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148 march 2014

march 2014

shots 148

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Middle East Focus Russell Ramsey Durex


64 Places | middle east

rEgioNAl focuS

illustration: Chris ede

ThE MiDDlE EAST The challenges facing the ad scene in MENA are as the grains of sand in its deserts, ie there are a whole bunch of ‘em. The need to sell to hugely diverse cultures; to navigate censorship; to attract increasingly social network-savvy consumers who want a chat not a pitch; to name but a few. Despite this, Joe Lancaster meets industry leaders thrilled by the region’s superfast rate of change and the fresh spirit of daring and artistic flowering inspired by the Arab Spring

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| Places 65

jwt Cairo

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1/2 Mobinil, Always Together 3/4 Touch, In My New World

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“If content is king, why give it a pauper’s budget? You’re not buying the media, so spend more on the film, not less.”

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o say that the Middle Eastern advertising scene has undergone a revolution in the last decade is an understatement. “I first came here on shoots in the early 90s. We used to have to bring everything from London. I can even remember people bringing filled sandbags to a desert shoot,” says Shane Martin, who opened the Dubai office of his company Boomtown Productions in 2003. While that example highlights the Londoners’ naivety more than anything, the village-to-metropolis transformation of Dubai is like a microcosm for the recent fortunes of the ad scene in the region, which is morphing into a sophisticated player on the world stage. “Advertising as we knew it in the past has gone to hell. Marketers have lost trust in traditional agencies at the same time as the people, whom previously were called consumers, have challenged the right of brands to simply preach to them rather than earn their interest,” says Mohammed Bahmishan, regional creative director of Leo Burnett, who is based in Jeddah. Bahmishan calls the shift the “era of people” and points to, “the rise of co-creation and the desire of people to be part of the conversation,” and “the rise of client desire to reduce barriers between their brands and people,” as key factors in the change. All fuelled by the rapid adoption of social media, he believes this has forced ad folk in the region to rethink their approach.

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“Content is no longer the specialty of the chosen few, but rather a mass product created on daily basis by the people of the world.”

When is an Arab not an Arab? With more than 300 million daily YouTube views coming from viewers in the Middle East – two thirds of whom are Saudi Arabians looking online for what state censorship forbids them from watching on TV – brands are constantly trying to capture the audience’s computer-screen gaze. This has led to a new film model, employed by agencies such as JWT Cairo, who you can read about on page 70, where long-form web spots or series are often merely trailed on TV to drive viewers online, where media is free. Unfortunately for agencies, like in other territories, clients often seem to want more for less. “If content is king, why give it a pauper’s budget?” laments Boomtown’s Martin. “You’re not buying the media, so spend more on the film, not less.” There are many common misconceptions about the Middle East, ranging from the ignorant to the naïve, and one that often crops up is the notion that it has a uniform culture throughout. “It’s called a region and geographically it is, but culturally it isn’t,” says Ali Azarmi, founder of Joy Films. “People think Arabs are Arabs but there’s more difference between Egyptians, Lebanese and Saudis than say, French, Poles and Swedes,” adds

Seyoan Vela, ECD at JWT Dubai. These cultural differences mean it’s imperative to understand local nuances, such as the contrast between Lebanon, where the people have a reputation for taking themselves very seriously and any derogatory or mocking representations of them are off limits, to Egypt, where nothing much is taboo and the majority of ads mercilessly poke fun at the natives with a trademark tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation. On the other hand the pan-Arab work coming out of Dubai has to be broad enough to appeal to the huge tapestry of ex-pats there and in Saudi, also adhering to the censorship laws in the latter, but, regardless of cultural constraints, as Joy’s Azarmi states; “You could say that the best ads have universal appeal and work anywhere.”

The poop’s not rolling up the hill The production scene can also be complicated in the Middle East, though not for cultural reasons. When brands there decide to make million-dollar ads for global campaigns they push agencies to bring in big-name international directors like Psyop, who recently shot a spot for luxury hotel Atlantis, The Palm with JWT Dubai. With the exception of a handful of highly respected directors such as Ali Ali and Omar Hilal (see page 72), this means that local directors only get to shoot the smaller budget work, forcing a band of regulars to travel the region in search of jobs.

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Full Service Production

Dubai - Beirut - Cape Town - Los Angeles


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1/2 Samsung, Young Folks Home 3/4 Dolceca, Aqua Mangos

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“Beyond the censorship and barriers and moral codes in some countries, I look at it as a goldmine of opportunities…” The result is a system where local directors aren’t repped exclusively anywhere and, the same way it happens in Italy and often Germany, the race to send a script to preferred directors begins the moment the agency’s email lands in producers’ inboxes. As they say, shit rolls downhill and with the bread-and-butter jobs being snapped up by the usual suspects, new directors often don’t get a look in. “There is talent here but [the industry] doesn’t support it. We need to promote young talent more,” says Mofeed Abu Algebeen, COO at Filmworks, probably Dubai’s biggest production company.

Leave the sandbags at home Another erroneous stereotype regularly thrown at the Middle East is that every industry there has money to burn. The global recession did not miss this part of the world and marketing budgets have dropped significantly in the past few years. Commercials are made on a shoestring with hair-raising turnaround times of a fortnight or even less and this can lead to dangerous territory, warns Ti22 Films MD Reim El Houni. “Lots of people are going out and buying a 5D, downloading Final Cut and giving it a go. Sadly it’s becoming a market for the one-man band. There’s a lot of work in that range.” The good news though is that foreigners have stopped bringing their own sandbags. In fact the region boasts some unique landscapes and

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services have improved immensely. “It’s easy to shoot here,” says Ian Ross, founder of Central Films in Dubai. “You can shut down the 12-lane Sheikh Zayed road for two hours on a Friday morning with one phone call.” Despite the Middle Eastern industry’s embracing of online content and new media, Bechara Mouzannar, chief creative officer for Leo Burnett MENA who is based in Beirut, believes that the history of aniconism (discouraging the reproduction of images of living beings), in Islam has led to creatives in the region lacking essential skills in their DNA. “There is an inability today of Arab art directors to express themselves on a high level of creative excellence. Although they’re totally capable of coming up with new ways of using media and doing great integrated ideas, print and outdoor will always be the poor parents in their genes. That’s why there are so many foreign creatives in the region.” However Mouzannar, who is part Arab, part French and part Brazilian, sees light at the end of the tunnel. “It’s a complicated region, but at the same time there’s so much versatility in terms of opportunities. Beyond the censorship and barriers and moral codes in some countries, I look at it as a goldmine of opportunities considering the fact that communication has not really begun here.” New opportunities have been a profound topic in the region recently with the Arab Spring

inspiring the people in the streets and in turn the advertising industry. From the subtle influences of the new street artists seeping into art direction, to the ads directly addressing the revolution – Leo Burnett Cairo’s Always Together for Mobinil being a brilliant example – a new vitality has found its way into the region’s work.

Tony the Tiger of Arabia This vitality will no doubt continue to flourish as outsiders move into the region and bring influences with them. JWT Dubai, an agency that has created some fantastic campaigns for clients including Kit Kat, Nike, Nokia and HSBC recently, hosts 29 different nationalities within its roughly 100 employees and its ECD Vela believes the region, and Dubai in particular, provides an unrivalled opportunity for young creatives looking to make their mark. “In the UK and USA, even the best agencies usually only have one or two big, creative clients so young creatives don’t get to work on them,” he says. “Here we have six or seven [of those kind of clients] and because the industry is still young here, we’re coming up with not just commercials, but brand ideas that will last – think Frosties’ Tony the Tiger, or Kit Kat’s ‘Have a break’ – that kind of longevity.” So if you’re thinking of becoming a part of the creative revolution here you’d better hurry up, because the Middle East is catching up fast. S

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70 Places | middle east

Mohammed Sabry, JWT Cairo’s acting ECD and MD, is modest about his acronym-packed job title and his agency’s successes, which he credits partly to the creative outbreak that has emerged since the Arab Spring, but largely to JWT’s team-spirited, collaborative work ethic

TAking onE for ThE TEAM C

reatives – want to know how to get to the top? Don’t ask Mohammed Sabry, he’s not sure how it happened. “Two and a half years ago I found myself [here],” chuckles the self-effacing acting ECD of JWT Cairo who balances the role with that of MD. “But it’s been really fun and I think the reason it works well is that we have a very collaborative and tribal culture.” Sabry, a former BBDO account man, explains how all JWT staff, from planning to account personnel, are expected to contribute ideas. “Everyone who works here has to have an understanding and passion for creativity,” and that collaborative culture extends into working with the best external talent in fields from film and music to theatre and art, which are currently enjoying something of a renaissance sparked by the Arab Spring. “It was a very emotional time for everybody and when emotions are stirred up in a society it often leads to resurgence in art. A lot of new street artists and musicians are emerging and that has an effect on the ad scene. It’s given us a boost, making people more daring in their approach, experimenting with new media and ideas.”

The Super Bowl of the Middle East One such experiment came in JWT’s 2013 Fakka campaign for Vodafone. In Egypt most people with low disposable incomes (90 per cent of the brand’s market) buy groceries from small shops where items like sweets or even a single aspirin are commonly substituted for the small change (fakka) that is rarely available. Spotting a golden opportunity, JWT designed POS material that positioned Vodafone’s micro recharge cards in 46,000 non-telco retail outlets and even made the cards small enough to fit into a cash register. As a result shopkeepers handed them out as small change. Revenues exceeded the client’s original target by 510 per cent and average revenue per

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user increased by seven per cent. “Our thought process was; how can we make the product more useful in a consumer-centric way, rather than a business-centric approach?” recalls Sabry. The campaign won not only the Promo & Activation Grand Prix at Dubai Lynx in 2013, but also Egypt’s first ever gold Lion, as well as a silver. “When we got back [from Cannes] we were congratulated by all the other local agencies and I think it set a precedent and belief that [Egypt] can do well on a global level, which is really contributing to a positive vibe in the market in general.” While employing alternative methods to reach audiences is important, making great films is still essential in Egypt, particularly during Ramadan. “It’s like the Middle East’s Super Bowl,” explains Sabry. “For 30 days, every family is glued to its TV set. Last year over 65 TV series were produced specially for the month, which goes to show how much advertising you can buy around that.” Agencies relish the competition of making theirs the work that stands out and lives up to the public’s high expectations. “It’s important that you keep people engaged and entertained for a whole month, so doing one big spot doesn’t cut it. You have to make sure your whole eco system is rich with content.” JWT did this in 2012 with Big Bite for Nestlé Maxibon, a series of films that went viral, earning over 10 million views, and sparked fan-made spoofs, becoming one of the most successful Ramadan campaigns in last the decade. Barring 2013 when none was awarded, Film Grands Prix have been awarded to Egyptian agencies at Dubai Lynx every year since its 2008 inception. That is not a surprise considering the country is regarded as the ‘Hollywood of the Middle East’ due to its prolific output in not just the film industry, but pop culture in general, which is all exported around the region. However, Sabry believes there is still room to develop TV

advertising. “We shouldn’t define it as ‘TV’ anymore. It should be called ‘Film’ or ‘A/V content’.” Sabry points to several recent JWT campaigns, such as Aqua Mangos for ice-cream brand Dolceca, where long-format films are hosted online and merely trailed on TV. “The beauty is you’re able to develop engaging content and put it where it can live naturally because sometimes you can’t tell your story in 60 seconds.” This in turn makes it essential to, “create ideas that people want to spend time with. It’s the importance of not interrupting what people are interested in but becoming what people are interested in,” he adds.

The potency of a portfolio culture How does JWT stay ahead of the creative pack? “Our approach is all about attracting, developing and retaining the best talent in the market,” explains Sabry. “When you build a brand that becomes a magnet for talent, you’ve done your job as an ad agency.” Sabry underplays his personal contribution to JWT’s recent success but is quick to praise his four creative directors for their work, although they might not be judged on it individually. For more than a year JWT has employed a ‘portfolio culture’ across the 12 MENA regional offices where every employee is evaluated by the work produced by their agency. “You don’t have people in different departments working for different objectives – everybody is aligned [with the objective of] creating great work and that really breaks down the walls between departments and paves the way to developing amazing results. We’ve put our money where our mouth is.” The agency’s not currently actively seeking an ECD and the way things are going, that’s not a surprise. Perhaps Sabry and JWT MENA have proved that the best way to get ahead in the ad game is to concentrate not on your own career, but on your agency’s work instead. S

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PhotograPh: hussein shaaban

jwt cairo

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72 Places | middle east

Some might say he’s demanding, he says he’s determined. However you describe him, in his dogged pursuit of quality, director Omar Hilal will hound clients out of their comfort zones, battle ‘tired’ ideas and turn down shabby scripts. And he’s got award-winning work to show for it

THe enfOrcer J

une 2002. Rubber touched down on tarmac and as the plane slowed to a halt Omar Hilal looked out of the window at Saudi Arabia and thought to himself, ‘what the fuck have I done?’ Three weeks later he’d quit his new job as associate creative director at Leo Burnett Riyadh and begun the pursuit of his dream – to become a commercials director.

PhotograPhs: hussein shaaban

Blowing trumpets and fresh air Hilal was no stranger to Saudi. Though he was born in Egypt, from the age of one to 14 he lived on a Saudi compound that was inhabited mostly by Westerners, while his father, a professor of chemical engineering, taught at the nearby University of Riyadh. While the compound’s walls kept out many of the country’s cultural conventions and laws such as the wearing of burqas, it was still a liberating, refreshing experience to move to Canada, where he finished high school. He then moved back to Cairo where, at the American University, he studied a combination of film, journalism, photography and, at his brother’s advice, advertising. A year directing TV shows in Italy followed, Hilal then did the same back in Egypt, until he met the MD of Leo Burnett Cairo in 1998, who offered him a job as a producer. While in that role he took two creative ideas to the regional CD, who told him; “You’re not a producer, you’re a writer.” An impressive period at the agency ensued where Hilal and his friend and colleague

Mohamed Hamdalla, “changed the [tone of Middle Eastern] advertising and paved the way for others to come in and start doing more interesting work,” says Hilal, who remembers that before then most of the region’s ads were simple, archaic jingles. “I hate to blow my own trumpet, but we were passionate about advertising and we hated the status quo of ads in Egypt. We were inspired by the award-winning work we saw on reels circulated inside the Leo Burnett network. Backed up by a strong account team, we fought hard to create ideas such as those. We gradually convinced our clients to get out of their comfort zone, even in difficult marketing cultures such as P&G’s.” “The early work we did wasn’t exactly award winning,” Hilal admits, “but it was a breath of fresh air compared to the tired jingles that were common practice. The whole industry took note and with time the concepts got better, the executions were more international and Egyptian advertising positively changed.”

Refreshing Coke deals in Cairo Hilal won a slew of regional awards and five years after being given a creative role at Leo Burnett, he was associate creative director at the agency and one of the region’s top talents, but he wasn’t doing what he had wanted to do since childhood, when he would visit his grandparents in London and tape the adverts on TV. Taking the aforementioned job in Riyadh and realising he didn’t want to go back to “claustrophobic”

“Some directors feel the need to leave their mark on each script, but I only do it if I need to. If I receive one that’s excellent then all I have to do is breathe life into it and start telling the story.” SH148_p72-74_ME_Omar.indd 72

Saudi, he went to FP7 Cairo (part of the McCann Worldgroup), striking a deal to oversee the Coke account and direct their commercials. Within six months he was getting so many offers to shoot spots for other agencies he was able to quit the ‘day job’ and direct full time.

No dialogue, no can do Since then he’s compiled a body of work that would make most Middle Eastern directors nauseous with envy. Not only has he directed films for the biggest brands in the business – names such as Vodafone, McDonald’s, Coke, Nestlé and Batelco – but he’s also kept his reel free from the ubiquitous non-dialogue spots that allow for voiceovers in multiple languages and can hence be aired in several markets. “I often get those [non-dialogue] scripts and the client will want the same film shot in two Arabic dialects and again with an Indian casting to do an Indian version. There’s no way you’re going to get three great films out of that. I find that frustrating,” says Hilal, who simply rejects the offers and takes on the projects that he believes can become great films. “People come to me because I do very well with actors and dialogue,” he says, and while he admits that most of his work is performance-based comedy, he looks up to diverse directors like Frank Budgen and would rather not be pigeonholed. From the faux behind-the-scenes look at the making of a spot in Big Bad Ad for Derayah Financial Consultants, to the mockumentary featuring Richard Gere for Etisalat, spanning even puppetry in Vodafone’s Mesaharaty – all executed with panache – diversity abounds on Hilal’s reel. Proudly fluent in four languages, Hilal has lived and travelled around the world and believes this experience informs the diversity of his work. “You can’t tell a commercial is by me by the look of it – which I think is a success,” he says.

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74 Places | middle east

“We were inspired by the work we saw on reels around Leo Burnett’s network and fought hard to create ideas such as those. We convinced our clients to get out of their comfort zones.” It’s ironic that Hilal is concerned by the number of creatives in Egypt who are turning to directing, seeing as he admits, “I probably started this trend.” This year seven CDs in Cairo left their agencies to work behind the lens. “Everybody seems to think it’s the natural development for creative directors to direct,” says Hilal, “but we’re losing the creatives,” he laments. “I think the creativity is suffering because the young people who are taking the [new directors’] places aren’t developed enough. I end up having to improve their scripts – or I just don’t take them on.” “Some directors feel the need to leave their mark on each script but I only do it if I need to. If I receive one that’s excellent then all I have to do is breathe life into it and start telling the story, and they’re the kind of commercials I like to make – stories. I don’t feel the urge to change them, but sometimes I have to rewrite them and because people respect me, they trust what I can do.”

Yellow bellies and short deadlines While the challenges faced by directors in the Middle East would be familiar to their international counterparts; too-small budgets, too-cowardly clients and too little time, the anguish is exaggerated here. Two-week turnarounds for shoestring-budget TVCs are far too common and in 2012 Hilal shot a job for telecoms company Etisalat, through BBDO/ STRATEGIES Cairo, that aired eight days after the agency sent him the script. “We shoot a lot

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of commercials out here. I’m extremely picky and I end up doing 15 jobs a year, but I know directors who do 30 to 40 jobs a year.” The biggest barrier to creativity in the region though is the clients’ yellow bellies. A three-film job for a big brand was recently “ruined” by the client, says Hilal. “I wrote three scripts that were very ‘out there’ for Saudi, in a very slang Saudi tongue, and they loved it. They signed up to it in the PPM, we shot it, made a director’s cut and then somebody high up in the company looked at it and said, ‘this is too daring. We’re not doing it,’ and they ended up only airing one out of the three films – and they’d really chopped it up.” Even when he does manage to push a creative idea through and is proved right, Hilal can still feel a backlash. In 2008 a creative from FP7 came to him with an idea that Hilal helped to shape into four spoofs of national anthems, poking fun at the fortunes of teams competing in the European Championships that summer. They recorded the audio and pitched them in the PPM to Coca-Cola who applauded but then took from 6pm until 4am to be convinced to green-light the new idea. The films were hugely popular with the public and won the TVC Grand Prix at the 2009 Dubai Lynx. “The client hates me still,” sighs Hilal. “We’ve worked together several times since on Sprite and Fanta jobs that did really well but we don’t get on great. Because I was so determined and tough about selling something more creative he took a dislike to me. Some people do say that

I’m quite demanding, but I think of it as being determined to make something good.” Having shot a film for the Kingdom of Bahrain, via seven cities in 10 days, through M&C Saatchi London in 2013, Hilal has his sights set on making more English-language films for Europe, The US and South America in the near future, and has recently been in talks with a global production company about representation. As Middle Eastern directors are generally not repped by any company and work with whoever has the scripts, he’s free to set up his own production house, and will soon be launching GOAT, with his business partner Hossam Fawzy. “We’re starting with ads but hoping to branch out into films and TV shows,” he says. “I want to produce and help others make great films. I love collaboration. Don’t think for a second that I like to rewrite scripts. I love it when a script is good and that’s why I’m upset that creatives become directors – because you lose a partner you’ve been building a relationship with for months or years.”

Omar’s fantasy Balinese curry house Despite his aspirations to produce, it’s hard to imagine Hilal losing his creative drive. Last year he won a gold in Design at Dubai Lynx for The Comb, a campaign for the American University in Cairo, which came up while he was teaching there. Aged 38 and living in Cairo with his wife – herself a producer – and young daughter, Hilal is a huge Roma FC fan and a passionate cook. His speciality is Indian cuisine but he apparently makes a beef wellington that “Gordon Ramsay would be proud of”. With two features in development his ultimate goal is to “make films and open a restaurant – preferably located in Bali – where I can cook every day.” No doubt he’d be happy to cook someone else’s recipes, but if they needed a little re-writing, Hilal would be the ideal chef to do it. S

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76 Places | middle east

Graham Fink, CCO of Ogilvy & Mather China, has been chosen to lead six juries at this year’s Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity. He tells shots why he’s a fan of regional festivals and how he’s getting ready for little sleep and big egos

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hat attracted you to heading the juries at Dubai Lynx? When I was asked to do it by Terry Savage [chairman of Lions Festivals, who joint organise Dubai Lynx], around nine months ago now, I immediately said yes. It seemed like an exciting thing to do. I had seen some nice work from that region whilst being President at AdFest and this seemed like a great opportunity to discover and learn more. Why do you think regional festivals are important and why should companies etc. invest in entering them rather than Cannes? Winning Lions at Cannes is very hard. And one of the problems with big international awards is that sometimes the more local ideas are not properly understood. I remember a number of great ads done in the UK that were overlooked by the Cannes juries as they simply didn’t get the backstory or the local nuance of language. Regional festivals are different and it’s a great

way to encourage creatives as they possibly stand a better chance to get their work recognised. It will still be tough though and we must maintain a high standard. You’re chairing six juries, which seems like a lot. How will you divide your time between them and are you expecting to get much sleep? Terry told me it was going to be relaxing! He knows how to get the people he wants. I’m sure it will be a lot of work and you do get tired after concentrating so hard for long periods of time, but it is something that myself – and I’m sure the jury members – have done a number of times before. We are used to having to choose from lots of ideas and I find I can judge work very quickly. As always, the really great ideas stand head and shoulders above the rest. Working in China has given me the experience to not worry too much about sleep. And of course we have to find time to go out and explore too.

Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity: the lowdown

PhotograPh: julian hanford

the annual event, mena’s largest gathering of industry peers, takes place from 9 to 12 march at the madinat jumeirah dubai. it brings together international industry pros and top regional talent for a programme of exhibitions, screenings, seminars and masterclasses. highlights include: think tank for senior marketers; digital lab for those wanting to up their digital expertise; leo Burnett lynx student academy and more.

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the festival culminates in the awards show which sees international juries judging entries across fifteen categories ranging from radio to mobile and Pr. for more information, to register as a delegate or submit entries go to... dubailynx.com or telephone Dubai Office: +971 (0) 4 427 3090 UK Office: +44 (0) 20 3033 4000

What’s your approach to managing the different personalities on juries? I’ve always found this one of the most interesting bits. We all know there are some big personalities in our business, big egos, too and a few are total fucking pains in the backside. But when everyone gets together it makes for a lot of fun. It’s important to get everyone’s point of view and my job is to bring out the voices from the quieter ones in the room. What will you look for in the entries? I always look for the same thing. Something that I wish I had done. And something I could never have done. After that, the work has got to be relevant and needs to stand out, it must be worth remembering – and of course you have to care about it. I find that so many pieces of work these days are made just because a client has put a brief in. But do you really care about it? Would you take time out of your busy day to engage with a brand for five to ten minutes? In most cases we kid ourselves that people are really interested in what we have to say. Hopefully [the juries] will be weeding out all the rubbish and the great pretenders. Are you familiar with much work from the MENA region? What do you think of the quality? I have seen a few things from MENA that I like from other shows. In terms of quality though, it is a little bit like China. Some interesting ideas are let down by bad craftsmanship. Quite a lot of the work is very rational, too. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that if you can make it exciting or art direct it in an interesting way, but unfortunately most of the time it isn’t.

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duBai lynx international festival of Creativity

Are there many similarities between MENA and Asia as advertising territories? There are a great deal of rules and regulations, and also religions come into play. Then you have to take into account humour, social nuances and cultural differences. This is something I found out the hard way when I came to China. But for all this there are the basic human truths and needs. We all tend to like going on holiday (apart from people like Tony Kaye). Getting a pay rise. Going out for a meal with friends and sharing stories. Something I’ve often found looking at work in China is that even if you don’t speak the language, there is something about the tone and the body language that touches you. You can feel if something is good or not. Hopefully I can draw on this experience. Last year there were no Grands Prix or even golds awarded in several categories. Is it healthy for juries to withhold top honours? Very much so. What is the point of giving an award to something if it doesn’t deserve it? It just makes a mockery of the festival and devalues the award itself. It also makes the jury look bad. I know that awards festivals like to give out the accolades, but in my book, only ever give an award if it really deserves it. Is there pressure on awards juries to ‘find’ winners? Yes, of course. As just mentioned. But it will be my job to take that pressure off. Can people from overseas judge regional awards with the same insight as locals who might better understand the cultures of the markets?

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“I find so many things these days are made just because a client has put a brief in. But do you really care about it? Hopefully we will be weeding out all the rubbish and the great pretenders.” Again, the great thing about local and regional shows is that the cultural and local insights are often better understood. And the jury is made up of people predominantly in the region. But it’s also good to have a few people from overseas who can come at an idea completely fresh. They are seeing it often for the first time and that is a good thing. If something gets shortlisted, that is when the discussions can take place and it’s important that local people explain the backstory.

Have you been to Dubai before? What are you looking forward to about your visit outside of the festival? I visited Dubai a few years back when working on a freelance project. I found it fascinating. I think it’s always good to get out of your hotel room and explore the local culture and of course take a lot of photographs. I’m really looking forward to the trip. S

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