STEVE PARKER, CEO, Publi­cis Me­dia Mid­dle East

As Steve Parker takes up the reins as CEO of Publi­cis Me­dia Mid­dle East he talks to Eleanor Dickinson about cre­at­ing har­mony and simplicity

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

“The cli­mate is chal­leng­ing and this stems from a global per­spec­tive The chal­lenge is un­cer­tainty. You saw that in the UK with Brexit, you saw what hap­pened with the pound; peo­ple don’t like un­cer­tainty. So clients make de­ci­sions early on to make their bud­gets, cut and then rein­vest.”

“We’ve got am­bi­tion and ca­pa­bil­ity growth and an ag­gres­sive new busi­ness pipeline,” says Steve Parker from a desk on which a pic­ture of two young chil­dren takes pride of place. Sur­pris­ingly strong words for a man whose pri­mary con­cern when con­sid­er­ing global re­lo­ca­tion was whether his mother could fly over five times a year. Yet when the recorder switches on, the smil­ing fam­ily man steps aside and out comes Steve Parker, the CEO of Publi­cis Me­dia Mid­dle East – a man with eights mar­kets, 600 peo­ple and a tidal wave of change to over­see.

Sit­ting at the desk formerly oc­cu­pied by Star­com Me­di­avest Group (SMG) CEO John An­to­ni­ades – who has re­turned to work in the group’s Lon­don hub – Parker is cer­tainly no stranger to big upheaval. First as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and then CEO of SMG Lon­don, it fell to him to ac­cel­er­ate the group’s en­try into the dig­i­tal age, a task that has fol­lowed him to the Mid­dle East. Ma­jor ar­eas such as e-com­merce and con­tent mar­ket­ing are ‘gaps’ al­ready iden­ti­fied by Parker as re­quir­ing some ‘ac­cel­er­a­tion’.

At the same time, Publics Groupe’s global re­struc­ture has seen the dis­in­te­gra­tion of Star­com Me­di­avest and Zenith Op­ti­me­dia into Star­com, Zenith, Me­di­avest Spark and Op­ti­me­dia Blue 449. These ‘har­mon­i­sa­tion’ ef­forts are now well un­der way in the MENA re­gion and a lot of peo­ple are get­ting new jobs. One is former Zenith Op­ti­me­dia CEO Fi­ras El Zein, who is be­com­ing CEO for Zenith, while Tarek Daouk, former Me­di­avest man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, will be­come Star­com’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. The two other brands’ lead­ers are still to be an­nounced. Mean­while Ali Nehme, formerly man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the now con­sol­i­dated con­tent unit Liq­uidThread, has been pro­moted to head of strategy.

The other small agen­cies, Ni­nah and MRY are to also be in­te­grated and their ca­pa­bil­i­ties (mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy and dig­i­tal, re­spec­tively) dis­trib­uted through Publi­cis Me­dia as a whole, with each di­vi­sion lead by its own head. The one ex­cep­tion to this is search-mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion Per­formics, which will keep its own iden­tity.

The idea un­der­pin­ning all this is Publi­cis Groupe CEO Mau­rice Levy’s vi­sion to har­ness the brands as ‘the power of one’. But will they all work in har­mony to­gether – es­pe­cially when at present the agen­cies are scat­tered across sev­eral of­fices?

Us­ing con­tent as an ex­am­ple, Parker says: “As op­posed to hav­ing an out­ly­ing con­tent di­vi­sion (of course there’s Leo Bur­nett and great cre­ative busi­nesses – we work bril­liantly with them), we have the op­por­tu­nity to embed the ca­pa­bil­ity fur­ther within our busi­ness and that’s what we had in the past. Linked to a chal­leng­ing eco­nomic cli­mate, clients want com­mu­ni­ca­tion in its broad­est sense and it is amaz­ingly ex­cit­ing. But it’s re­ally com­plex and if we want to bring growth for clients in chal­leng­ing times then we have to give them simplicity.

“That’s why you need in-house busi­ness and not some­one sat over there. You want more peo­ple who can con­nect and in­te­grate, and who clients know. And that’s why dy­namic con­tent will sit in our con­tent di­vi­sion and will spend time with our client teams all the time. It feels nat­u­ral.”

Parker is the first to ad­mit that he has ar­rived at a tough time, with low oil prices con­tin­u­ing to hit the re­gional econ­omy hard, and send­ing ad­spend plum­met­ing as a re­sult. “The cli­mate is chal­leng­ing and this stems from a global per­spec­tive,” he says. “The chal­lenge is un­cer­tainty. You saw that in the UK with Brexit, you saw what hap­pened with the pound; peo­ple don’t like un­cer­tainty.

“Then you have re­gional chal­lenges here: the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity and the global chal­lenges around oil. So clients make de­ci­sions early on to make their bud­gets, cut and then rein­vest. We’re def­i­nitely see­ing that and we are see­ing some up­turn in some ar­eas, but there’s no doubt that we, like ev­ery other mar­ket­ing-re­lated busi­ness are see­ing some chal­lenges to in­vest­ment.

“The op­por­tu­nity for me as a fresh set of eyes is how I look at mak­ing things more ef­fec­tive and more ef­fi­cient. ‘Ef­fec­tive’ is our lifeblood: how I add more value to a client’s busi­ness. I’ve seen it work here; when you bring things to­gether, ev­ery­thing gets bet­ter.”

Parker may be fresh off the plane, but he is no stranger to the Mid­dle East. His ten­ure at SMG Lon­don brought him fre­quently into con­tact with An­to­ni­ades and Alex Saber, formerly chair­man of the now dis­solved Vi­vaKi MENA, who will now serve as chair of Publi­cis Me­dia to Parker’s CEO. So how will Parker and Saber will work to­gether? And who will be the one re­ally call­ing the shots?

“I don’t think it will be about fi­nal say”, says Parker diplo­mat­i­cally. “Ul­ti­mately the P&L [profit and loss] re­ports into me, so I don’t think it ever has been or ever will be a ques­tion of who has fi­nal say. I know the value Alex has be­cause he knows the mar­ket re­ally well; his cul­tural radar is re­ally strong. I don’t have that so I’m learn­ing all the time. And he wants the fresh set of eyes I have from Lon­don, which is re­ally amaz­ing for me.

“We’ve been to a cou­ple of client meet­ings and it feels like a nat­u­ral dou­ble-team. [Saber] can go into spe­cific de­tail about the re­gion or that mar­ket and I can add my am­bi­tion and the re­al­ity around this di­rec­tion, this dig­i­tal chan­nel, if the meet­ing is about that. I haven’t just turned up and said ‘Day One’; we’ve been on this jour­ney since the start.”

Hav­ing worked to­gether a lot in the past, are the two al­ready friends, or might too many cooks spoil the broth in the top ranks of Publi­cis Me­dia MENA? Ever tact­ful, Parker says: “It’s dif­fi­cult to say whether we’re friends, be­cause Alex would have to re­cip­ro­cate. But we get on re­ally well, we have a re­ally good re­la­tion­ship. Ev­ery suc­cess­ful busi­ness has a chair­man and a CEO and to be hon­est I would not feel com­fort­able without a chair­man be­cause you need that ad­vice; you need that sup­port from the wider ex­ec­u­tive route. I’m a team per­son and I need some­one to bounce ideas off. I’m very happy mak­ing an in­formed de­ci­sion, but I’d rather make a clear de­ci­sion with peo­ple above me, be­low me, around me.

“We’re a re­ally com­plex busi­ness and I think it would be a re­ally big job for a CEO, even one with more ex­pe­ri­ence than me, to run this re­gion. So I think any­one in my role would feel bet­ter hav­ing a trusted per­son with sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence to sup­port them.”

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