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Dani Richa wants to pro­duce great work.

“It is very im­por­tant for us to do great work that is fa­mous, that works, that builds our clients’ brands, and if it wins awards that’s fan­tas­tic,” says the chair­man and CEO of Im­pact BBDO Mid­dle East, Africa and Pak­istan.

BBDO World­wide has an oft-quoted mantra that its suc­cess is down to “the work, the work, the work”, and Richa points to Cle­menger BBDO Melbourne’s 2017 mul­ti­ple-award­win­ning “Meet Gra­ham” cam­paign for road safety as an ex­am­ple of what he aims for.

“That by it­self made that agency Agency of the Year at Cannes,” he says. “It was one big cam­paign that is ab­so­lutely amaz­ing and works on ev­ery chan­nel.”

More to the point, peo­ple talk about that sort of ad­ver­tis­ing.

“I would much rather be at a din­ner with the ta­ble be­hind me talk­ing about a piece of work that we have done and say­ing how great it is, or some­one not know­ing we’ve done that piece of work and send­ing it to me on What­sApp,” says Richa. “That’s al­most as re­ward­ing as win­ning a Gold award. Prob­a­bly more re­ward­ing.”

“We want to do fa­mous work,” he says again. “Awards are a re­sult of that, not an ob­jec­tive in it­self. The ob­jec­tive is to do great work.”

Dani Richa will this year be hon­oured as the Dubai Lynx Ad­ver­tis­ing Per­son of the Year. Last year he saw Im­pact BBDO named Agency of the Year, and BBDO World­wide was crowned Net­work of the Year.

“We had a big body of work,” says Richa. “What I re­ally like about what we did last year and what we are do­ing now is we are win­ning in ev­ery cat­e­gory. We are win­ning in Mo­bile, we are win­ning in De­sign, we are win­ning in Ac­ti­va­tion, we are win­ning in TV, we are win­ning in So­cial. This is very im­por­tant. Those big cam­paigns have to do well in all those cat­e­gories, and we have to have a part of those cam­paigns that works and is best in class in all those cat­e­gories.”

How­ever, he adds that the com­pany would rather win “more awards with big­ger, more fa­mous cam­paigns than on points. Less, but more.”

He and Im­pact BBDO’s new chief cre­ative of­fi­cer Paul Shearer, who joined the agency from Memac Ogilvy at the start of the year, are “on the same wave­length” on this, he says. “That’s the rea­son he was a good match.”

As Shearer comes in, for­mer ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative direc­tor Fadi Yaish has left. For the past five years, Yaish helped drive the agency’s cre­ative cre­den­tials. But Richa’s agency is more than one per­son. “There’s BBDO on the door,” says the CEO, and points to the net­work’s con­sis­tent dom­i­nance of global agency rank­ings. “It started be­fore Fadi and it will con­tinue af­ter Fadi. Paul is some­one who has taken lead­er­ship of the Dubai of­fice, and he’s not some­one who is not into do­ing great work. This comes back to the cre­ative agenda and us be­ing about the work, the work, the work.”

Richa him­self started out 32 years ago as a cre­ative, an un­usual start to a ca­reer among the heads of big agen­cies in the re­gion. He joined H&C Leo Bur­nett in Beirut in 1986 but quickly moved to Im­pact BBDO. Apart from a year at Publi­cis Graph­ics, he has been there ever since. In 2009 he gave up the cre­ative side of his work to take the po­si­tion he holds to­day.

Al­though he says the last time he worked on an ad was last week, he also ad­mits: “It’s no longer my job to do ads, but be­ing a cre­ative at heart, for me driv­ing a cre­ative agenda is ab­so­lutely key, and be­ing in­volved in the work and mak­ing sure the work is where it needs to be is some­thing I con­tinue to make a pri­or­ity.”

He does this by hav­ing the right peo­ple in place, “peo­ple who are far bet­ter than me”, he says. “Make sure with those peo­ple you are re­tain­ing them, em­pow­er­ing them and giv­ing them the re­sources and the means that they need.”

He adds: “It is very im­por­tant to cre­ate the en­vi­ron­ment where they can flour­ish and do great work.”

At­tract­ing tal­ent is the big­gest is­sue for the in­dus­try to­day, says Richa. Es­pe­cially lo­cal tal­ent. “We pride our­selves in hav­ing 50 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties in our Dubai of­fice,” he says. “But I’d be 100 times hap­pier if the agency was all Emi­ratis – or all Arabs, be­cause Dubai is a hub and caters for the re­gion.”

About two years ago, Im­pact BBDO be­gan mov­ing away from pri­mar­ily re­cruit­ing ad­ver­tis­ing grad­u­ates and those with ex­pe­ri­ence at other agen­cies.

“I made it a point in our HR strat­egy that half the peo­ple we hire should be from out­side the in­dus­try,” says Richa,. Al­though the agency has not reached that tar­get yet, it is get­ting there. Richa says that to­day he might look to hire peo­ple with tech back­grounds, peo­ple from the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try or jour­nal­ists.

“Be­fore, if we were look­ing for a copywriter, the first thing we’d look at is how many years he’s had at what agen­cies,” he says. “Now, on the con­trary, we are look­ing at peo­ple with pub­lish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We are as much as pos­si­ble widen­ing our cir­cle.”

Changes in tech­nol­ogy mean that cre­ativ­ity is no longer con­fined to the cre­ative in­dus­tries, al­low­ing Im­pact BBDO to fo­cus on di­ver­sity in its re­cruit­ment.

“Whether we have some­one com­ing from an­other agency or an­other coun­try or an­other in­dus­try, the start­ing point is: do they share our val­ues?”

BBDO World­wide lists 10 val­ues the net­work looks for in a po­ten­tial hire: makes the work bet­ter; clients love them; ‘we’, not ‘me’ ori­ented; is a hand raiser, not a fin­ger pointer; is a ra­di­a­tor, not a drain; presents well; pos­sesses healthy para­noia; is a closer; bounces back; does the right thing.

That list is shared across BBDO’s global net­work. But, as with “the work, the work, the work”, and Richa’s de­scrip­tion of BBDO as a “global bou­tique”, when you ask him if these philoso­phies are his or BBDO’s, he replies: “We are one and the same. I sit on the world­wide board.”

To let staff flour­ish and make out­stand­ing cam­paigns, the right clients mean as much as the right en­vi­ron­ment. They must want the same thing as their agency.

“You’ll of­ten find us say­ing no to busi­ness and wait­ing for an op­por­tu­nity in that same cat­e­gory where we can find a client who would want great work,” says Richa.

He won’t re­ject a client out­right if they are re­luc­tant to take risks im­me­di­ately, but the agency looks for po­ten­tial and ap­petite to do great work.

When BBDO does take on a new client, the next step is “cre­at­ing part­ner­ships with those clients, earn­ing the trust of those part­ners and then slowly push­ing the en­ve­lope”.

To make work that works, clients must be pre­pared to take risks, and Richa says: “One of our clients re­cently said that the big­gest risk would be not tak­ing the risk.”

Work that is dar­ing and dif­fer­ent and stands out, though, must be based on strat­egy and data. “When it does achieve busi­ness re­sults then you have the con­fi­dence to do more and to push fur­ther,” says Richa.

He jokes that the rea­son he got cho­sen by Dubai Lynx as the 2018 Ad­ver­tis­ing Per­son of the Year is that, “If you stick in there long enough your turn will come.”

But he ex­plains: “It’s not just the years, it’s the con­sis­tency. It’s re­ally keep­ing your eye on the things that mat­ter year-af­ter-year, fo­cus­ing on the work, fo­cus­ing on be­ing sur­rounded by great peo­ple that lift you up, peo­ple that are bet­ter than you in ev­ery way. There are many hand­i­caps – some­times eco­nomic, some­times cul­tural, some­times re­gional. You say there are things you can­not change, such as the econ­omy and cer­tain things about the ge­ogra­phies that we work in, but the things you can change you fo­cus on chang­ing. If you set your own stan­dards and do not work to the stan­dard of oth­ers, then you push up the stan­dard and you raise the ceil­ing in the re­gion.”

That’s what Richa has been do­ing for three decades with Im­pact BBDO: rais­ing the ceil­ing.

“I would much rather be at a din­ner with the ta­ble be­hind me talk­ing about a piece of work that we have done and say­ing how great it is, or some­one not know­ing we’ve done that piece of work and send­ing it to me on What­sApp. That’s al­most as re­ward­ing as win­ning a Gold award. Prob­a­bly more re­ward­ing. We want to do fa­mous work. Awards are a re­sult of that, not an ob­jec­tive in it­self. The ob­jec­tive is to do great work.”

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