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Saudi Arabia’s rapid transformation calls for a new breed of agencies, says OMD’s Wissam Najjar

With his recent interview on the progress on Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development plan, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud broke local TV rating records and achieved millions of views on YouTube. His global ambition for the country is clearly infectious, and the excitement is rising.

The signs of change are everywhere and hard to miss. At a societal, cultural and entertainment level, the break from the past is signifi cant. Most recently there’s been a push to attract major global sporting events, from boxing to golf, the Paris Dakar Rally and soon F1. Combined with a groundbreaking tourism drive, they open a new window to the country and help update perceptions.

There is also the rapid transformation of the economic and business fabric of the kingdom. As well as the headline-grabbing megaprojects and tech investments designed to create a modern infrastructure and diversify the economy, there is also change on a more granular level. Through liberalising societal reforms and economic incentives, Saudi Arabia aims to attract companies and individuals to its cities, create jobs and become the region’s dominant business hub.

This ambition is spreading and, coupled with the size of the home market, creates an attractive growth environment. As well as stimulating local entrepreneurship, it’s enticing international businesses to either upgrade their local presence or relocate regional HQs to the kingdom, including Google Cloud, Alibaba and PepsiCo.

What we’re seeing today is the early stages of a powerful virtuous and transformative cycle that is shaping the future of our region. As the proverb goes, “fortune favours the bold,” and we too believe in the country’s enormous potential. Now is not the time to sit idly on the fence. Already present in the kingdom with two large offi ces, we’re investing heavily in our operation, meeting or anticipating the needs of a new breed of clients with ambitious goals.

More than traditional agencies, service providers or business partners, the new dynamics of the Saudi market call for change agents, catalysts that don’t just respond to but anticipate their brands’ needs. Performance is everything but so is pace.

Thanks to the major Saudi clients we’ve been working with in the past few years, we’ve seen the trend form and have adapted quickly to changing talent and requirements. To lead from the front, we’ve already re-organised our resources on the

‘‘What we’re seeing today is the early stages of a powerful virtuous and transformative cycle that is shaping the future of our region.”

ground and placed some of OMD’s network leadership team in Riyadh, including our regional COO, GM and head of investments. With the newly recruited head of digital and head of strategy, they’re spearheading our future-readiness across all disciplines and verticals. These moves create attractive career opportunities for Saudi talent across all levels and functions.

To deliver on our clients’ higher expectations, we have deployed several strategic initiatives, such as automation that ensures pace, precision and performance at all times. To get the necessary data and resources to fl ow through the organisation, we’ve broken down silos. To prepare our talent, our internal initiatives have elevated our local teams’ skillset further and changed their mindsets from solutions to know-how. As well as minds, we’re upgrading and integrating our physical spaces in our Jeddah and Riyadh offi ces, redesigning them to become stimulating environments that foster creative thinking, collaborative work and eff ectiveness among clients and employees.

This far-reaching programme has already attracted ambitious local and global brands with exciting objectives, requiring much more than a media agency’s traditional service off ering. One needed us to use data and technology to launch a new loyalty programme and deliver on aggressive acquisition KPIs. It joins an impressive portfolio of world-class local brands and clients with objectives that cut across countries and continents.

With this assertiveness, resolve and mindset, the local market dynamics are redrawing the lines of the client-agency relationship. It is pushing us to aim higher still and work not harder but smarter. In a fast-changing environment like this, the ability to navigate uncertainty is the diff erence between success and failure. Our innovative technology solutions have helped clients quickly learn from and act upon real-time data signals about markets, consumer perceptions and behaviours, product categories and media. Underpinned by the Omni marketing operating system, they deliver real-time visibility, on a market-by-market basis, to determine when, where and how much to invest.

Ultimately success awaits those who adapt to this new Saudi mindset by strengthening their local presence on the ground, including an impressive talent and tech stack, and activating their global know-how and resources. It’s the radical collaboration between the two that will realise the true scale of opportunities in Saudi Arabia.