Walid Kanaan, one of MENA’S most decorated creative directors, takes the lead as CCO at TBWA\RAAD Middle East thereby ramping up the network’s arson aimed at transformative disruption throughout the entire region, and beyond. Arabad talked to the man who is believed to be key in elevating the work to a completely new level and with it, the advertising industry.
Why such a move after having spent so many years at Impact and what led you to that decision, especially at a time when the country is going through a literal slump?
My move was neither limited to time nor connected to the market situation. In fact, during the past 18 years, I enjoyed every single day at Impact/bbdo and cherished the great support from management throughout the good and bad. The Beirut team was superb and during those years, we managed to build a rock solid reputation worthy of a leading network. We experienced glorious times, executed tough assignments and won prestigious awards… and that is exactly when and why I decided it was time to expand my horizons. I wanted a sudden change to shake my comfort zone. I was looking for new challenges that would inject a sense of rejuvenation and I found it in a young dynamic and disruptive network, the network that Steve Jobs selected: TBWA.
What are the advantages inherent to your new office as opposed to the former one?
The Omnicom Group acquired TBWA in 1993 at a time when Omnicom's CEO was previously the CEO of BBDO. This acquisition was celebrated as a welcome addition of a young and dynamic global agency to DDB and BBDO. Although BBDO and TBWA belong to the same holding group, both networks have distinct philosophies. While the former’s central mantra remains “the work, the work, the work”, TBWA has a particular creative philosophy that caught my interest, one captivating word that paves the way to creative excellence: Disruption.
Being in charge of the creative product in a geographically wide market that stretches all the way from Morocco to UAE is one aspect of the challenge. By definition, this is the logistical mission of the chief creative officer. However, the bigger challenge is to implement the creative Disruption philosophy within the entire TBWA\RAAD network, which will ultimately lead to generating landmark campaigns.
With the precious guidance of Ramzi coupled with immense support from Reda, I look forward to working with a great team of young, passionate and talented people, while employing my knowledge and expertise to convert this mantra into solid results.
What factors aided you in winning so many awards, what role did these play and what more are you hoping to achieve?
The undeniable fact is that reputation is the most important asset to any agency or adman. Reputation is acquired through many factors, one of which is winning awards ‘consistently’ because that puts the winners in the spotlight.
However, winning awards is never a goal or an objective, rather a celebration of the outcome pertaining to work translated into a campaign that impacted the market and affected genuine social change.
Win the heart of the audience and the awards will naturally follow.
However as much as award reputation is key, market reputation is even more important especially when it’s based on positive leadership and strong client relationship built on trust, mutual respect and full transparency.
During the first couple of weeks with TBWA\ RAAD, I sensed an immense passion for great work and the creative team’s hunger for disruptive work. I am looking forward to see this translate into remarkable campaigns.
How has the creative director’s role changed and how is this translated in the work?
In essence, the creative director’s role didn’t change, rather developed and evolved to mirror the overall progression of the industry. During the 90s, the creative director was supposed to master few media techniques, a responsibility that today includes controlling the entire integrated aspect of modern communication. In parallel, that same person is still expected to diffuse inspiration and energy into the immediate context, lead and guide the team, fight for the right approach with the client and craft the final work before exposing it to the general public.
What, aside from this move, will be your next accomplishment?
Advertising is one of the most intense and challenging industries in the world. Today, more than ever, with the emergence of social media, digital platforms and technological innovations, creativity will continue to play a crucial role in building brands and making a positive change in today’s consumer behaviours.
With TBWA\ RAAD I am looking forward to leave a mark with new disruptive campaigns that will earn the love of the consumer, the respect of the clients and the acknowledgement of the industry. The bar is high and the competition is growing. Our region is witnessing a creative renaissance on a global scale and TBWA\ RAAD will continue to contribute with a significant share of great work.
I learned, during one of the agency’s management retreats, that TBWA\ RAAD had set the bold objective of becoming the first Arab agency to be named Advertising Age's "International Agency of the Year". This was inspired by the fact that TBWA had managed to achieve such a recognition, even out of Africa back in 1993, when TBWA\ HUNT\ LASCARIS of South Africa won this title. I would love to be the catalyst for the agency to achieve this dream… and then some.
I wanted a sudden change to shake my comfort zone. The bar is high and the competition is growing. Our region is witnessing a creative renaissance on a global scale.
How have things been moving for its. since you launched a year ago?
Waddah Sadek: It’s been great! The clash of cultures between a business driven culture and a totally creative culture was all beneficial; we’re learning from each other and clients are feeling the difference.
After one year, we are confident that we have made the right decision. It hasn’t been easy, but with the proper steps we have taken, we are now ready and able to start planning for the next five years, during which we will be mastering the new trend. Our aim is to work on specialised entities, as we’ve done now with our first entity, called tbsp.
tbsp. is an agency where experiences are created through branding and concept development for hospitality, catering and restaurants businesses; as such, this entity has already been a part of the success of a lot of HORECA businesses in Lebanon.
We plan on launching four new entities; each specialised in its field. Hopefully, all those entities should be active by end of the year.
The traditional agency lines and functions are continuously blurring so, how has the profile of your agency, after the merger, changed and what are you doing differently?
WS: The good thing about starting a company and structure from scratch is that you can easily build it to meet today’s needs as opposed to being
What big brands are slow to understand is that independent and local agencies have, most of the time, better talents than global ones… - Waddah Sadek
established and adapting to the new changes.
We built its. with all the current needs and challenges in mind, making it a hub of creativity with a strategic edge that could cater for all layers of communication, from digital to social or above the line. I don’t think many agencies in the region are as fit or ready to face the future as we are.
Could you point out some of the benefits you and clients are gaining from this merger?
Daniel Georr: Versatility! its. was built and structured with all the current challenges of modern communication in mind. We know that clients could no longer afford to limit their touch points to few traditional areas, and therefore needed to be present in every layer, be it below the line, online, or above the line. But clients are also looking to be directly in touch with their audience, building and creating scenarios, events or activations that create experiences and push their target to interact with them.
In the first interview conducted you said, “Independent agencies have more space today than global ones." Does this mean that your clients’ portfolio is only comprised of SMES and can your agency sustain itself and survive only with such accounts?
WS: When I said independent agencies have more space than global ones, I did not mean that we couldn’t service big accounts. On the contrary, we are more fit for big accounts. Our portfolio is slowly becoming less local, and the only thing that we are suffering from is either global alliances or a lack of understanding of independent agencies. What big brands are slow to understand is that independent and local agencies have, most of the time, better talents than global ones, and their senior people are directly involved in the work. I strongly believe that the coming years are ours and, sooner or later, big agencies will have no choice but to totally change or disappear.
What advantages does an independent agency such as yours have, especially when looking to attract big brands?
WS: We have more services within the same structure. Today, with big agencies, big brands are serviced in a structure that is more like a maze: if you are a big client and are dealing with a multinational agency, you deal with one entity for your advertising, another for media, and still another for digital, etc. It’s not only exhausting and more expensive, but with such structures –no matter how good you are – you lose a lot of quality and consistency in your communication. What is more serious is that there are conflicting interests within the same group, since each head needs to benefit his own P&L; while in independent agencies, all teams and all heads
The industry as a whole is facing huge challenges, with budgets decreasing and competition increasing; but this is bad only if you are not one of the best. -Daniel Georr
are in the same structure, feeding and helping each others’ plans, with of course one touch contact and a common interest to service.
What are the biggest problems you're facing in advertising today and what are some of the challenges you're facing on daily basis?
DG: Advertising, as traditionally defined, is disappearing. Independent agencies are faster to cope with that change, but the biggest challenge remains the clients. Some are early adopters and are changing with us; others think that, today, Facebook can replace all other channels of communication, and they are totally overestimating the power of social media; while others are still not willing to adopt the new ways and need education and some convincing.
On the other hand, the industry as a whole is facing huge challenges, with budgets decreasing and competition increasing; but this is bad only if you are not one of the best.
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