Filip Jab­bour talks about his new role as GroupM’s first ever MENA CEO

Filip Jab­bour, the first ever CEO of GroupM in the re­gion, talks to Iain Ak­er­man about col­lab­o­ra­tion, ef­fi­ciency and the lever­ag­ing of scale

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

“I al­most feel that I’m go­ing to be in de­vel­op­ment mode for the next five to seven years. There’s so much to do. And then the key thing is re­ally pri­ori­ti­sa­tion. To be able to iden­tify what are the things that we need to do first.”

The last time Filip Jab­bour and I met we were sit­ting at the bar in the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Mzaar in Le­banon. He was still with Star­com, it was around 4am, it was cold and it was loud. “I was pre­par­ing for the cold and snow of Chicago,” he says with a laugh, hav­ing re­turned to the re­gion from the United States af­ter an ab­sence of three years to head up GroupM.

When we speak, Jab­bour has a tem­po­rary desk in Me­di­aCom’s of­fices in Busi­ness Cen­tral Tow­ers in Dubai. It is to him that re­spon­si­bil­ity for GroupM has been handed, with his re­turn to the Mid­dle East tak­ing place in June. As the re­gion’s first ever chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of WPP’s GroupM, the for­mer CEO of Star­com Me­di­aVest Group MENA is now re­spon­si­ble for lead­ing the me­dia hold­ing group’s op­er­a­tions and driv­ing growth in the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

It’s a big role but one that Jab­bour has grabbed firmly. Through its con­stituent agen­cies – Me­di­aCom, Mind­share, MEC and Maxus – GroupM has billings of $2.7 bil­lion and 28.6 per cent mar­ket share, ac­cord­ing to RECMA. Jab­bour is tasked

with lever­ag­ing GroupM’s scale and ac­cel­er­at­ing the de­vel­op­ment of its me­dia agency of­fer­ings. The fo­cus will be on de­vel­op­ments in dig­i­tal, tech­nol­ogy and data man­age­ment, as well as part­ner­ships with me­dia, en­ter­tain­ment and sports rights own­ers to cre­ate ad­di­tional value and drive ad­van­tages for clients.

“I think for any move a lot of things fall in the right place at the right time,” says Jab­bour, who re­ports di­rectly to Do­minic Grainger, CEO of GroupM Europe, Mid­dle East and North Africa. “Some per­sonal and some pro­fes­sional. The op­por­tu­nity is ob­vi­ously very big, very ex­cit­ing and chal­leng­ing, and it is a mar­ket that I’ve spent 18 years in at the end of the day. GroupM and my role is some­thing that is new to the mar­ket and, in a way, unique. Four very dis­tinct and suc­cess­ful agen­cies are com­ing to­gether and find­ing a way to ac­cel­er­ate growth. To me that was re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

With no pre­de­ces­sor, there are also no shoes to fill and ar­guably no bench­marks of suc­cess to be mea­sured against. “And only my­self to blame,” he says with a laugh. “The group men­tal­ity and mind­set is new to the re­gion. I do re­alise that the agen­cies – de­spite be­ing some­what in­de­pen­dent in the past – had some col­lab­o­ra­tive el­e­ments to them. But this is a new dy­namic that has the full sup­port of our global net- work and the Mid­dle East it­self is such an in­ter­est­ing re­gion with lots of po­ten­tial. We also have all of the learn­ings from other re­gions where GroupM op­er­ates, so we can try and min­imise the de­vel­op­ment pe­riod and try to achieve ob­jec­tives across the dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“I al­most feel that I’m go­ing to be in de­vel­op­ment mode for the next five to seven years. There’s so much to do. And then the key thing is re­ally pri­ori­ti­sa­tion. To be able to iden­tify what are the things that we need to do first. Ev­ery­thing even­tu­ally is meant to add value to our agency clients but some things need to be de­vel­oped or are pre­req­ui­sites for oth­ers to be able to fol­low.”

SUCH AS?

“Well, mak­ing sure that we prop­erly un­der­stand the po­ten­tial im­pact and op­por­tu­ni­ties in each of the mar­kets. My mind is work­ing at warp speed about all the po­ten­tials and ev­ery­thing that we need to do. There are so many in­ter­est­ing buzz­words but I just have to step back and iden­tify the ar­eas that we could ef­fec­tively scale while we’re build­ing the tech­nolo­gies and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. But also be able to iden­tify the set-ups that we have across dif­fer­ent mar­kets to make sure that the of­fer­ing that we pro­vide – es­pe­cially for re­gional clients and our key lo­cal clients – is con­sis­tent.

“In­ter­nally, I would love us to be able to ef­fec­tively cham­pion all of the learn­ings and all of the ideas no mat­ter where they em­anate from. And crit­i­cally, never lose sight of the fact that each agency will need to main­tain its unique and com­pet­i­tive edge – what made them what they are and what they’re go­ing to be. And as far as the group is con­cerned – and the group ap­proach is con­cerned – GroupM is meant to fa­cil­i­tate and pro­vide so­lu­tions, prod­ucts and ser­vices to make the agency brands pros­per and grow as fast as pos­si­ble while they’re tak­ing care of their clients’ busi­nesses.”

The main con­cern raised by the ar­rival of GroupM has cen­tred around size. Could the scale of GroupM – it ac­counts for around 30 per cent of world­wide me­dia buy­ing – mean that its ne­go­ti­at­ing clout with me­dia own­ers could be con­strued as over­pow­er­ing and lit­tle more than bul­ly­ing? Its for­mal ar­rival in the re­gion will have, without doubt, trig­gered ner­vous twitches among pub­lish­ers and broad­cast­ers. Be­cause with size comes scale, and with scale comes the abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate more com­pet­i­tive ad­ver­tis­ing rates for clients. As Ni­co­las Roux, re­gional head of new busi­ness at Me­di­aCom, said in May: “Scale is in­deed power in the me­dia world and with the ad­vent of GroupM in MENA it will mean that the four WPP me­dia agen­cies have a sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased im­pact when it comes to ne­go­ti­a­tion and pre­mium in­ven­tory.”

“If you go by all of the talk and the com­ments made since this was an­nounced you would think that this was all it was about,” says Jab­bour, who most re­cently was ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and manag­ing di­rec­tor at Spark in the US, and global busi­ness de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor for Star­com Me­di­aVest Group. “But GroupM is so much more than that. Sure, we need to lever­age our po­si­tion in the mar­ket as best as we can but GroupM is so much more than just about trad­ing. And even within trad­ing, it’s so much more than adding four num­bers to­gether and sit­ting across the ta­ble from a ven­dor and us­ing that as lever­age.

“For ex­am­ple, there’s the ap­pli­ca­tion of new trad­ing mod­els. With the evo­lu­tion of dig­i­tal comes a whole level of new so­phis­ti­ca­tion. The group lever­ages a lot of tech­nol­ogy and data man­age­ment plat­forms to bring so­lu­tions to clients, so if you look at it there’s an op­por­tu­nity for new prod­ucts and ser­vices that we can of­fer, while def­i­nitely be­ing able to iden­tify ar­eas of ef­fi­cien­cies in terms of how we man­age our op­er­a­tions or our ser­vices. Be­cause wher­ever we can gen­er­ate that kind of scale we will use it for rein­vest­ment into ca­pa­bil­i­ties, new learn­ings, data re­search, an­a­lyt­ics, pro­gram­matic. I mean, there’s still a big white space of growth where the re­gion is and you can ap­pre­ci­ate how much growth and po­ten­tial the mar­ket has, let alone just for our agen­cies.”

YOU MEN­TION OB­JEC­TIVES AND OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES. WHAT ARE THEY?

“Short of telling you what my top se­cret plans are, there are cer­tain el­e­ments that are a given; in terms of iden­ti­fy­ing the in­ter­nal fi­nan­cial and tal­ent re­lated man­age­ment op­er­a­tions and iden­ti­fy­ing how best to find the most strate­gic – as well as op­er­a­tionally ef­fi­cient – way of manag­ing that. Clearly lever­ag­ing the scale that we have in the mar­ket go­ing for­ward in terms of bring­ing added value to our com­mer­cial of­fer­ing. We’ve al­ready – even be­fore I came into the mar­ket – launched Xaxis and Light Re­ac­tion, our pro­gram­matic so­lu­tions to our ad­ver­tis­ers, and GroupM Con­nect is to be launched for all real-time and bid­dable me­dia. Not to men­tion our data man­age­ment strat­egy. These are some of the ini­tial ar­eas that we will fo­cus on.”

WILL A SEARCH FOR EF­FI­CIEN­CIES LEAD TO THE RE­STRUC­TUR­ING OF AGEN­CIES OR RE­DUN­DAN­CIES?

“It’s too early to tell but we will look at things from an op­er­a­tional per­spec­tive. What will never change is the in­de­pen­dence and the unique­ness of each of those four agency brands. Those four agency brands were al­ways part of GroupM, ir­re­spec­tive of hav­ing the GroupM logo here in the re­gion. That will al­ways be the case. At the end of the day, the tal­ent and the ca­pa­bil­i­ties that go along with that client-fac­ing func­tion will con­tinue to be served that way. From the group, we try to iden­tify tech­nol­ogy and an­a­lytic dash­boards to be able to pro­vide ser­vices and so­lu­tions that the agen­cies can then ap­ply ei­ther to their op­er­a­tion – in terms of be­ing able to scale and man­age their op­er­a­tion more ef­fec­tively or to in­tro­duce new prod­ucts and new ser­vices to their clients. They will al­ways be through the agency. So GroupM, al­though it is con­sid­ered a par­ent com­pany, is also a big con­trib­u­tor to a lot of the op­er­a­tions that the agen­cies take on to clients’ busi­nesses. Whether it’s from a trad­ing per­spec­tive – in terms of con­sol­i­dat­ing the vol­ume – whether it’s in terms of in­no­va­tive first-to-mar­ket so­lu­tions, whether it’s in terms of the tech­nolo­gies and the ac­qui­si­tion of so­lu­tions or through an­a­lyt­ics and mar­ket in­sight that the agen­cies will use to im­prove a client’s po­si­tion and help bring value to their busi­nesses.”

WHAT ABOUT THE FOUR IN­DI­VID­UAL AGEN­CIES? ARE THERE ANY PROB­LEMS BE­TWEEN THEM AND THE NEW RE­AL­ITY OF GROUPM?

“Look, this did not hap­pen overnight. The plan has been put in mo­tion for quite some time and all of the stake­hold­ers, whether re­gional or global, are fully sup­port­ing this. It’s par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing now we’re go­ing through the plan­ning process be­cause this is the first time we’re ap­proach­ing next year’s plan­ning from a group per­spec­tive and ev­ery­body re­alises the im­pact and the po­ten­tial of the group.

“Ev­ery­thing about the group is fo­cussed on a col­lab­o­ra­tive cul­ture. The GroupM man­date is the GroupM man­date. There is a wide spec­trum of set-ups in the re­gion but even­tu­ally you have to adapt it or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally and strate­gi­cally to the mar­ket dy­nam­ics. What makes it in­ter­est­ing here – and unique and chal­leng­ing – is that most other in­ter­na­tional mar­kets or sub-re­gions don’t have such a mul­ti­tude of mar­kets and, de­spite the fact that there are some syn­er­gies, there’s so much dif­fer­ence. Whether it’s cul­tur­ally, in­fra­struc­ture wise, whether it’s scale wise or the de­vel­op­ment or the avail­abil­ity of each of the four agency net­works in each mar­ket. So that al­most adds an ex­po­nen­tial layer of... an in­ter­est­ing list of things to tackle, let’s put it that way.”

GroupM is so much more than just about trad­ing. And even within trad­ing, it’s so much more than adding four num­bers to­gether and sit­ting across the ta­ble from a ven­dor and us­ing that as lever­age.

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