Ram­say Na­j­jar:

From Feed­ing Egos to Cre­at­ing Strate­gies


How long have you been in ad­ver­tis­ing and why did you leave?

I never left be­cause ad­ver­tis­ing is not an industry, rather a small part of a busi­ness called com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In­stead, I changed paths be­cause ad­ver­tis­ing had be­come too crowded and un­pro­tected in the sense that any­one could en­ter and com­pete ir­re­spec­tive of qual­i­fi­ca­tion. De­spite my best ef­forts, which the var­i­ous roles af­forded me, I could do noth­ing about this mat­ter. From the get-go I saw this com­ing, which was right af­ter I joined the field in the late eight­ies early nineties. I worked so hard that I be­came pres­i­dent of the ad­ver­tis­ing syn­di­cate believ­ing that the po­si­tion would al­low me to in­tro­duce a pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism or char­ter based on in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of prac­tice called the pro­fes­sional eth­i­cal chart of the ad busi­ness. We voted it into the syn­di­cate as an in­di­vis­i­ble part of the pro­fes­sion’s bi-laws with a com­mis­sion to pe­nalise trans­gres­sion. That lasted two weeks when some col­leagues of mine sued me for in­cit­ing un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.

That was my first dis­ap­point­ment. The sec­ond blow came when I was head­ing Saatchi & Saatchi as CEO and was promised par­tial ac­cess to the GCC mar­ket when Publi­cis bought the net­work and opted to only in­vest in Leo Bur­nett so as not to spread its resources too thin. So, and see­ing how lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion is per­ti­nent, I repo­si­tioned my abil­i­ties within the com­mu­ni­ca­tion sec­tor for a more suit­able fit.

On the per­sonal or ego­is­tic di­men­sion, I got this fan­tas­tic idea of chang­ing the way I do busi­ness. In other words, in­stead of be­ing a phar­ma­cist sell­ing drugs be­hind the counter, I wanted to be the doc­tor writ­ing the pre­scrip­tions. In the former, the pa­tient (client) who en­ters your door look­ing for a rem­edy, leaves with a bag con­tain­ing over half a dozen dif­fer­ent med­i­ca­tions while in the lat­ter, he ex­its with one or two prod­ucts, which are more ef­fi­cient and ex­act­ing. This al­lowed me to be more im­mune from fall­ing into the temp­ta­tion and in turn be­came more cred­i­ble as a pro­fes­sional.

Sim­ply put, I did not leave the industry, I merely moved from the sec­ond train wagon to the first and am rid­ing shot­gun now ev­i­denced by the fact that there about four com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tan­cies to­day and ours is the lead­ing one in the GCC re­gion.

What are the things you miss about ad­ver­tis­ing and what of con­sul­tancy?

I miss the adrenalin, which ex­ists in abun­dance un­der li­cense to be ir­re­spon­si­ble in a sense. The fun fac­tor dom­i­nates both so­cial in­ter­ac­tions and the work en­vi­ron­ment. My former busi­ness part­ner Eli Khoury and I came up with a line to de­scribe ad­ver­tis­ing that says, “Plea­sure do­ing busi­ness.”

In con­sul­tancy how­ever, there is more sat­is­fac­tion to be had be­cause it truly is ‘A busi­ness with plea­sure’. Yet the big­gest dif­fer­ence goes back to au­then­tic­ity. In ad­ver­tis­ing I was fak­ing an or­gasm but in con­sul­tancy I have it nor­mally!

What are the tools you’ve pre­vi­ously ac­quired and still use?

The tool­box is not very dif­fer­ent. The real dif­fer­ence is the way th­ese same tools are used. In ad­ver­tis­ing you pre­tend to be do­ing things, which in re­al­ity you

His tal­ent for ex­pres­sion cou­pled with a gen­uine sense of self saw him chair­ing var­i­ous roles within an industry strug­gling to find its iden­tity. Un­clouded by the plea­sures of per­sonal financial gain, he elected, to leave it be­hind by build­ing some­thing of sin­cere value net­ting him­self unimag­in­able sat­is­fac­tion. Arabad sat with Ram­say Na­j­jar, founder of Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Con­sul­tancy (S2C) to re­hash the past and con­trast lessons learned.

are not, an im­pos­si­bil­ity in con­sul­tancy. Back in the day, some col­leagues of mine in­clud­ing my­self weren’t hon­our­ing what we were pre­tend­ing to be do­ing. How­ever, in this line of busi­ness, there is no fool­ing around be­cause you are sell­ing ar­gu­ments and strate­gies based on facts, fig­ures and re­search.

In that re­gard, the tool­box in ad­ver­tis­ing is abused while in con­sul­tancy it is used.

How did you get into ad­ver­tis­ing?

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I have had the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate my thoughts and ideas in an ex­cep­tion­ally con­niv­ing man­ner. By 1971, when I was 19 and about to en­roll at AUB, I took the bold step of go­ing for a de­gree in mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It was some­thing I did not dare tell my fa­ther be­cause he would not have paid the tu­ition as he con­sid­ered that do­main to be an ut­ter waste of time and would leave me starv­ing. When I fi­nally spilled the beans few weeks prior to grad­u­a­tion he re­alised that it was fu­tile to get an­gry and so just brushed away the mat­ter in silent dis­con­tent un­til the day Walid Azzi walked into his shop and changed every­thing.

My fa­ther was a car sales­man and Walid be­came one of his most re­spected clients. He had just ar­rived from the United States and was walk­ing with swag­ger and talk­ing with an Amer­i­can ac­cent. He was the one who in­spired me to get into the busi­ness. Prior to that he had met with such suc­cess that it lit­er­ally al­tered my fa­ther’s opin­ion of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion industry. Af­ter the first meet­ing with him, my fa­ther, on a beau­ti­ful sum­mer day in Al­lay, re­turns home and tells me about this man and ex­plains that he no longer sees the com­mu­ni­ca­tion industry as a waste of time and that I had made the right choice so long as I man­age to be­come as suc­cess­ful as Walid.

On that day, Walid bought, from my fa­ther the new­est Pon­tiac Fire­bird car, which fur­ther em­pha­sised the lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties an in­tel­li­gent per­son in this pro­fes­sion can have. This is how he and I be­came friends. He also is the first busi­ness con­nec­tion I made at the age of 21. Dur­ing that pe­riod he was gen­eral man­ager of Al Hayat Group, which in­cluded (Al Hayat Ara­bic daily, Daily Star English daily, Prodeco PR, and re­search com­pany MEMRY). De­spite all th­ese fac­tors, I still had doubt and a lit­tle fear of en­ter­ing the busi­ness so opted to pur­sue a masters de­gree while teach­ing lan­guages at a cou­ple of lo­cal schools. In my mind, I was bent on en­ter­ing the realm of me­dia rather than ad­ver­tis­ing. I was mak­ing enough money to rent my own flat, drive my own car and pay for my post­grad­u­ate de­gree. I was also putting some money aside. At that time, the most fa­mous sec­tor on the me­dia scene was PAN Arab me­dia com­prised of a col­lec­tion of mag­a­zines printed and pub­lished in Le­banon and ex­ported to the en­tire Mid­dle East.

I was young, full of as­pi­ra­tion and had the de­sire to change the world driv­ing me to won­der whether th­ese pub­li­ca­tions were the por­tal to that end or merely a re­flec­tion of that wish. It was the big­gest ques­tion I had been con­tem­plat­ing at that time and hop­ing to find an an­swer, I wrote my the­sis about it.

Nabil Da­j­jani who had con­cluded his man­date as AUB’S alumni pres­i­dent read my the­sis and ad­vised me to meet with the heads of those pub­li­ca­tions and ar­ranged some pri­vate time with them to af­ford me prac­ti­cal knowl­edge rather than the­o­ret­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

All of them, to a large de­gree, ad­vised me against en­ter­ing this busi­ness by propos­ing two op­tions. The first would be to be­come an un­der­paid jour­nal­ist who is told what to write based on the pub­li­ca­tion’s po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions ir­re­spec­tive of my con­vic­tions and be­liefs. The other would be to be­come an ad­man be­cause that is the industry fu­el­ing the pub­li­ca­tions’ rev­enue source and is in no way po­lit­i­cally bi­ased so I could be free to op­er­ate. It was a clean way to make money while work­ing in the me­dia industry.

The first op­tion, as was ex­plained to me scared the liv­ing day lights out of me. I felt like be­ing raped and quite frankly, I do not ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing raped, so I en­tered ad­ver­tis­ing!

That is also why, till this day, and be­cause I have al­ways had a pas­sion for this pro­fes­sion, I com­pen­sate and prac­tice it by writ­ing books and ar­ti­cles know­ing that it can never be more than a hobby in this part of the world.

Af­ter every­thing that has come to pass, I can con­fi­dently say I got the best of both worlds, which was by pure luck. The great thing about my exit, was re­vealed to me later af­ter I learned what had hap­pened to the busi­ness. The busi­ness I loved and gave fif­teen years of my life to was based on pas­sion. It was based on peo­ple who adored words, pic­tures, ideas, dar­ing, and bold­ness. To­day, this ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness is only lead by glo­ri­fied ac­coun­tants and no longer has any­thing to do with what I used to en­joy. They are treated like mon­archs who are in­fal­li­ble killing every­thing mean­ing­ful by shift­ing the busi­ness into some­thing I do not recog­nise any­more. Look­ing back, I con­sider my­self lucky to have been part of an industry that was in­spir­ing and if I had not left when I did, I cer­tainly would have for other rea­sons, which is ex­actly why I have no re­grets.

…the tool­box in ad­ver­tis­ing is abused while in con­sul­tancy it is used. ...in­stead of be­ing a phar­ma­cist sell­ing drugs be­hind the counter, I wanted to be the doc­tor writ­ing the pre­scrip­tions.

Ram­say Na­j­jar

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