‘How can we con­vince tal­ent that there is a fu­ture for this in­dus­try?’


ArabAd - - COVER STORY -

Does Le­banon have a tal­ent cri­sis? It’s per­haps one of the eas­ier ques­tions to an­swer.

“Le­banon has had a tal­ent cri­sis since the mid-2000s,” says Fadi Mroue, founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor of République. “pri­mar­ily be­cause the best have de­cided to build ca­reers abroad. We had a few years when we saw ex­pats com­ing home dur­ing the re­ces­sion in the Gulf, but that didn’t last long.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by Ramzi Barakat, founder and chief cre­ative of­fi­cer of Beirut-based bou­tique agency B. “The main chal­lenge is the abil­ity to pro­duce vi­able wages to re­cruit tal­ent, keep them in Le­banon, of­fer them ca­reers, and not lose them for a dou­ble fig­ure to the Gulf mar­ket or to other in­dus­tries,” he says. “The econ­omy is cur­rently at its peak of bank­ruptcy and it is hard to prom­ise any new­comer any ca­reer path unfortunately. And that is ex­tremely chal­leng­ing these days.”

The Gulf states have been of­fer­ing ex­pats the sta­bil­ity, life­style and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity they can­not find at home for years, while Le­banon’s busi­nesses have run on min­i­mum spend. In such a sit­u­a­tion, agen­cies that don’t have in­ter­na­tional clients have not been able to af­ford the best tal­ent. Hence the ex­o­dus over­seas, and the con­tin­u­a­tion of a sit­u­a­tion that is not only im­pact­ing in­di­vid­ual agen­cies, but the in­dus­try as a whole.

“Hir­ing is about cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth, and since this is get­ting scarce due to the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, it is hard to con­vince any new­comer that they have space to grow,” says Barakat. “They will all make much more money free­lanc­ing, which in turn doesn’t al­low them to learn, nor does it al­low them to grow. It is a vi­cious cir­cle, and the state of the econ­omy is solely re­spon­si­ble for this sit­u­a­tion.

“Cre­ativ­ity is clearly suf­fer­ing,” he adds. “Busi­ness is down, growth is down, and so def­i­nitely is tal­ent. We sim­ply are lack­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for bet­ter work and cre­at­ing room for new tal­ent to pros­per within. There­fore the whole cre­ative busi­ness is suf­fer­ing from the lack of new blood, new ideas and in­spir­ing or qual­ity work.”


It’s hard to know where to look for good news. To talk of tal­ent is to talk of mul­ti­ple is­sues. Pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics, ed­u­ca­tion, gen­er­a­tional di­vides, the per­ceived lack of qual­ity of new re­cruits, and the con­se­quences of an in­dus­try in per­pet­ual flux.

For ex­am­ple, Ni­co­las Geahchan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and con­tent at Mirum MEA, be­lieves the real prob­lem is not re­lated to Le­banon, or even to the wider re­gion, but to the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try’s global iden­tity cri­sis.

“The search for tal­ent was never easy or sim­ple and noth­ing has changed,” says Geahchan. “The big dif­fer­ence is that in the past only com­pet­ing agen­cies used to fight for that tal­ent. Now you have a much vaster ar­ray of com­pa­nies from dif­fer­ent sec­tors and do­mains all fight­ing for them. Ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies are not per­ceived as be­ing the best place for that tal­ent to go any­more. Our ev­ery­day anx­i­ety is [there­fore] to again be­come the pre­ferred place for tal­ent to start their ca­reers.

“The big­gest chal­lenge is to still be able to con­vince tal­ent that there is a fu­ture for this in­dus­try in Le­banon and beyond. To con­vince them that data and pro­gram­matic did not – and can­not – re­place cre­ativ­ity and ideation.”

Mroue agrees. “There was a time when if you grad­u­ated in a cre­ative field, the only place to go next was an ad­ver­tis­ing agency,” he says. “To­day, ta­lented grad­u­ates have many op­tions avail­able to them thanks to tech­nol­ogy. Some choose to join start-ups that of­fer more free­dom. Oth­ers are do­ing free­lance, and some are start­ing busi­nesses of their own on Youtube and In­sta­gram. More and more I’m notic­ing that young tal­ent aren’t used to spend­ing nine-to-five in an of­fice space. And that is wor­ry­ing for the long term.”

But what of that tal­ent? What char­ac­ter­is­tics do they pos­sess? Has their ed­u­ca­tion equipped them with the nec­es­sary skills? Do they even fit into to­day’s ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, ei­ther psy­cho­log­i­cally or eth­i­cally? These are ques­tions that di­vide the in­dus­try.


There are those who be­lieve that new re­cruits lack the pre­req­ui­site work ethic, are reluc­tant to go above­and-beyond, or sim­ply have a paucity of skills. You’ll find vary­ing de­grees of these views within most se­nior ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tives. Oth­ers, such as Barakat, sim­ply be­lieve “they have new ideas, new habits, new think­ing and are some­how a new breed of peo­ple whose tal­ents haven’t yet been re­vealed to the world”.

Find­ing gen­uine and free-spir­ited tal­ent is nev­er­the­less a chal­lenge, says

The econ­omy is cur­rently at its peak of bank­ruptcy and it is hard to prom­ise any new­comer any ca­reer path unfortunately. - Ramzi Barakat, founder/ceo of B Young tal­ent aren’t used WR VSHQGLQJ QLQH WR ÀYH LQ DQ RIÀFH VSDFH $QG WKDW LV wor­ry­ing for the long term. - Fadi Mroué, founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor of République.

Wis­sam Matar, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Op­er­a­tion Uni­corn. And while ap­pli­cants may be good at ad­ver­tis­ing them­selves – cre­at­ing their own brand through In­sta­gram feeds, sto­ries, and sta­tus up­dates – they of­ten strug­gle to walk the talk in a work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

It’s a view that Tarek Had­dad, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of J. Wal­ter Thompson Beirut, largely shares. For him, “find­ing the coura­geous and cu­ri­ous who want to learn more and are will­ing to work hard, play hard and be­lieve that they can grow both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally within the cur­rent cor­po­rate world” is far from easy.

“There are two key defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics that dif­fer­en­ti­ate the new gen­er­a­tion of grad­u­ates over pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions and they are their per­cep­tions of lead­er­ship and value,” says Had­dad. “This is a gen­er­a­tion that are hun­gry to work and are used to hav­ing their voices heard. No mat­ter who you are or what your po­si­tion may or may not be, they seek a so­cial struc­ture that is deeply in­ter­con­nected and def­i­nitely a non­hier­ar­chal one, where ev­ery­one’s door is open to them; which is tough for some peo­ple to ac­cept.

“Con­trary to the com­plaints heard down many a cor­po­rate cor­ri­dor, work­ing hard to achieve is not for­eign to them. The nut we ac­tu­ally have to crack is: ‘what makes them tick?’ Even when it comes to me­nial tasks, the ques­tion the new gen­er­a­tion of grad­u­ates ask is ‘where is the value in me do­ing this?’ The chal­lenge for or­gan­i­sa­tions to com­pre­hend is get­ting un­der the skin of a gen­er­a­tion used to clear value ex­change. These new grad­u­ates seek ‘value’ quickly and not nec­es­sar­ily the ‘rise’ quickly. Give them value at ev­ery step and they will give you the rest.”

There is great tal­ent out there, how­ever, if you know where to look. Matar, for ex­am­ple, has em­ployed a “se­ri­ous gamer, pro­fes­sional meme dealer, and ta­lented il­lus­tra­tor” who mixes all three skills in her work, giv­ing that work “an edge in a time where trends are pop­ping up and dis­ap­pear­ing in a blink”.

“This in­spires the whole team to be al­ways pro­gres­sive and think ‘what’s next?’ rather than ‘what’s hap­pen­ing?’” says Matar. “We snatched her in the mid­dle of an in­tern­ship in Dubai and brought her back to Le­banon.”

Is she an ex­cep­tion? Many would ar­gue that she is, al­though Barakat be­lieves Le­banon re­mains a “tal­ent in­cu­ba­tor”. It’s en­sur­ing that that tal­ent is at­tracted to the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, and then chooses to re­main in Le­banon, that’s the prob­lem.


“The only cri­sis Le­banon has never ex­pe­ri­enced is one of tal­ent,” be­lieves Had­dad. “The vol­ume of great tal­ent and highly po­ten­tial tal­ent is abun­dant – it’s one thing we won’t ever run out of. Yet with a slug­gish econ­omy and no clear hori­zon in sight, so long as the coun­try doesn’t have one uni­fied vi­sion, the hard­est thing for great tal­ent to do is to see po­ten­tial in the coun­try, ap­pre­ci­ate the lay of the land, and be up for the up­hill strug­gle to im­prove it.”

For Barakat, noth­ing can be done to re­tain and nur­ture tal­ent if the econ­omy doesn’t im­prove. Mroue is of a sim­i­lar mind, es­pe­cially if “politi­cians con­tinue to put their per­sonal in­ter­ests be­fore that of the peo­ple”. Even Geahchan is pes­simistic, largely due to the doubt felt by po­ten­tial new re­cruits con­tem­plat­ing en­ter­ing agency life.

“The over­all en­vi­ron­ment of the in­dus­try is far from mak­ing it eas­ier,”

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$GYHUWLVLQJ DJHQFLHV DUH QRW SHUFHLYHG DV be­ing the best place for tal­ent to go…” - Ni­co­las Geahchan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and con­tent at Mirum MEA.

says Geahchan. “When a fresh grad is look­ing for their first job, they usu­ally have an ideal im­age of how they would like to see them­selves in 20 years’ time. To­day, as em­ploy­ers we can­not be con­fi­dent enough to show them or tell them what the im­age will be in five years’ time. The only cer­tainty is that we’ve been here for more than a 150 years and we’ll def­i­nitely be here for the next set of decades, but in what shape is not de­fined yet.”

Eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties are out of agen­cies’ con­trol. Every­body knows that. The only pos­si­ble an­swer, there­fore, is to en­sure that agen­cies pro­vide their new­est mem­bers of staff with an en­vi­ron­ment in which they can thrive, says Matar. “We have to al­ways re­mem­ber that an ad­ver­tis­ing agency is – be­fore ev­ery­thing – a cre­ative and free-think­ing en­vi­ron­ment, not a es­tab­lish­ment hung-up on work­ing hours and timesheet en­tries.”

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