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Can Saatchi & Saatchi Re­turn to the Lime­light?

Ko­mal Bedi So­hal has re­turned to Dubai as chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai and has a chal­lenge on her hands

Some­times the al­lure of Dubai can prove too strong. So it has proven for Ko­mal Bedi So­hal.

The former ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Y&R Dubai and Lowe MENA has re­turned to the emi­rate af­ter al­most four years in In­dia and Sin­ga­pore, and now finds her­self with a chal­lenge on her hands: how to rein­vig­o­rate an agency that has al­most dis­ap­peared from view?

That agency is Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai.

Bedi So­hal of­fi­cially took over as the agency’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer in Jan­uary, a move that re­united her with chief ex­ec­u­tive Adil Khan, with whom she worked at Y&R for eight years prior to their de­par­tures in 2010. Chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Y&R Sin­ga­pore be­fore re­turn­ing to Dubai, she re­places Richard Cop­ping, who had been ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai since early 2013.

What brought her back?

“A call from my old friend Adil,” says Bedi So­hal with a smile. “I worked with him for 10 years so there’s a lit­tle sense of com­fort there, but also I re­alise that good chem­istry and a great work­ing re­la­tion­ship is nec­es­sary if we are go­ing to achieve things. Plus it’s home, you know. Dubai is home.

“I left Dubai be­cause I wanted to do more di­verse work and to ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent mar­kets; to get out of do­ing what I was do­ing here be­cause af­ter a while it just be­came the same. Your per­spec­tive as a cre­ative changes once you’ve done two dif­fer­ent mar­kets. It’s a crash course in grow­ing up.”

She joins an agency that has, over the course of the past few years, re­treated into rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity. It has failed to con­sis­tently pro­duce great work, has not won a ma­jor new piece of busi­ness in years, and has fallen from many cre­ative’s agency radar. Bedi So­hal’s re­mit, there­fore, is rel­a­tively sim­ple: to pro­duce bet­ter work.

“You know, the most dif­fi­cult part of mov­ing is you have to get your teams sorted again, you have to start un­der­stand­ing the clients. It’s like lit­er­ally hit­ting the re­set but­ton,” she says. “[But] to come here with pre­con­ceived no­tions is a bit silly. So you give it some time, you look at the peo­ple, you give ev­ery­body an op­por­tu­nity, and then some­times peo­ple sur­prise you… and some­times they don’t.

“You said to me ear­lier that you haven’t heard about Saatchi much. I just want to make sure peo­ple here about it a lit­tle bit, you know. Do some cool stuff. Make some noise.”

The team around her will be key. She will be bring­ing in new peo­ple, she ad­mits, but is cagey about pos­si­ble changes within the ex­ist­ing cre­ative teams that worked un­der Cop­ping.

“I think the qual­ity needs to be higher for sure,” she says. “But I’m ex­pected to say that, aren’t I? You have to be tough and I’m not here to win Miss Con­ge­nial­ity. My job is not to be their friend; my job is to make their work bet­ter. My job is to get them to a point where their work makes me look good. And my job is to make them look good. That’s why I say to my guys, ‘when you leave here – and you will, right, at some point – is your book go­ing to be bet­ter than when you came in? If it’s not, then I’ve not done my job and you’ve not done any jus­tice to be­ing here 12 or 14 hours a day’.”

Yet, so far so good. A project that was pitched for on just her sixth day in the of­fice has al­ready been se­cured, while she will be keen to pro­duce a di­verse ar­ray of work that will prove that she is no longer pri­mar­ily as­so­ci­ated with tra­di­tional cam­paigns. At Y&R in par­tic­u­lar – which be­came the most awarded re­gional agency in Cannes his­tory in 2013 and was crowned agency of the year for third year in a row at the Dubai Lynx the same year – the work was al­ways about print and out­door.

“That’s why I went away,” she ad­mits. “I left be­cause I was do­ing that kind of work, and yet there was so much more to learn. Not only was I do­ing tra­di­tional work, I was mostly do­ing fash­ion. So I was do­ing the same thing, whether I was at Y&R or at Lowe. So I said, ok, how do I break this? Let me go to In­dia and work on Tata trucks, which was a great ex­pe­ri­ence by the way. In­dia has real prob­lems and you have to find real so­lu­tions, real quickly.”

As for her pri­or­i­ties, there could well be many, with new busi­ness, an im­prove­ment in the agency’s cre­ative out­put, awards and dig­i­tal all un­doubt­edly fea­tur­ing in her strat­egy for the com­ing 12 months.

“I don’t think any­thing is mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive,” she replies. “You can’t just be about for­tune and not worry about fame. And you can’t just worry about fame with­out wor­ry­ing about for­tune. They go hand-in­hand. You can have all the num­bers, but if you get them by do­ing av­er­age work then there is no juice for a cre­ative per­son. But if it’s all about do­ing award work and no busi­ness… there has to be a bal­ance.”

What has she told her team?

“Just for­get about the past. Don’t think of what the agency was like, but what it’s go­ing to be like. Where do we want to be as an agency two years from now, or one year from now, or if you’re re­ally am­bi­tious, six months from now. Tell me what it is that you’d keep and what it is that you’d change. And what is it that you want to be. I can tell you what I want to be. What I want, I know. Tell me what you want.”

What does she want?

“What ev­ery­body wants. It’s a universal thing. Fame and for­tune. Who doesn’t want that? It’s not ex­clu­sive to any­body. And what you have to do is you have to try your best, and try it with hon­esty and in­tegrity.”

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