Reda Raad: it’s al­ways about the cre­ative prod­uct

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - - I.A.

TBWA\RAAD is an agency at the top of its game. Reda Raad, the agency’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, talks Cannes, dis­rup­tion and data-led cre­ativ­ity.

“It’s been a good year for the agency so far,” says Reda Raad, chief ex­ec­u­tive of TBWA\RAAD. As un­der­state­ments go, this one’s up there.

In Jan­uary it was ranked among the top 10 ‘bravest and best agen­cies on the planet’ by Con­ta­gious mag­a­zine. In March it was crowned both agency and net­work of the year at the Dubai Lynx for the first time in its his­tory. In June it picked up six lions at Cannes, in­clud­ing two golds. If 2018 isn’t TBWA\RAAD’S year, then what kind of year would be?

All of which has been com­ple­mented by a suc­ces­sion of new busi­ness wins. Six on the bounce in fact, in­clud­ing du, Ca­reem and Mai Dubai, prov­ing that growth and industry ac­co­lades can walk hand-in-hand.

For some, this is a strange place to be. TBWA\RAAD, al­though rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful in the past, has never at­tained the level of pre-emi­nence it now en­joys. It has reached un­prece­dented new heights, not only in terms of recog­ni­tion and awards, but in terms of new busi­ness, growth and out­look. For the ca­sual observer this might be ex­plained by fate and luck, but it is in fact the end re­sult of years of some­times painful trans­for­ma­tion.

“None of this has been easy,” ad­mits Raad, who is sit­ting in his of­fice in Emaar Square. There’s a base­ball bat from global on the ta­ble in front of him (it’s all about the home runs) and a big cud­dly toy in the shape of a lion from OMD. On the wall hang var­i­ous im­ages, one of which shows the team cel­e­brat­ing its agency of the year ti­tle at the Dubai Lynx.

“Some of the de­ci­sions we have made over the past three years have been tough but, as you can see, they are pay­ing off,” he says. “We’ve ad­justed our struc­ture, be­come more con­sol­i­dated, more in­te­grated, more fit-for-pur­pose. In a way we have dis­rupted our­selves. We’ve prac­ticed what we preach.”

Over the course of the past few years the agency has been busy knock­ing down si­los, fold­ing DAN and In­te­ger into the mother agency and into one sin­gle P&L. It has also hired data di­rec­tors and data an­a­lysts, brought in new skill sets such as mo­tion de­sign­ers, scriptwrit­ers and so­cial di­rec­tors, and changed its man­age­ment team. In­te­gra­tion, data and con­tent are the key pil­lars of the agency go­ing for­ward.

It has also taken its dis­rup­tion ethos to the next level, cre­at­ing Dis­rup­tion Live, which iden­ti­fies trig­gers in cul­ture that are mean­ing­ful to its clients’ brands. Trig­gers that are in­ter­preted in real time and acted upon im­me­di­ately.

“When­ever you’re chang­ing and hav­ing to let peo­ple go is al­ways painful,” ad­mits Raad. “They’re part of your or­gan­i­sa­tion, part of your fam­ily. It’s hard. But you’ve got to think of the type of peo­ple you’re em­ploy­ing and the at­ti­tude and the skillsets that you need. We wanted to be­come an in­no­va­tive agency that’s pow­ered by dis­rup­tion and data, and that takes hard but nec­es­sary de­ci­sions.

“Plus there’s al­ways that self-doubt that comes with any trans­for­ma­tion story or any sort of re-en­gi­neer­ing. But as a leader you’ve got to take it all in, in­ter­nalise it, and have this out­ward pos­ture of op­ti­mism and con­fi­dence be­cause you have to rally the troops around you.

“For a while, af­ter you’ve put in the build­ing blocks and you ex­pect things to hap­pen, they don’t. So you’ve got to course-cor­rect, you’ve got to fix this, you’ve got to fix that. It was a case of us hav­ing to un­learn old ways and re­learn a more col­lab­o­ra­tive, more open, more data-driven way of do­ing things. And you’ve got to sur­round your­self with

Some of the de­ci­sions we have made over the past three years have been tough but, as you can see, they are pay­ing off. We’ve ad­justed our struc­ture, be­come more con­sol­i­dated, more LQWHJUDWHG PRUH ÀW IRU pur­pose. In a way we have dis­rupted our­selves. We’ve prac­ticed what we preach.

peo­ple who believe in the vi­sion and are will­ing to go on this jour­ney with you.”

Such suc­cess, of course, comes with its own set of chal­lenges, not least the quest for tal­ent and the is­sue of space. Around 40 new peo­ple have joined the agency so far this year and al­most ev­ery seat in the of­fice is taken. All meet­ing rooms are oc­cu­pied and even Walid Kanaan, TBWA\ Raad’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, is of­fice­less, hav­ing given his per­sonal space to Fouad Ab­del Ma­lik, the agency’s ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor. But all’s good, says Kanaan from his make-shift space in one of the agency’s meet­ing rooms. He trav­els a lot and is pri­mar­ily based out of Beirut.

“For me, the val­i­da­tion of what we’re do­ing was win­ning agency and net­work of the year at the Lynx,” says Raad. “And, hand-in-hand with that, win­ning du. It proved that all the con­sol­i­da­tion, all the risks, and all the pain as­so­ci­ated with trans­for­ma­tion has been worth it. It was an af­fir­ma­tion that data-driven cre­ativ­ity works and that a team that be­lieves pas­sion­ately in what it’s do­ing can achieve al­most any­thing.

“The main in­di­ca­tor of cre­ative ex­cel­lence is ei­ther con­sis­tency or pro­gres­sion,” he adds. “We’ve de­vel­oped both in the last cou­ple of years. The real achievement is not the fact that TBWA\ Raad was the most awarded MENA agency at Cannes, or that it was TBWA Global’s sec­ond most awarded agency this year. The real achievement is that we did it all with cam­paigns that ran for weeks and that peo­ple ac­tu­ally saw and in­ter­acted with.”

The ques­tion now for TBWA\RAAD is whether its mo­men­tum can be sus­tained. And if it can, what shape that mo­men­tum will take. Raad says the agency is on course to hit solid dou­ble-digit growth in 2018, which is ex­cep­tional given the eco­nomic cir­cum­stances, but also ap­plies pres­sure for con­tin­ued growth.

“We just came out of a man­age­ment meet­ing and it’s a case of ‘do you just keep go­ing and not look back? Or do you make strate­gic plays to con­sol­i­date fur­ther?’ These are the sort of dis­cus­sions we’re hav­ing now,” says Raad.

“What I do know is that we’re not go­ing to rest on our lau­rels. We’re young, we’re fresh, it’s just the be­gin­ning. I also don’t believe you can plan a year in ad­vance any­more. You have to do it month-by-month. We have some­thing called ‘al­ways in beta’, so we’re al­ways chang­ing and cus­tomis­ing and mov­ing to make sure we have some­thing that works. There’s never a sense of rest. There’s al­ways a sense of con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment or fine-tun­ing.”

Raad’s pri­or­ity? To bed down the new busi­nesses, to de­liver for clients, and to main­tain the agency’s pas­sion and mo­men­tum. Pas­sion that led to Nis­san’s #Shedrives and the Lou­vre Abu Dhabi’s ‘High­way Gallery’, both of which won gold at Cannes.

“For me it’s al­ways been about the cre­ative prod­uct,” he says. “Ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies who think any­thing else is more im­por­tant just don’t get it. It’s al­ways about the prod­uct. We have to ob­sess about it. We have to make sure it’s the best it can pos­si­bly be. And the mo­ment we lose pas­sion, or the mo­ment we lose our love for the work, then it’s over. That’s the way it has to be, right? Oth­er­wise it doesn’t make sense.”

The real achievement is not the fact that TBWA\RAAD was the most awarded MENA agency at Cannes, or that it was TBWA Global’s sec­ond most awarded agency this year. The real achievement is that we did it all with cam­paigns that ran for weeks and that peo­ple ac­tu­ally saw and in­ter­acted with.

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