It’s all about ethics

Arabian Business magazine meets Khamis Al Muqla, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East, a strong campaigner for better ethics in the regional advertising industry.

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By  David Ingham Published  November 25, 2002

|~||~||~|The advertising industry in the Middle East certainly faces its share of challenges. On the one hand, it is trying to avoid being caught up in the global advertising slowdown. On the other, it faces some very local criticisms about its standards of creativity, business practices and ethics. At the recent Gulf Marketing Forum, Arabian Business discussed these issues and more with Khamis Al Muqla, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East and an industry stalwart.

Arabian Business
The advertising industry in the Middle East has a poor reputation, in terms of less than transparent business dealings and a general lack of ethics. Is this statement justified and if so why?

Khamis Al Muqla
It is true: the advertising industry in the region has a poor reputation. This is as much a legacy of the way all business was operated here, based on a traditional trading mentality, as anything else.

In addition, agencies in the region have traditionally been owned by individuals, not corporations, which has affected the way they operated. Business practices tended to be geared towards achieving the most profit, rather than the best methods of operating.
However, this is changing as more international companies come into the region. There is no place for anything but good business standards.

All parties need to be ethical, decent, truthful, respectful and transparent. These values are no longer an option – they are the only way forward.

The responsibility to enforce these values is shared by us all. Clients can play a major role in forcing good business practices and ethical standards; and everyone is responsible for allowing and accepting unsatisfactory practices and non-ethical players.

What steps can be taken to clean up the industry? Indeed, why should advertising agencies operate on a best practice basis?

The first step is to implement a code of ethics. This is already available in other countries, and has already been agreed in the UAE by the IAA UAE chapter. We have the code agreed – now we have to implement it.

The implementation of a code to regulate relationships between the three parties in the advertising industry – clients, agencies and media – is critical.

Our working environment is changing rapidly thanks to globalisation; therefore, we must operate to international standards to grow our businesses efficiently and correctly. The volume of business in the region is increasing and is up to $1.4 billion for this year.

Is the Middle East lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of creativity?

Agencies in the Middle East need to start investing in the creative talent we have here through training and development. Agencies based in the Middle East have a duty to communicate with the Arab consumer, rather than just ‘Arabising’ international concepts.

Our heritage and culture is so rich when it comes to creativity that we have a wealth of inspiration. It is time we stopped relying on the adaptation of international concepts, and moved towards originating our own ideas.

Saatchi & Saatchi has a training programme organised through Bahrain where we send our employees on training courses in London. But we aren’t doing enough and are very keen to link up with universities and design colleges in the region.

We have all this creative talent in the region – now we have to attract that talent into the advertising sector. Yes, the industry is still a developing sector, and is moving from the business of individuals looking to make a quick buck towards corporations.

How can advertisers track the effectiveness of regional campaigns?

Through research, of which there is a notable lack in the region. With consumer products, effectiveness can be tracked against sales. It becomes harder with advertising on brand awareness, or non-consumer products – research is critical here.

Given the opportunity, research should be undertaken to identify your target markets. Historical data will give fairly accurate information on your current market, but without research one has to rely on the knowledge and experience gained over many years. Experience gained in the region will always be helpful in identifying the customer’s wants and needs.

In the Middle East, research is often considered to be a cost rather than an investment. No barrier is insurmountable given time and education.
Which advertising mediums work in the Middle East and why?

TV has the lion share of expenditure, as it reaches a wider audience, and there are plenty of stations, especially satellite. Newspapers also have traditionally high expenditure.

One industry that is yet to develop is outdoor advertising and mupis. The medium is there, but it comes with a distinct disadvantage – advertising is not visible 24/7 because of generally poor lighting!

We’d like to comment on this statement made by your colleague [at Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East] Les Kentwell: ‘When the media approaches clients directly, offering different discounts and deals to those they offer agencies, they bring disrespect to the industry.’ Perhaps the media feels it has to go direct to the client because they feel adverts are placed by agencies on the basis of who their friends are, not necessarily which product is the best vehicle for the message. What are your thoughts on our view?

The media should not encourage clients to deal with it directly. Going through a professional, and transparent, MBU [media buying unit] will enhance the quality and spread of a campaign, which in turn enhances the industry.

MBUs work on a different payment formula – they have the client budget and negotiate accordingly – so they get the maximum benefits for the client. Some even work on a fee basis.

But again, this comes back to ethics. To work properly, am MBU should be honest and transparent. This will come through industry standards and education.

Global advertising has seen a slump in revenue in the last year, post September 11. Do you see turnover rising over the next year?

This year we have seen an increase in turnover of around 20%. Subject to the status of the world political situation, there is no reason why we can’t expect the same rate of increase next year.

But these figures can be misleading: our industry is still some way behind other countries and our per capita ad spend is one of the lowest in the world. The region has to grow a long way beyond this year’s turnover of $1.4 billion.

Khamis Al Muqla was one of the keynote speakers at the recent Marketing Forum held in Dubai, addressing around 300 delegates on the subject of making a case for best practices in advertising.||**||

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