, but we have a business to run and it evolves and it changes and we now have other really amazing people that we’re becoming friends with too. And if we don’t evolve and if we don’t have people coming in and out the whole time then we stagnate.”

It is possible to accuse Y&R Dubai of previously being an agency more dedicated to winning awards than the acquisition of new business or the creation of genuinely effective work for its clients. It is also an agency that historically has been strong in Dubai but weak in other markets across the MENA region.

“I think you have the wrong impression,” asserts Sable. “Look, at the end of the day it’s always been a good business. I don’t think we would’ve kept it if it hadn’t been. But you move on. There ‘was’ and now there ‘is’. And so I can tell you that the focus here is on clients, the focus is on work, the focus is on how do we continue to do our best.

“The point of what we’re doing is to make sure that our network is in fact a network and that the offices are all connected, that the people are connected, that the work is connected, that the creative directors are connected, the managers are connected, that the planners are connected.”

“We’re consolidating what we have, we’re building on past success, we’re trying to take it to the next level and as David was saying, trying to really build a proper net- work,” adds Abou-Ezzeddine. “A one-agency approach that happens to be located in several geographies – the same standards, the same collaboration that Tony talked about, across all functions.”

So, a new Y&R chapter is being written?

“The clearest message that I can give you is just look at who we’ve hired,” says Sable. “The fact that we’ve brought in Ramzi and Georges is pretty damn good. It’s exciting for us, it’s exciting for our clients, it’s exciting for the region to have guys of that calibre.”