What’s the story behind your business?
Our story is a typical start-up story. We began 15 years ago with six people, and at the time we operated out of our chairman’s extra bedroom in Jumeirah. We started the agency with the philosophy of changing the rules of advertising across the region. At the time, people thought we were a bit crazy – they said everything had already been established, and that we were too late.
Someone said, “Does Dubai really need another agency?” But we believed in the idea of changing the rules, and in doing something that had never been done before. Now fast-forward to today, and we have 14 agencies across the MENA region and over 600 staff, and we work with some of the most iconic brands in the world.
As you walk into your offices, there is a sign on the floor that reads ‘disruption starts here’. We’re in a time where that term is very much overused; everyone is a ‘disruptor’ these days. What does your company do to stay true to that concept?
Let me give you some history. TBWA Worldwide was one of the original disruption companies, in fact, we even trademarked the word ‘disruption’ as a methodology. It’s a registered trademark that belongs to us. So we were one of the first organisations to start using that term.
Disruption is our software; it follows a very simple operating principle: disruption defines the vision, and from there that breaks the market’s conventions, and once we’ve done that we create a new platform for growth. That is in our DNA and in the way we organise ourselves and the brands we work with.
Looking forward to 2017, do you see any new global trends emerging?
Everyone is talking about digital, and I think the most interesting phenomenon that is happening in our business is with regards to integration – it’s coming full circle. Advertising agencies used to do everything full service; media was in-house. Then everything got split up, you’d use one company to do social media, then another who would handle advertising, and maybe a specialist unit would come in to handle events.
The market was quite fragmented. What we see today is that clients are turning to agencies to help navigate this media landscape, or perhaps integrate all these separate services under one roof.
So when you plan a campaign, you no longer think about what to do on print, digital, or social media separately?
It’s about a single message, and that message is distributed throughout all the different platforms and touch points. With technology and social media, the key is to be a lot quicker, a lot more engaging and a lot more entertaining.
Entertainment value is key. If your content is not entertaining, it will be skipped and ignored. Now, more than ever, there is a need for timely, relevant content.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your industry today?
I think our industry has been beaten up pretty bad. Everywhere you look, you can see the advertising industry is broken. If I Google search ‘the future of advertising’ I get over a hundred million results – and not that I have time to read them all – but I think there are a lot more pessimists than optimists at the moment.
Personally, I am an optimist, and I can honestly say that I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be in our industry. Why is that? Because clients now need us more than ever, because of the complex ecosystem that has been created by advances in communication and technology. Right now, our job is to help clients navigate that complex ecosystem, which is a job that isn’t getting any simpler.
Is there anything that makes working in the region harder than it should be?
One problem we have is talent. Making sure that we have the right talent in-house, getting people who understand digital and these advances in communication. Also, they must understand the culture of the region. We’re looking for people who are young, or rather they must understand the brave new world that we live in, who are looking to create change and challenge the status quo.
How do you encourage that culture – to question and think creatively – within an organisation?
Sometimes you hear that creativity comes from the creative department. That makes sense. But for us, creativity comes from everyone in our agency. Everyone here needs to be creative in some way, from the people in client servicing to the strategy makers.
It’s a part of we organise ourselves and in our DNA. If we are not creative, then we are not relevant. And if we are not relevant, then we’re not successful. How do you create creativity? That’s not something you can put down on paper.
Is there anyone that you have looked up to? Or has had an impact on your business?
You know, I think that we’ve been inspired by the story of Dubai. When we first started out, and since then, we’ve seen the amazing things that have been built here. From a desert to a global city, that is known around the world. When we saw that beginning to happen, we thought ‘if Dubai can do that, become a city known around the world, why can’t we build an agency here that is known internationally?’
The city has had some lofty ambitions over the years. Does that mean so too has the company?
The whole notion of long-term plans, five or ten-year plans, as we knew them doesn’t make sense anymore. The industry is changing so fast. It’s no longer about planning ahead, but being equipped enough to understand what those changes are, and then being flexible enough to react in time.
Speed and agility are what’s most important. Obviously, we’ve been going strong for 15 years, but going forward I would like TBWA Raad to continue being a leading player in the communications scene, to continue to change the rules of this industry, and to associate ourselves with some fantastic brands. I would like to make the next 15 years as exciting as the last.
What’s one productivity tip that you wish everyone else knew?
I think time management is very important. As a leader, you are continually challenged by time. So you’ve got to make sure that your priorities are clear, and you must stay true to those priorities. Yes, every now and again a crisis may pop up – especially in our business – but you have to spend time with what is important, and delegate everything else. Which means you also need to make sure those around you have the power to take those decisions off your plate, as it were.
If you were to give someone just starting out in business one piece of advice, what would it be?
To not be afraid to challenge the existing norms of an industry. Don’t be afraid to ask brave questions. Because it is the new people who come into a company, with a new mentality, that promotes innovation and change. My industry is a great example of this.
Do you have any daily rituals? Something that helps you start off the day?
I have to exercise for at least an hour a day. That has been such an important part of my day because it helps me think, it helps me get organised, and then I also skim through social media and glance at the news. Sometimes I also like to take 30 minutes just for myself, to think about the day ahead. I think that has been very important habit for me.
How do you manage a large company – especially one in media, where things can happen in a flash that requires urgent action – and still find time for things like family?
Again, it’s all about being clear what the priorities are. For me, my family is the number one priority. I know a lot of people say that, but you have to live up to it. And with teenagers, they hold you accountable to that. Having said all this, one of my biggest challenges is that I am forever blamed for ‘always being on the phone’. So when my family and I sit down to dinner each evening, the phone goes away.