Ge­orge Najm: The chal­lenges for the next year(s) are huge

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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.

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