“WE ARE RE­DEFIN­ING OUR­SELVES”

AD­VER­TIS­ING PER­SON OF THE YEAR PIERRE CHOUEIRI I S KEEP­ING ON TOP OF THE MAR­KET.

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T he 2017 Dubai Lynx Ad­ver­tis­ing Per­son of the Year says his ac­co­lade re­flects a part­ner­ship. “I’m re­ally proud to say that although I re­ceived the Ad­ver­tis­ing Man of the Year my­self, this award is for my me­dia part­ners,” Pierre Choueiri tells Cam­paign. “This is a recog­ni­tion of their suc­cess, and def­i­nitely for my team, be­cause I have a dream team.”

The chair­man and CEO of the Choueiri Group says that when he speaks of his me­dia part­ners, he is not just talk­ing con­tracts: “They are part­ners in the full mean­ing of part­ner­ship with the me­dia own­ers.”

Th­ese own­ers in­clude MBC, the re­gion’s largest tele­vi­sion net­work. The Choueiri Group rep­re­sents MBC and many other me­dia own­ers, sell­ing their ad­ver­tis­ing space to clients through me­dia agen­cies. MBC is not the only big player to be rep­re­sented by the Group. The com­pany also rep­re­sents Al Bayan and Emarat Al Youm news­pa­pers and Al Ara­biya news chan­nel, among many other big names across a range of me­dia.

Choueiri says he works with the best. “The only me­dia that we rep­re­sent are ei­ther Num­ber One or have the po­ten­tial to be­come Num­ber One in their field,” he says. “If you rep­re­sent the best me­dia, if you give them peace of mind that their cam­paign will suc­ceed as per their re­quire­ments, why would they go else­where? No im­por­tant me­dia is still out­side the Group.”

If any new me­dia own­ers en­ter the mar­ket, he says, there are bound to be con­ver­sa­tions within six months about rep­re­sen­ta­tion with Choueiri Group.

Be­ing at the top of the pile doesn’t mean ei­ther the com­pany or its leader can be com­pla­cent, though. “There is one recipe,” says Choueiri. “The one who is on top of the pyra­mid – which is me – should go back to school and say ‘I want to learn’. When you start with your­self, then ev­ery­thing else be­comes easy.”

The Choueiri Group it­self is con­stantly learn­ing as the in­dus­try evolves. “We are re­defin­ing our­selves,” says the CEO. “I will not use the word ‘rein­vent­ing’, as that is not true. We are re­defin­ing our­selves be­cause, with all the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional chal­lenges you have to re­de­fine your­self in or­der to be up to speed with what­ever is around us in the world.”

The me­dia in­dus­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “tricky” years, he says. 2016 saw a 15 per cent drop in ad­ver­tis­ing spend from 2015, and Choueiri ex­pects 2017 to drop by about the same amount. The de­cline will con­tinue un­til the second half of 2018, when eco­nomic moves taken by Saudi Ara­bia and other GCC coun­tries – such as cut­ting sub­si­dies, stream­lin­ing govern­ment and re­duc­ing re­liance on oil rev­enues – will be­gin to kick in.

The cur­rent de­cline is not uni­ver­sal across all me­dia. “TV is slightly drop­ping,” says Choueiri. “Print is the big­gest loser; it is in freefall. Out­door and ra­dio – give and take – are main­tain­ing their spend. And then dig­i­tal space is the only me­dia that is in­creas­ing.”

It was in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a growth in dig­i­tal that Choueiri Group launched Dig­i­tal Me­dia Ser­vices (DMS), its dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tion arm.

“I can proudly say that five years af­ter we put the plan in place in 2011, DMS is up to target,” says Choueiri. “It is the third player in the MENA re­gion, af­ter Google and Face­book, and the dif­fer­ence be­tween DMS’s port­fo­lio and Face­book is re­ally min­i­mal.” DMS has also be­come the first dig­i­tal net­work in the re­gion (in­clud­ing Google and Face­book) to be au­dited by MOAT. The US-based an­a­lyt­ics com­pany is ac­cred­ited by the Me­dia Rat­ings Coun­cil. Last month it signed a part­ner­ship in the re­gion aimed at of­fer­ing more trans­parency to Choueiri Group’s ad­ver­tis­ers.

This is nec­es­sary in a ma­tur­ing dig­i­tal mar­ket. “Now the mar­ket, I would say, has started to reg­u­late it­self and put down some guide­lines for the dig­i­tal world in or­der to frame the busi­ness,” says Choueiri. “You can­not keep a new of­fer­ing in a mar­ket as a loose canon; no one will ac­cept it.” The pace of dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ment is now slow­ing as reg­u­la­tion comes in and clients de­mand more trans­parency.

DMS was launched in an­tic­i­pa­tion of changes in the in­dus­try. “We an­tic­i­pated that dig­i­tal will take part of the TV busi­ness,” says Choueiri. “It should. It’s nor­mal. And it’s video. When dig­i­tal started it used to be about ban­ners, but we an­tic­i­pated that video is king, that con­tent is king and this is what will pre­vail. We were right in our think­ing, and a lot of the changes we an­tic­i­pated were im­ple­mented by the me­dia own­ers.” For ex­am­ple, MBC launched Shahid, a video-on-de­mand plat­form, in Au­gust 2011.

“We an­tic­i­pated, along with [the me­dia own­ers], that the mar­ket will change,” he says. “In­stead of stay­ing closed up in our cas­tle, not think­ing or look­ing out­side, we saw what was hap­pen­ing, we started im­ple­men­ta­tion and now I’m proud to say that yes, we might be los­ing from one side, but we are gain­ing back from the other side.”

Choueiri Group’s fo­cus is on video, says the chair­man: “We be­lieve that peo­ple will al­ways con­sume con­tent or video, be it through dig­i­tal means or a satel­lite feed or ca­ble or what­ever means.”

He re­peats the mantra that con­tent is king. “We be­lieve that peo­ple will al­ways con­sume con­tent, be it short­form, long-form, or what­ever the form of that con­tent is. That is the fo­cus of the group.”

“The change that we are notic­ing from the client side is that they used to ad­ver­tise in a cer­tain man­ner, but now they have more of­fer­ings avail­able so they want to use ev­ery­thing to max­imise their de­liv­er­ies on the same dol­lar that they are in­vest­ing.”

Dig­i­tal alone is not enough, he main­tains. Nor is tra­di­tional, nondig­i­tal me­dia alone.

“What is im­por­tant about DMS is the area of of­fer­ing that we have man­aged to es­tab­lish,” he says. “Any prod­uct that a client would like to have in or­der for his cam­paign to suc­ceed is avail­able, along with tra­di­tional me­dia.”

We should not fool our­selves by say­ing dig­i­tal will spell the end for tra­di­tional me­dia. “In the re­gion and the whole world, tra­di­tional me­dia is the most im­por­tant ve­hi­cle for a cam­paign to suc­ceed,” he says. “We should not fool our­selves and say that with­out dig­i­tal we are gone. No, it’s an­other medium, it’s an­other sup­port medium to the tra­di­tional me­dia.”

The me­dia mar­ket is fac­ing a “new re­al­ity,” though, and it has been chang­ing for the past five years or so, driven by tech­nol­ogy. “Our in­dus­try is mu­tat­ing, it is chang­ing. The base is still the same, but you have to cope with new tech­nolo­gies.”

That base is that clients are still look­ing for the same re­turns on in­vest­ment and the same de­liv­er­ables, but now they have more op­tions. This means that clients can bet­ter target their ad­ver­tis­ing and will tol­er­ate less wastage.

“The change that we are notic­ing from the client side is that they used to ad­ver­tise in a cer­tain man­ner, but now they have more of­fer­ings avail­able so they want to use ev­ery­thing to max­imise their de­liv­er­ies on the same dol­lar that they are in­vest­ing.”

It is fair that they should be­come more de­mand­ing, he says. “It is their right, so in or­der to stay on top of your game you should be of­fer­ing them what­ever they need. Sim­ple.”

And the Mid­dle East me­dia mar­ket in gen­eral has been be­com­ing more ma­ture since ad­ver­tis­ers be­gan chang­ing their busi­ness mod­els in 2014-15. “Clients, be they multi­na­tional or re­gional, are re­defin­ing them­selves in the re­gion,” he says. “It used to be a high-growth re­gion, and nowa­days it’s be­com­ing a ma­ture re­gion.”

The mu­ta­tion of the mar­ket will con­tinue for at least five years, driven by tech­nol­ogy. Choueiri says he can’t pre­dict what the next ad­vance will be. “I wish I knew,” he says. “But when it comes I will make sure we will be on top of it.”

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