With more than a decade of experience at American advertising and marketing company Grey, owned by British-based multinational ad agency WPP Group, Eric Hanna was appointed over a year ago to head the company’s Middle East and North Africa region for Grey based in Dubai. Executive spoke to Hanna to understand the challenges he has faced since taking over as well as his thoughts on the current state of the advertising industry.
See also: Why the Lebanese rule advertising
You have been heading Grey Group MENA for just over a year now. What are the key challenges you have faced since you took over?
I am very familiar with the agency as I spent 1999 to 2009 with Grey. Then I moved with WPP to MediaCom, to set it up in the region for about two years and then I came back to Grey. The challenges are mainly to create an edge for the agency across the region. The reality is that all top networks today are very competitive and invest heavily behind their brand, and today differentiation in terms of services is very minimal. What makes an agency different is its people, so choosing the right people is key. When we go to meetings, it is not only competencies that stand out, but there is also chemistry with whom we are working with. In the absence of any rational difference, chemistry becomes an important factor in the relationship or in starting one.
How would you define the past year with three adjectives?
Challenging, changing and creative.
What campaign are you proudest of so far?
Act for the Disappeared, [a 2012 campaign for the Lebanese association which aims to highlight the plight of thousands of missing Lebanese], an initiative driven by the team in Beirut. It was very much an integrated campaign including TV, outdoor and print but also activation online with Facebook as well as marches in [front of the] Parliament. It’s a cause that rings a bell with Lebanese in general, especially those who didn’t know about it, those who are young and were not exposed to the war.
What are your expectations for the performance of the advertising industry this year?
I am optimistic because there are big opportunities in the key driver markets: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. When it comes to the Levant, the situation in Syria does not help. We hope from a human point of view that it will settle as soon as possible in whichever form it takes, and then [we] will have better [expectations for] the Levant region. For the time being, because of what is happening in Syria, it is dampening the mood in the area.
Where do you expect most of the growth to come from in 2013?
Digital advertising is still small and the lack of research related to spending, efficiency and return on investment [for digital] is not helping. A lot of marketing directors from the client side are still relying on traditional media. There is a sense of pride that it is very visible in traditional media: ‘Have you seen my TV commercial?’ etcetera. From the client side, you don’t have that knowledge that you have back in the West, where a lot of brands have switched and rely more and more on digital. I think the ‘Arab Spring’ revealed that digital is a huge opportunity for people because a lot of young people are on the net. The challenge would be to find solutions and convince clients that this is one of the serious channels to consider going forward.
What would be your advice to young graduates looking to enter the advertising industry?
The first thing is: don’t look for a job, look for a career. It’s a very cutthroat industry. It doesn’t rely on longevity of service. It’s reliance on oneself. People are the asset of an agency. The better they can express themselves and show what they are made of, the faster they can grow. If they go in with the mentality to get a job, ultimately they will go nowhere.