Appointed in July 2012 as Middle East and North Africa’s director for WPP, the London-based multinational advertising agency with a $20 billion market capitalization, Roy Haddad is among the most prominent names in the region’s ad industry. Formerly MENA chief executive of American ad agency JWT, Haddad is now responsible for a network that covers around 4,000 executives in the region and has under its umbrella several networks including JWT, Grey, Young and Rubicam, Ogilvy Group and many others. Executive sat with Haddad to discuss his new role, his thoughts on the region’s advertising market and the prominence of Lebanese in this industry.
See also: Why the Lebanese rule advertising
What do you aim to have achieved within five years?
In China, there is a WPP academy, and we are contemplating launching something similar in the Middle East. It would provide training to executives in the marketing industry. [I also aim to] bring in more transparency to the market: this is the most significant challenge. [Lack of transparency] affects the MENA industry more than other markets and part of the problem is the lack of reliable research. The industry will gain from encouraging better data.
What are your expectations for the advertising industry in 2013?
I think it will be a tough year. Marketing works best in stable markets as it’s long term by definition. With very volatile markets, today becomes more important than tomorrow. Therefore I think we will see more aggressive promotion versus brand building. The other factor is the digital rally. The industry as a whole is in stage of reinventing itself. We are moving from [targeting] sociodemographics to targeting mindsets. When you start targeting mindsets, the whole brand experience lives better in digital than traditional media.
Why is the share of advertising expenditures relative to GDP at low levels in the region?
In the past, it was due to a lack of knowledge and the scarcity of media and distribution. [Today], one of the main reasons is volatility. Stability is key for long-term brand planning. Multinationals don’t invest at the right level here. We are victims of volatility and the lack of data in the region. This is a huge issue.
How is the presence of smaller advertising agencies affecting fees?
I think the lack of growth [in the advertising industry] in 2011 and the oversupply of smaller shops [led to] fees not being at the level they should be. At the heart of that is the doubt of clients’ over how much transparency is being dealt with. Big multinationals have a duty to be more transparent in their dealings with clients.
Would you look to acquire smaller agencies?
Organic growth is becoming harder to come by, so growth is coming from acquisitions. That’s why you see the Omnicoms and WPPs of this world. We are looking at opportunities here and there. There is a weakness in the region, as there are not enough startups. As for Lebanon, we are looking and searching [for acquisition opportunities]. To do an acquisition, it has to bring added value to our current offer and not more of the same.
In your opinion, why are Lebanese prominent in the industry?
Lebanon’s free economic system encouraged entrepreneurial thinking, so the advertising industry developed earlier than everywhere else [in the region]. What helped us is that we are very cosmopolitan. Lebanese executives can fit anywhere in the world because of their multilingual ability and their upbringing in a free economy. Another thing we need to realize is that Lebanese excel abroad because the local market is very small. The largest account in Lebanon is not enough to sustain [the industry] with the fees applicable in this market. The total ad market in billing terms is around $150 million in Lebanon so about $25 million in fees maximum. It is barely enough to sustain three or four decent agencies.
What is your advice to graduates looking to join the industry?
It’s about blood, sweat and tears. You need to have curiosity, as there is a high curiosity level that should go in understanding the consumer. You need to have the culture to be able to synthesize that curiosity into an actionable plan and have the courage to go out and implement it. We are in the business of imagination but in the art of creating conviction.