INDUSTRY MOURNS MARK LEWIS
Tributes have poured in for Mark Lewis, executive creative director at MullenLowe MENA, who passed away suddenly last week.
Shocked industry players reacted to news of his death with disbelief, posting condolences on social media and questioning the suddenness of his passing.
“The most committed, loyal, positive, pure person I have ever met. We have been one for almost 10 years,” said Mounir Harfouche, chief executive for the Middle East and North Africa at MullenLowe. “Mark’s mind and soul are both so engaging, so giving, you feel like you lost a huge part of you when he is not around. It hurts to lose him. I will miss his much needed hugs, that used to fill me up with positive energy and pure love, every time I needed it. His last statement was: ‘I’m the prisoner of paradise.’ I tell him, we might be the ‘prisoners of hell’.”
Lewis, who was 42 and was from Wales, had been with MullenLowe for nine years, having joined as a creative director in 2007. He had previously worked at agencies in London before moving to Asia, where he led one of Indonesia’s leading branding and advertising agencies, Oxygen, to the title of boutique agency of the year.
“Mark was a real passionate ad guy who believed in ‘working hard’ more than anyone I know,” said Sasan Saeidi, managing director of FP7 UAE, a sister agency of MullenLowe. “He was full of energy and had a wit that only he can carry. I never saw Mark without a smile on his face and he has left a very big empty space in all our hearts. You went too soon sir. I miss you.”
“2016 has already claimed too many great talents, filling our Facebook walls and tweets with grieving tributes. But when it comes to one of our own it cuts much deeper,” said Ali Azarmi, managing partner at Joy Films, who had known Lewis for seven years and had worked with him on a number of projects. “The loss of Mark Lewis is a devastating shock which will take a while to sink in. The lovable Welshman with his iconic beard and distinctive laugh was a man of rare integrity and always shy of attention. I can see his face turning red reading all the tributes and adorations. A refreshing contrast to all the self-glorifying fame seekers. There was nothing pretentious about Mark and that was obvious to anyone who can recognise decency. A leader with genuine values who always put everyone above himself. In our memories he will always be alive.”
It is understood that Lewis had been battling depression and had recently moved back to the United Kingdom.
“If you start as a wire basket manufacturer 25 years ago with two people in one room and your objective in your lifetime is to build a major advertising and marketing services company, you have to do it primarily by acquisition otherwise you’d be dead before you got very far,” said Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief executive, a few years ago. Having built WPP through a strategic combination of acquisitions and organic growth to become the world’s largest advertising company, he should know what he’s talking about.
Yet, organic growth is hard to come by in times of hardship. No one needs reminding that the Middle East faces a double whammy of political and economic upheaval. Which is why 2016 looks set to become the year of acquisitions in the Middle East and North Africa. At least, if the news so far is anything to go by.
Already we have seen M&C Saatchi expand its regional footprint with the acquisition of Expression, while Serviceplan Middle East has purchased Espresso. Now Dentsu Aegis Network has announced the acquisition of Digital Republic, one of the largest and most awarded independent creative and fullservice digital agencies in Egypt. Sometimes it’s easy to spot a trend.
More will follow. In a testing economic climate acquisition is the quickest route to growth. It is also one of the riskiest. Yet that does not appear to be deterring Dentsu Aegis Network. So far this year it has already bought agencies in Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, China and the United Kingdom. There may be more. I may have lost count.
What’s clear is that the network means business and that all that talk of Iran, and expansion and growth, has substance plus financial backing. It’s also refreshing to see agencies put their money where their mouth is.
It will be interesting to see how other agencies react. Will there be an acquisitions arms race? Is one already underway? Will those independents worth buying opt to cash in their chips?
The bigger businesses get, the more difficult they are to manage. With the stakes high, ad spends shrinking, and competition hotting up, we could well be entering an interesting phase of expansionary politics and agency manoeuvring.
Everyone has a Mark Lewis story. Like the time he threatened to throw me into the pool at the Media One hotel or when he challenged me to a duel outside Trilogy. It was past three in the morning and we’d been ushered out of the Dubai Lynx after -party with a handful of other stragglers. I always hid behind the pen, he said, suggesting we should settle our differences like men. I never did really know whether he was joking or not.
At Peter Bidenko’s leaving party, he etched a black cross into my eye. He was always in the Belgian Beer Cafe. I think that was the last place I saw him. I never thought I’d miss him, but I do.
The bigger businesses get, the more difficult they are to manage. With the stakes high, adspend shrinking, and competition hotting up, we could well be entering an interesting phase of expansionary politics and agency manoeuvring.