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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.

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