Industry Must Regain Confidence: Elie Khouri

There are tectonic changes in the global and regional marketing and advertising business, calling out for an uncommon mindset for growth. In this interview with Arabian Marketer, Omnicom Media Group MENA’s chief, Elie Khouri, asserts that as the industry goes through one of its more challenging times, the answer lies in regaining confidence in what it does best. Edited Excerpts:

The year has been marked with conversations of how advertising must reinvent itself. How do you view some of the challenges that the industry faces?
There is a growing lack of trust in our industry globally. People are less excited about what we do. We are challenged by three factors primarily –– consultancies are taking over our businesses, clients are taking things in-house and platforms, such as Google and Facebook, are eating our lunch and breakfast. The narrative is that we will disappear because of all of them.

I believe consultancies will never be able to truly compete with us in the long term. The premise of our business is built around ideas and how we convert ideas to inspire consumers. Consultancies will never be able to replicate this. We work with clients over years; no consultancy can understand a client’s business, its brands, its consumers like we do. I also don’t see Google or Facebook as threats. On the contrary, we work on data partnerships with them, for the benefit of our clients.

As for marketers taking services such as creative or programmatic in-house, I have worked long enough to know this has been attempted several times but never successfully. The key ingredient in this equation is talent. Clients find it hard to maintain and nurture talent in creative services. They are here to produce great products, brands and services but it’s not in their DNA to work in marketing services. What’s more, clients can never invest in marketing tech in the way that we do.

Advertising is driving and empowering platforms like Facebook and Google. Imagine life without Facebook and Google and imagine those platforms without advertising. We are a multidisciplinary industry. We are a creative industry, we invest in people and people are engaged in consumer experiences. As an industry, we need to regain confidence that what we do is super amazing. We are the center of consumer experience.

What are some of the challenges specific to MENA that you think the industry should address?
For one, we must encourage local talent –– Emiratis and Saudis –– to join the ranks of this industry as so far, they have proved reluctant. We are seeing shy attempts in this direction. We want to excite them, but they have been keener on the public sector and the likes of banking than on our industry. We have to work harder to change this.

Another crucial thing we need is for companies to build their own culture. None of the stakeholders in our industry are investing in culture at present. Culture is critical as it binds all employees together towards one common goal and motivates them to stay in this business. That is how we grow our industry.

The last thing is investing more in marketing technology. That is our only means to prove our effectiveness and drive performance-driven solutions to our clients rather than old techniques of awareness and brand building.

In the last two years, the slew of senior exits globally due to misconduct has been significant. Is enough being done in MENA to hold leaders accountable?
It’s difficult for me to comment on what is happening in other companies. We know that cases of misconduct happen in the region and around the world. As a company, we have a strict code of conduct that lets people know where to draw the line. Every company needs to have such a code and enforce it.

Within our industry specifically, unfortunately, not much has been done yet. I hope that industry bodies like the Advertising Business Group, the Marketing Society, the IAA or the recently created IAB GCC (Interactive Advertising Bureau) will do more to promote such codes of conduct and behavior within their member organizations.

Do you think 2018 will end as a ‘good’ year?
How the year will end is difficult to predict and whoever attempts to do so is ambitious. What we do know is that the last quarter represents 40 percent of the economic advertising investment. That is significant. Anything can happen. Irrespective of whether the last quarter is good or bad, I believe this year will be softer than last year. If it is confirmed as a year of decline for the industry, the fall will be smaller than last year.

What are your expectations on industry growth as we approach the last quarter?
The overall trends prevail. Digital is growing consistently by 20-25 percent. We continue to see further shifts towards Facebook, Google and Snapchat. Snapchat had a phenomenal year especially in Saudi Arabia. TV is facing major headwinds and will record a double-digit drop this year. The good news is that the fall in print advertising is slowing and next year promises more stability. The other two major media –– radio and outdoor –– are stabilizing as well. If you see overall, this is not that bad.

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