In conversation with Sasan Saeidi, Managing Director, FP7, UAE.
Sasan Saeidi speaks to Mariam Ali Baig about driving success through culture, model and skill set changes.
MARIAM ALI BAIG: What is your perception of the economic outlook for 2016?
SASAN SAEIDI: Over the past five to six years the region has experienced exponential growth as well as relative stability and people have always been optimistic here. Now, with the turmoil around us, we are being sucked into a political maelstrom. The third and fourth quarters of 2015 were relatively tough for many reasons; political instability in the region and the slowdown of the Chinese and Russian economies. Dubai is not only a hub for a lot of creative and media agencies, it is a major tourist hub and when tourism slows down, it has an impact on brands here. Then there is the crisis of oil prices at below $30 a barrel. The world is in recession, although we tend to be the last to accept this because this region is very much about growth.
MAB: How will this affect the advertising and media agencies operating in the region?
SS: In the past couple of years, creative and media agencies in the region have seen double digit growth, but 2016 will be a tough year. This is not only our perspective; it is that of our clients. A lot of what we do is impacted by what happens in Saudi Arabia and clients are cautious about how the market will react because, when there is a slowdown, consumer spending power is the first thing to be affected. I think a lot of brands will hold back on their budgets until March or April 2016, and depending on the picture then, they will start to gauge how the end of 2016 will shape up. Although in our business we need to be optimistic, I don’t think 2016 will be the year where clients will be taking many risks.
MAB: Will this impact agency hiring and HR?
SS: There already has been some recalibration within the agency. However, we are cautious about too much belt tightening as this will have side effects in the long run. Our business is about the creative product, and if you do not have the right people or apply too much tightening on the systems and processes, the product is impacted and this has a direct link to revenue both in the short and long term – as well as on the reputation of the brand. Cutting down on marketing spend is probably the worst thing you can do to a brand, because ultimately you lose voice and consumers might forget about you.
“In today’s world, if you don’t have a hybrid model where you have the same people doing online and offline you ill not be able to sustain yourself”
MAB: FP7-DXB is known for putting a great deal of emphasis on the agency ‘culture’. How does this translate in real terms?
SS: The most important part of an agency or a company is the culture, because it drives everything – from product to financials. If you invest in making the environment as pleasant as possible and in making people feel part of something bigger, you create happy employees and happy employees create better work, because they will put much more heart and soul into the work. And when the work is better, clients are happier because they are selling more. FP7 has been one of the most awarded creative agencies in the region and for the past three consecutive years we have been recognised as the most effective agency in the region, an incredible feat for any agency and which has shown that we have been consistent and done the right things. This also lends itself to the financial results; clients believe in you, they know your work is effective and this translates into new business as well as organic growth from the existing businesses of our clients.
MAB: In terms of clients what is your percentage in terms of global versus local?
SS: Thirty percent are multinational global clients that we have as part of McCann’s and 70% are local. Local clients might be global brands, but they are brands we have nurtured locally. A measure of the success of an agency is to look at the ratio of global versus local brands; it shows that you are growing locally on your own, rather than relying on global business.
MAB: Do you think agencies should go back to the full service model?
SS: It is not about how we want to see it; it is about what the market needs and what consumers are doing. The younger generation is living in an extremely digital and integrated world, where everything is connected, and to communicate with them, brands have to use multiple platforms (and screens) and output different messages in order to get that final message across. From a planning and integration perspective and to stay ahead of this curve, it is better if everything is done under one roof because the idea will not be compromised. Bringing back the media and planning (online and offline) functions will benefit the final product. Consumers are living in an integrated world and the planning has to be as fluid as their lives are.
MAB: Is this the model at FP7?
SS: Media and creative are part of the same group and we integrate as much as possible. It is not only us – agencies around the world are not working in the integrated way that they should. True integration happens when people come together and I don’t see this happening unless the model changes and everything is in-house and everyone works as one team. When I started in the agency world, the model was the full service one and there was a sense of achievement when you won an account. In those days, even if you were an account person, you had to know about media, PR, creative and have an overall understanding of the business. Today’s model doesn’t ask this anymore and there is a lack of knowledge. Of course, you have to add the layer of technology, which enhances the final product. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the old model; I think it was the correct one.
"The culture of a media agency is not grounded on creative attributes, whereas the culture of an advertising agency is driven by creative values. The type of creative person you attract in a media agency will be very different from the one you attract in a creative agency."
MAB: Was the decline of the full service model to a large extent dictated by the rise of digital and the need for specialist competencies?
SS: In today’s world, if you don’t have a hybrid model where you have the same people doing online and offline you will not be able to sustain yourself.
MAB: Do you have separate creative online and offline teams?
SS: It depends on the brief. Do we need to get better? Yes. Do we need to upgrade our talent and bring even better people that are more hybrid and digital savvy? Yes, because that is the only way to evolve. You cannot double up on resources anymore. Of course, you will still have people who are savvier in digital versus people who are not, but as much as is possible the ambition should be to get there by pushing people to be as hybrid as possible. It is the only way to compete in a market that is constantly evolving. You have to be agile and ahead of the curve and most agencies are behind the curve. At the moment there is a lot of consumer generated content for brands; so if the consumers themselves are creating content, where does that leave the agency?
MAB: Today, media, PR or even market research agencies, are offering creative solutions to the brands they service; where does that leave traditional creative agencies?
SS: They have tried to bring creativity into their business because they feel it is the only way they can grow, and it is negative for creative agencies because this is our bread and butter, but you can’t stop them from doing it. In our favour is the fact that our culture and DNA is driven by creative fundamentals. This happens on a daily basis; media or PR agencies go into a pitch and present their creative idea, but it is never as good as the creative agency’s. The culture of a media agency is not grounded on creative attributes, whereas the culture of an advertising agency is driven by creative values. The type of creative person you attract in a media agency will be very different from the one you attract in a creative agency. They know that one is the house of creativity and the other of media buying and planning – and if the latter happens to do creative, it is not their bread and butter. That is the difference.
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