Walid Kanaan:

High Hopes

ArabAd - - CONTENTS -

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.

Wel­come to TBWA Dubai

A part­ing gift of lessons learned.

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