“I am going to meld the perfect combination of skillsets into one beautifully functioning creative department.”
The agency’s new ECD has followed its CEO from FP7 and promises to use passion to raise standards. By Austyn Allison
PAUL BANHAM, the new regional ECD of J. Walter Thompson, on his remit at the agency.
Sasan Saeidi, formerly managing director of FP7 Dubai, recently joined J. Walter Thompson as its regional Gulf CEO. He took the post about six months after JWT Dubai CEO Mohammed Sabry left, along with executive creative director Marco Bezerra. The agency has been in a state of flux since then, and Saeidi’s arrival was the start of moves by JWT MENA CEO Roy Haddad to restore some stability.
Saeidi has been putting together a new leadership team – the executive committee, or “exco” – and says the appointment of Paul Banham as regional executive creative director (ECD) is the final piece in that jigsaw. Banham himself was at FP7 with Saeidi.
The rest of the exco consists of: Mona El Sayed, regional planning director, who as head of strategy will focus on brand and connections; Sarah Mosallam, regional talent manager, focusing on people and culture; Natasha Ighodaro, head of social media, focusing on social, content marketing and performance; and Asaad Youssef, regional finance director.
“The direction that we are going as an agency is basically trying to focus and remodel ourselves as a creative consultancy,” says Saeidi. “A creative consultancy lives at the intersection of creativity and business, every day. The consultancy part is coming from the thought leadership, from the rigour, the strategy, from everything else we are going to be doing on that. And the creativity is basically the magic that [Banham] adds. It is not doing creative for the sake of creative; it is creative for the sake of business solutions. That’s the way we’ve modelled our agency.”
He says: “2018 will definitely be a transition year. It’s building capability, it’s enhancing capability, it’s nurturing a culture that perhaps has not been stable for the past couple of years.”
Banham too says there is “much to be done” and that “standards need to be raised”. He talks about the “silent C” in ECD, which stands for “commercial”.
He also says: “My policy has always been slightly different from other creative directors in this region, because I come from a background where we weren’t born and bred to care only about awards. Awards are a by-product of creating great, world-class, effective campaigns.”
A creative consultancy is not an agency devoid of metal, though. Saeidi says: “Along the way we have set ourselves KPIs and goals in terms of Agency of the Year across Effies, Lynx, Cannes, etcetera. That will come by default.”
Saeidi says that with 2018 being that transition year, “we are looking at 2019 as a good year to start showing results”.
Banham admits: “I love awards. Every creative loves awards. I love them, and there is a whole load of them sitting on my shelf upstairs.” But he adds: “I’m almost more proud of the pitch wins and the retention of business and actually delivering world-class, truly effective results for clients. That’s the fastest way to get to new business. That’s the fastest way to grow your accounts organically. And then your agency can spend a little less time pitching and a little more time looking after the clients that you’ve won.”
One of Banham’s key tasks is to develop the creative department at J. Walter Thompson.
“I am going to meld the perfect combination of creative skillsets into one beautiful functioning creative department,” he says. “Everything from creative technologists to art directors to copywriters to designers to photographers, information architects and 3D/4D designers. All of these will be put into a well structured and organised hub that can then deliver anything that our clients need.”
Banham himself has “an incredible cross-platform set of skills,” he says. “When I was describing myself to the creative department, I’m a designer, I’m an art director, a copywriter, a story teller, a digital mad man.”
Passion trumps talent in his book, he says. “That’s why I’ve been successful. Because when the best creatives on the planet go home I’m still thinking about it, trying to make something better. Effort really does get you to where you want to be. I can’t sleep unless the work is really going to be as good as it can be. That’s what drives me personally.”
One thing Banham will be drumming into his new team is the difference between “ideation” and craft. “In this region there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what a designer and what an art director are, and everyone seems to mess this up,” he cautions. “An art director is someone who is literally responsible for delivering ideation, ideas, campaigns, concepts and thoughts. Whereas a designer is a craft specialism. I like my partners to run hand-in-hand, working as a team, but there is a fundamental core responsibility for craft and there is a fundamental core responsibility for ideation.”
Some people, such as Banham, can do both, but he says it took him five years to move from being a designer to become an art director at a top 10 London agency.
And he will still be involved creatively at JWT, he says. “If I can’t do a piece of work that’s better than my team, I probably shouldn’t have my job.”
That job is only just beginning. Banham was only three weeks into it when Campaign spoke to him in February. But now Saeidi has his exco team together, the industry will be watching to see how JWT develops.
Left to right: Youssef, El Sayed, Saeidi, Ighodaro, Banham, Mosallam