George Najm: The challenges for the next year(s) are huge
How would you describe the general atmosphere of business in Lebanon compared to the previous year?
It is no secret, we are not enjoying now the best economic conditions in Lebanon, and the overall outlook doesn’t look rosy either; companies are struggling to create value and ensure its proper management, delivery, and flow. Spinning in the same vicious cycle doesn’t ease things for the industry. When your economy is in a bad shape, you cannot expect a thriving marcom industry, while key corporations are not performing well and that goes down to the lower and smaller level of SMES. What’s slowing the growth of the ad market? When spending immediately decrease, the first to be affected is the advertising sector and other marcom activities, thus presenting the very first obstacle to the market’s growth. The major other factor hindering the business has to do with the overall shape and changing ecosystem of the advertising industry. The old school model of advertising based on traditional creation, production and media, with big spends on impressive cinematographic productions, without omitting the vast allocations of budget going to traditional media (around 75% of worldwide ad budgets, Lebanon is not an exception) has fallen. Now we see all of this drastically and rapidly changing with the lower cost social media sweeping away the traditional industry spends, which budgets are surely shrinking and its figures going down.
Do you still believe Lebanon’s ad market is robust and has great potential to deliver?
The business has way more potential to deliver than it is robust. It has the capabilities to deliver due to the impressive pool of talents Lebanon enjoys, along with highly experienced professionals, and most importantly the “Lebanese advertising touch” that equals the “French” touch in luxury. The market isn’t then as robust and as powerful in delivering, due to the overall economic mood previously stated, and second due to the invasion of the digital wave that is added to the structural problems faced by the Lebanese agencies. What’s the one thing you’d like to see regulated?
It is a big question when you have this load of challenges and obstacles... The one thing ask for the OOH industry in Lebanon to be more regulated. It is a jungle out there! This scene is more organized to be less chaotic and have a more “civilized” business and creative framework, which would impact positively the image of Lebanon as a country, and the Lebanese advertising industry overall look and feel. Also, I dream to see in Lebanon an independent professional organization like the old legendary French BVP (currently renamed ARPP – Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité / the Advertising Professional Regulation Authority), or the UK’S ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), to professionally regulate the content and state their opinion on advertising in a professional (and independent) manner. I strongly believe that such regulatory body’s presence would considerably take the advertising business to another level, pushing Lebanon agencies to be more responsible and have a sense of belonging to this great Lebanese ad scene, prompting our business to produce better campaigns and reduce mediocrity.
What are some of the biggest challenges the ad business will be up against this year?
The challenges for next year(s) are huge! We have to work on our “Lebanese touch” and hone it. The ad community has to work day and night to maintain this unique level of creativity, to make it alive more than ever, because it’s the very core element that the overall industry is built on, insuring ultimately the flow of dollars to agencies. Second, we have to cope with the general changes affecting the traditional ad scene and ecosystem, and adapt to the cut down in media budgets, while living with the new social and digital media realities. Coca Cola was born in the late 19th century, Pepsi followed suit shortly, and the US “Procterian” marketing philosophy and models in the 40s. Since then, we have Marketing as we know it today. Since then, we have been living in this “Procterian” era established by P&G, a model that survived for decades. This has drastically changed today and the changes that took place in the last few years took a century to develop in the old model. We are living in a schizophrenic situation; few agencies are still following the old school, despite the fact that this segment is vanishing quickly, whether we like it or not, while the majority are working to adapt to the new communications reality that will rule for the next 20 years or more.
I strongly believe that a regulatory body like the French ARPP or UK’S ASA would considerably take Lebanon’s ad business to another level
Are you doing anything to broaden your capabilities beyond the core creative or/and media buying services?
We are working as a Communications Group, which expands our capabilities by adding new services such as PR and events management, besides activations, BTL, and other marcom services. Going back to the core, we are adapting our content to be more online-friendly, while updating our media buying policies and strategies through our social media management unit, which recruited more digital experts.
What are the priorities or main key areas of focus your agency has set for itself ?
Our priority as of now, is to consolidate our position as a leading Lebanese independent ad agency, focusing on creativity as a powerhouse, and putting it at the very heart of everything we do. We are also keen on diversifying our skills and covering other fields of expertise, while coping with the new digital changes impacting the industry as a whole.
There is a new wave of marketers who have a very different take on advertising than traditional marketers and prefer doing things in-house. Other marketers prefer using smaller agencies and vendors on a short-term or/and project-by-project basis. In parallel, more and more small entities and startups are cropping up. How this is affecting the business?
In Lebanon we have thousands of people working in graphic design and creative services. However, we all know that the number of professional entities is less considerable—be it small or big agencies. Regardless of the number of businesses that flourish, it is not possible to work with very small firms (or individuals), given that we are going increasingly towards the IMC approach centralizing every marcom aspect under one direction. So I think no matter what small entities can do, I guess this model won’t survive on the long run, giving place for a natural selection process whereby only the strongest and the fittest remains.
Georges Najm Partner & Director of advertising agency Clementine and sister company Noise PR provides his personal assessment of the Lebanese ad business and shares ideas that will help regulate the industry.