CHANGE Motivate Media Group’s founder and managing partner looks back on a tumultuous 10 years
The past decade has been the most disruptive period I can recall in my 40 years in regional media. October 2008 was only weeks after Lehman Brothers had collapsed in the US, and although the first ripples of the financial crisis were spreading, the crash had not yet come.
2008 was still a record year for the advertising industry in the Gulf, and particularly for us at Motivate. In the last quarter we recorded our highest sales in 30 years.
It was an entirely different story as 2009 dawned. In January the dollar value of our cancellations outstripped sales. It was time for us all to face up to a new reality, and it would take four years to get back to the level of our 2008 business.
But when we launched Middle East, the communications industry was still pushing forward. New agencies were launching, while internationals were expanding into the region through affiliations and partnerships.
Regional agencies had begun to earn recognition at international shows such as the Cannes Lions, and in 2007 we created Dubai Lynx for the region and are proud to have partnered with Lions Festivals and the IAA-UAE, championing world-class competition and talent in recognition of the renaissance of Arab creativity. The festival and awards have grown in stature and maturity in the decade since.
As the world of marketing, communications and advertising was developing at such a rapid pace, we saw the need for an independent, international communication platform that could match its quality.
Campaign Middle East was destined to march in lockstep with the industry as a curator of creative excellence, an organ of record and a firm friend along the way. It gained a footing as the conscience of the industry and the voice with which Middle East advertising spoke.
As we look back and celebrate the past decade, I’m reminded of some of the things that make us proud. Our partnership with UK publisher Haymarket has given my good friend Michael Heseltine’s company an enviable presence in this region, while we have been able to share in and amplify the success of world-leading titles, including Campaign.
Next year Motivate will celebrate 40 years since the launch of What’s On, our first title and the UAE’s first English-language magazine. The celebrations come at a time when the media industry is seeing diversification, fragmentation and innovation completely shake up the ways we have produced and consumed media for decades.
At Motivate and among our industry peers, this upheaval sees us growing new business opportunities, and fostering new partnerships and strategic alliances. Motivate was best known as a publisher of high-quality books and magazines. Now we own a series of market-leading websites; our content division, Motivate Connect, is growing and our partnership with influencer marketing agency Vamp is expanding the brand even further. Events are another string to our bow our brands become much wider partners to our clients and consumers than ever before.
We have recently formed a joint venture with Zakti, global specialists in the design and production of exhibition pavilions. That partnership will stand us in good stead as Dubai’s ambitious plans for hosting Expo2020 continue apace.
Our most recent partnership is with Lorton Films, with whom we have embarked on production of our first feature film, based on the life of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. The film is due for theatrical release in 2019. Also in 2019 we will expand our long-running partnership with Emirates to produce two Information, Communication, Entertainment (ICE) TV channels dedicated to promoting activities in Dubai and the UAE.
Our cinema advertising arm, Motivate Val Morgan, managed 44 screens 10 years ago. Now it has 488 and no plans to slow down. Existing GCC markets will continue to expand, and the welcome advent of cinema in Saudi Arabia will see 2,500 screens opening in the kingdom by 2030.
There is plenty of disruption in the market but it cannot come purely at a cost to print media, and our titles still lead the market. We have introduced and stood by print auditing while most publishers deserted transparent figures in favour of inflated and fictitious circulation numbers.
Content is king, the cream of the industry rises to the top and we would not be market leaders without fantastic content – across print, digital, events, video and more. The rising tide of new technology lets us deliver all our content in a hyper-targeted fashion, meaning advertisers can get the best ROI they have ever seen.
But quality content and audience delivery do not come cheap. Innovation requires investment on the part of media owners, agencies and clients alike. Change comes hand-in-hand with risk, and we must not be afraid to embrace both. We will make mistakes, sometimes costly ones. And we must be brave enough to admit this, learn from our experiences and grow stronger. To cut costs and play it safe will only be a losing strategy in the long-run.
Agitating for change is part of the Motivate story. It is also the story of the communications industry, one of the most thriving and exciting businesses in the world. Campaign Middle East has been telling this story and will continue to chronicle it for many years to come.
We would not be market leaders without fantastic content
Campaign Ian Fairservice with HE Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture, at a meeting to discuss Motivate’s forthcoming biopic of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan