With 25 years of experience at Impact BBDO, a leading regional advertising agency, Dani Richa has assumed different roles within the company, including chief creative officer. Chairman and chief executive of the Omnicom subsidiary since 2009, he is one of the most influential ad executives in the region. Executive sat with Richa in his Beirut office to discuss Lebanon’s prominence in the ad industry and the main changes in the market in recent years.
How did the Lebanese become so dominant in the region’s advertising industry?
It was triggered by the [Lebanese] Civil War [which started in 1975]. You had clusters of regional clients and agencies that moved to Cyprus and started operating out of there. We were all offshore [in Cyprus] and covering the Middle East from there. Then Dubai started becoming what it is today and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, companies started moving their head offices to Dubai. This is how the Lebanese took the industry from Lebanon to the region.
Why did Lebanese agencies partner with multinational advertising companies?
A lot saw the need of partnering with multinationals to be able to attract multinational clients that tend to work globally with agencies. The trend was to sell a part or to affiliate with an American or multinational agency and from the 2000s onward, as the region gained importance, those international groups became majority shareholders. In our case, three years ago Omnicom became majority shareholder of Impact BBDO.
Why are multinationals in the region still run by Lebanese CEOs?
At first, it was because they started the industry. Now, we are still running the show because we developed it, were very successful at it and we have an equal intellect to our Western counterparts with a language and cultural advantage. Also, on average, we have 25 to 30 years of relationships in the region with key clients. They trust us because we helped them build their brand. For the foreseeable future, I think you will continue to see Lebanese leadership in advertising.
What are the main changes that the industry has witnessed in the past couple of years?
We went through a phase where brands were talking at people through ads on TV, in newspapers, in magazines and on the radio and then it evolved and we started having a two-way dialogue through direct marketing and direct response. Now, it’s not just brands talking to people and people talking to brands, it’s people talking to people about brands. The brand has to work three times as hard to be there and be talked about in a good way. The successful brands, the ones people are talking about, are the ones that have a positive [impact] on people’s lives.
In 2007 and 2008 in particular, allegations surfaced of serious corruption in the advertising and media industry. Has the advertising industry cleaned itself up?
Corruption was part of the world back then, it was everywhere. It’s not relevant today. There is a much greater focus on compliance, with absolutely no room for gray area. You are operating by American laws and they are strict. I would say that in this region there were cases [of corruption] but in recent history I think the industry has become more professional in that regard.
How has the industry performed in recent years and what is your expectation for 2013?
The big hit was in 2009 and 2010. Lots of agencies had to restructure; it was survival of the fittest. In 2011, recovery started and in 2012, there was a small growth. The year 2013 is a big question mark because of the change that happened in the region. We are yet to see the result of this change. I am optimistic; we have adjusted to a new reality. We are almost continuously in crisis management mode and we work accordingly. The only way you can do it is by saying, ‘I can’t change the economy or the regional turmoil but what I affect is my business.’ I see 2013 as a good year looking forward.
What campaign are you most proud of so far?
It is “Cheyef Halak” [‘look at yourself’ in Arabic] as it was all about purpose. [Cheyef Halak is a social awareness campaign created by Impact BBDO and endorsed by LBCI].