Going crazy for the energy of emerging markets

JWT worldwide boss Michael Maedel tells Richard Abbott how the ‘Middle Eastern cluster’ is changing world advertising

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By  Richard Abbott Published  August 21, 2005

Going crazy for the energy of emerging markets|~|JWT200.jpg|~||~|There are some people who think I am crazy,” says Michael Maedel, sitting side-saddle on his office chair, his legs swung over the side. The Austrian boss of ad agency JWT is speaking about the frequent visits he makes to his network’s Middle East offices. While some network bosses remain confined to their office in London, Paris or New York, making what he calls an “annual royal visit” to the provinces, Maedel is happy to up sticks and get his hands dirty wherever he is required. “If you have a title like worldwide president you either spend time with clients or in the markets. You can’t just sit in some ivory tower in London,” he argues. “I really have to see what it is like for someone to work in, say, Saudi Arabia.” Indeed, it is not unknown for Maedel to discharge himself from his office, high above London’s Knightsbridge, and turn up in a different region for a few weeks. So its comes as little surprise that his biggest professional achievement is “developing and understanding the importance of an international perspective”. JWT has offices throughout the Middle East — its local subsidiary, TMI, has offices in major hubs like Dubai, Riyadh, Cairo and Beirut. The Europe, Middle East and Africa territory that most companies use is split into three smaller chunks. TMI is one, while the others are UK and Ireland and Continental Europe. “I just wanted to have something that brings management and leadership closer to clients,” he says. But he qualifies that statement by adding: “If I have to spend too much time there it suggests that I have the wrong person running the market.” So a visit from the boss should be welcomed by local managers — but not too often. Maedel, a father-of-three, describes the Middle East as a “very important territory”. “It is already growing fast and with the potential of a solution in Israel there is even more that can be tapped,” he says. “People are getting more optimistic.” Advertising, says Maedel, is influenced by local culture, but ultimately it comes down to the quality of the ideas. “We don’t just say what was good enough for Western Europe 10 years ago is good enough for the Middle East now. You have to come up with local ideas.” But one of the problems, he says, is the lack of talent. “Talent is very scarce. There is strong competition for creative people. We have one or two ex-pats. It is not that easy to bring non-Middle East people into the region. There is a perception of danger. It might not be everyone’s area of choice.” Despite this, JWT is doing well in the region, working with both local advertisers and international clients like Shell and HSBC. Maedel joined JWT in 1990 as chairman and CEO of the German operation based in Frankfurt. In 1993 he took on the additional responsibility of area director for Central and Eastern Europe before becoming president of Europe, Middle East and Africa in 1997. Before all that, he studied economics in his homeland Austria before joining Young & Rubicam in Frankfurt as a trainee. Thirteen years later, he had worked his way up to account director before moving to Vienna, his birthplace, in 1978 as chairman. In 1985 he was hired by Ted Bates Werbagentur, Frankfurt, as chairman where he remained before moving to JWT. The company’s HQ ticks all the boxes that an ad agency base should. The reception area is adorned with creative work from previous campaigns and the agency’s own research into consumer habits is played out on plasma screens. On my visit, I learn which celebrities are ‘up’ and which are ‘down’. There is a bar with wireless access and a rooftop garden overlooking the luxury department stores of Knightsbridge. Even with the British weather, it is a desirable place to work. Maedel considers the Middle East consumer to be young and affluent. He elaborates: “The whole notion of quality is a given. Prestige is an important element, not just an aspirational quality.” And he sees the notion of the Middle East changing due to the growth of Islam, with all the signs pointing, he says, towards the formation of a new Middle Eastern ‘cluster’. “If you look at the growth of the Islamic population around the world, I would not rule out countries like Pakistan and Indonesia becoming more of a Middle Eastern cluster than an Asian one. “We have the largest agency in Pakistan. Our guys there say that they are more closely linked to the Gulf than India. “With the growth of Islam, the Middle East will become the hub.” But Asia is where the real excitement is right now, according to Maedel. “Europe has no idea what is going to hit them,” he says. He talks energetically about the emerging advertising industries — not just the Middle East but India and China too. “Absolutely fascinating,” he says. “It is the sense of ‘can do’, it is the optimism. “You contrast that with the constant whinging and complaining in countries like Germany and France, where people maintain their privileges without questioning where the country is going.” The short-term future, he says, lies in Asia. “Next year, China will be the third largest advertising market in the world,” he says. “If you look at commercial history, of the last 3000 years, 2800 were dominated by the Chinese. The 19th century was the UK and the 20th was the United States. It could well be that the 21st century is China again. “The point that comparison makes is that the commercial genes are in the Chinese DNA — the immense speed of development.” The Middle East he sees as a more service-driven economy. In his mid-50s, you might expect Maedel to be gently applying the brakes to his illustrious career but he shows no signs of slowing down. “One of the real pre-requisites of our business if you want to be successful is being curious,” he says. “If I stop learning then it is time to get off.”||**||

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