‘It’s time the older generation stepped aside’

Reda Raad is leading a new generation of advertising bosses. He tells Richard Abbott about his mantra of ‘disruption’

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By  Richard Abbott Published  November 6, 2005

‘It’s time the older generation stepped aside’|~|Raad,-Reda200.jpg|~|Raad... ‘We are at a transitional point where the old guard have done their bit’|~|“We are not content to accept conventions as they are,” says Reda Raad. The managing director of TBWA\Raad is explaining his agency’s new mantra — disruption, which essentially means creating a jarring effect so that consumers notice your ad. We are sat either side of a round table in Raad’s office in the Twin Towers building overlooking Dubai Creek. Like many MDs in Dubai, he has afforded himself a wonderful view over the city. The under-construction Deira Palm is in the foreground. To the distant right are the hazy tower blocks of Sharjah. The window sill is packed with advertising literature, which he says he reads avidly, and learns from. You can tell he loves to challenge these academics. But what does disruption actually mean in practice? Raad insists it is more than just the latest corporate branding effort from an advertising agency. He cites the example of the launch campaign for the UAE’s new daily newspaper, Emirates Today, which uses the tagline “small in size, heavy in content”. He explains: “A disruptive idea is media neutral. So we have bending lampposts and tilting benches. We didn’t take no for an answer. This is the kind of thinking that is at the core of everything we do.” “You have got to challenge, you have got to hurt. Otherwise there is no way you are going to make a point of difference,” he explains. Raad was one of the five founding members of TBWA\Raad five years ago, along with his father Ramzi, who is now chairman of the company. Born in Lebanon, he has enjoyed a globe-trotting life. He went to school in Dubai and did his degree, majoring in advertising and marketing, in New York. He has lived in London and Paris and worked in Jeddah. He began his career at Intermarkets Advertising in Dubai and quickly worked his way to a senior client servicing position, before leaving to set up TBWA\Raad. In January 2003, he was promoted to managing director of TBWA\Raad Saudi Arabia to establish the agency’s operations in the Kingdom. With the Saudi office up and running, he returned to Dubai to manage the head office operations, becoming managing director in June this year. The agency is witnessing unprecedented expansion. Staff numbers have swelled from 35 to 95 since the start of 2005. The client list includes Nissan, Masterfoods, Etihad and Aljazeera. Incidentally, for the latter, Raad says a forthcoming campaign will be “the talk of the town.” But despite the feverish pace of work, Raad insists on finding the time for his family. He produces a holiday photo. Alongside his wife and two children is a friendly looking dog, which he reveals they had hired for the holiday for dog walking expeditions. This is somewhat of a break in convention itself. His relationship with his father has formed the backbone of TBWA\Raad’s growth and he is frank about the trials and tribulations of their working life together. “I think he is my mentor,” says Raad. “But it has taken me close to eight years to realise that. “For the first eight years it was like the new guard and the old guard. We were frequently clashing. Now I have matured and I realise that I have to harness his knowledge. If I can combine the two worlds then I am in a truly unique place. Working with him is now a pleasure.” How long will Ramzi continue as chairman? “I don’t know. You will have to ask him that question. Advertising is his life.” Raad, and to some extent the whole agency, is part of what he calls the “second line”. The average age of employees is just 32. He talks about the ‘old way’ of doing things, and how it sometimes holds the advertising industry back. “We are at a transitional point where the old guard have done their bit,” he says. “I am not saying that the older generation is wrong, but they need to step aside and let the new people take over. But I am sensing some reluctance.” Words like ‘talent’ and ‘passion’ are frequently used by Raad and these are the pre-requisites for working at TBWA\Raad. A marketing degree is also favoured. “We are very proud of the talent we have. The people that we employ tend to go through a rigorous screening process. We think of ourselves as professionals of advertising,” he says. Raad describes his management style as “very hands-on”. But he adds: “Having said that, I look to give my people the power to do their own thing.” I ask him what people dislike about him. He pauses, contemplates, then smiles broadly. “I am a bit young for some people. And I guess they would say I can be brash too.” And is if to prove the point about brashness, he immediately lays into people who don’t share his enthusiasm for the business. “How could you work in a place that you don’t feel passionate about? People criticise this industry, but what are they doing to make it better?” This is one of the very few bones of contention he has about the advertising industry. He is more concerned about the media side, where he wants to see some “cleaning up” done. Referring to the all powerful sales operation, Choueiri Group, he says: “I believe they will do the right thing and clean up the industry”. And on the subject of audits, he is blunt in his appraisal of the existing system. “At the moment, we are shooting in the dark,” he says. And he doesn’t believe the buck should stop solely with the International Advertising Assocation (IAA). “What are your expectations of the IAA?” he asks. “You can’t expect them to wave a magic wand. It is supposed to do training programmes and bring together speakers. It is not a policeman.” Raad’s next meeting is waiting for him. He is probably just warming up. He put on a tie especially for our photographer, but pulls at it when I ask if he prefers the formal look in the workplace. It’s another convention that he is unhappy to accept.||**||

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