Nadim Sa­mara: In search of flaw­less ex­e­cu­tion

Nadim Sa­mara has taken on the man­tle of chief ex­ec­u­tive for OMD across the en­tire MENA re­gion. He talks con­sis­tency of prod­uct and the im­por­tance of pur­pose with Iain Ak­er­man

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TIf you have that four-letter acro­nym in your ti­tle you’re re­spon­si­ble for them. I don’t want these four let­ters to be just a brand. I want to own them.

he of­fice may be the same but the role has changed sig­nif­i­cantly. Nadim Sa­mara, once the khaki jacket tot­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive of OMD UAE, has swapped the UAE for MENA, bring­ing a new level of ac­count­abil­ity and pres­sure to his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. Not that you’d guess from talk­ing to him, such is his af­fa­bil­ity and com­po­sure.

“If you have that four-letter acro­nym in your ti­tle you’re re­spon­si­ble for them,” he says. “I don’t want these four let­ters to be just a brand. I want to own them.”

Sa­mara stepped up to the plate in early Oc­to­ber, tasked with lead­ing a net­work of 15 of­fices and man­ag­ing more than 200 clients. His chal­lenge? To drive the net­work’s trans­for­ma­tion and to bet­ter re­spond to cur­rent and emerg­ing client needs.

Much of the hard work on a UAE level has al­ready been done. The agency’s ser­vice of­fer­ing has been strength­ened, a new breed of tal­ent brought in, a new ag­ile struc­ture cre­ated, and ex­per­tise in tech, an­a­lyt­ics and per­for­mance has been scaled up. The end re­sult has been the cre­ation of what Sa­mara de­scribes as a busi­ness per­for­mance com­pany, not a tra­di­tional me­dia agency. The job now is to roll that out re­gion­ally and to en­sure con­sis­tency of ser­vice.

“The pur­pose of this ap­point­ment, or this role, isn’t a fix-it job. It’s a grow-it job,” says Sa­mara, who is sit­ting com­fort­ably in his Dubai Me­dia City of­fice. “That’s im­por­tant for us to un­der­stand. There are no mar­ket weak­nesses: there are mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties and there’s a net­work op­por­tu­nity first and fore­most.

“In terms of pri­or­ity, it’s the con­sis­tency of the prod­uct, it’s the con­sis­tency of the lead­er­ship team, and at the same time (which is an oxy­moron) it’s the spe­cial­i­sa­tion of each mar­ket and the spe­cial­i­sa­tion of each lead­er­ship team. I want to make sure that we have this in­ter­sec­tion of con­sis­tency – to make sure that you get one ver­sion of OMD across 15 of­fices – and the be­spoke men­tal­ity of each mar­ket. That char­ac­ter, that cul­ture that comes out in a pos­i­tive way.”

It’s very im­por­tant to talk about pur­pose be­cause, hon­estly, I’ve yet to sit in a pitch or in a meet­ing with a client and they know that the pur­pose from OMD is one and the same as theirs – which is to cre­ate work that works.

Sa­mara is one of the in­dus­try’s more like­able char­ac­ters. He talks of pain and suf­fer­ing as only a true Star Wars geek would, ref­er­enc­ing Yoda’s ter­mi­nol­ogy for train­ing like a Jedi, and views data as sexy. He uses words such as ex­trap­o­late and talks fi­nance with the best of them (“When OMD is seen as the in­vest­ment banker for brands, whether it’s on the short or long term, you need to think like an in­vest­ment banker”).

He has been with OMD for 17 years, be­gin­ning his ca­reer as a me­dia man­ager in 2002 and work­ing his way up the cor­po­rate lad­der via a five-year stint at OMD in the US. Since re­turn­ing to the UAE in 2012 he has helped build OMD into an agency that cur­rently sits se­cond in RECMA’S agency rank­ings for the Mid­dle East and North Africa. For the first half of 2018 it was rated num­ber one in pitch per­for­mance by Comver­gence and has sub­mit­ted gross billings of just over $1 bil­lion to RECMA for 2017, up from $931 mil­lion in 2016.

Chal­lenges re­main, how­ever, not least the level and fre­quency of uncer­tainty in the mar­ket, while still be­ing la­belled a me­dia agency is of con­cern.

“The more we are treated as an agency – we take some­thing with the right hand, add our fees or sub­tract our com­mis­sion, and then give it away with the left hand – then that’s some­thing that I think is go­ing to make us ob­so­lete,” says Sa­mara. “This in­ter­me­di­ary role is some­thing that’s vague, that doesn’t show value. The se­cond you show you’re pro­vid­ing value through a unique propo­si­tion and you have a vested in­ter­est in per­form­ing for a brand, which will also have an af­fect on your own per­for­mance, then you start to have a vi­able and sus­tain­able role.

“And I think that pur­pose is yet to be de­fined. And it’s very im­por­tant to talk about pur­pose be­cause, hon­estly, I’ve yet to sit in a pitch or in a meet­ing with a client and they know that the pur­pose from OMD is one and the same as theirs – which is to cre­ate work that works.” What does work? “Per­son­al­i­sa­tion at scale,” replies Sa­mara. “The fact that per­son­al­i­sa­tion at scale is a com­bi­na­tion of cre­ative and me­dia is ac­tu­ally some­thing that’s work­ing for our clients, and OMD’S struc­ture is de­signed for that. In fact, it is harder and harder to de-cou­ple cre­ative, tech­nol­ogy, distri­bu­tion, mea­sure­ment, an­a­lyt­ics and the many other dis­ci­plines within mar­ket­ing.

“And some­thing that I have driven for a hand­ful of ac­counts but should be scaled out is ‘flaw­less ex­e­cu­tion’,” he adds. “It’s some­thing that I would love to be able to claim with full con­fi­dence, but we’re not quite there yet. Ev­ery time the rub­ber hits the road it needs to be 100 per cent. But we’re hu­man, there are some er­rors, and we’re in a very com­pli­cated in­fra­struc­ture when it comes to dig­i­tal. But we should get to a point where we have flaw­less ex­e­cu­tion.”

Sa­mara is not alone of course. He is sup­ported by Wis­sam Na­j­jar, who leads OMD’S of­fices out­side North Africa, and Eric Be­quin, who heads its lux­ury prac­tice and the three of­fices in the Maghreb re­gion. Sa­mara him­self re­ports to Elie Khouri, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Om­ni­com Me­dia Group MENA.

“There’s a level of frus­tra­tion that in 2018 AI is just an acro­nym,” he says, dis­cussing the need for fur­ther trans­for­ma­tion. “Ma­chine learn­ing – or ML – is just a term. That’s the trans­for­ma­tion that we should go af­ter. Not specif­i­cally these two terms, that’s just the tip of the ice­berg, but there’s a lot in that belly of the ice­berg that is low hang­ing fruit.

“For ex­am­ple, ad tech solutions are now foun­da­tional to ev­ery in­vest­ment made on mea­sur­able me­dia, aug­mented with new fo­cal ar­eas, such as what we are la­belling as ‘Cretech’ (tech­nol­ogy that fur­ther en­ables cre­ative and con­tent solutions) re­volv­ing around dy­namic cre­ative op­ti­mi­sa­tion, rapid re­sponse man­age­ment, on­ground/on­line real-time ac­ti­va­tion syn­er­gies, and so forth. Most of this is com­mon prac­tice. How­ever, it is not sys­tem­at­i­cally scaled to cater to the con­sumer de­mands each brand de­serves. Now that our 15 of­fices are work­ing in uni­son for 2019, it’s a key fo­cal point to fur­ther add to our in­te­grated struc­ture.”

“The fact that we’re in­ter­sect­ing our busi­ness per­for­mance com­pany men­tal­ity with our port­fo­lio of in­te­grated prod­ucts, all un­der one roof and with one goal, is some­thing that will help us grow,” he adds. “And I know that we’re struc­tured in a way that we’re very re­silient; we’re very ag­ile, and we’re very in­te­grated. And when you have these three things in you as part of you’re DNA, then you come out on top.”

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