2005: A year to remember

Creativity, transparency and professionalism: three themes that should frame everything that the advertising and media industry does. Yet these were the most hotly debated subjects of 2005 as the Middle East began to push harder to be recognised on the global stage.

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By  Tim Addington Published  December 25, 2005

2005: A year to remember|~|choueiri200.jpg|~|The godfather … ‘I’m not the godfather’, Choueiri told his peers at the Marketing & Media Show in Dubai|~|Creativity, transparency and professionalism: three themes that should frame everything that the advertising and media industry does. Yet these were the most hotly debated subjects of 2005 as the Middle East began to push harder to be recognised on the global stage. Creativity levels were boosted by the region’s first Cannes gold but the dreadful standard of radio advertising is still enough to leave most drivers reaching for the off switch, leaving ad agencies open to accusations that they lack the sophistication and innovation of their international counterparts. Transparency received a boost, with some high profile newspapers and magazines applying for independent auditing. Yet these titles remain a drop in the ocean and there are signs that advertisers may look elsewhere in the quest for return on investment. Media agencies and owners came under increasing pressure to deliver a reliable and credible trading currency for the region’s TV, radio and publishing industries. Professionalism remains an issue — just where will the next generation of advertising leaders comes from? Small wonder that agencies and media owners are investing in training programmes to encourage the local young people to choose advertising as a career. It sounds like an ‘annus horribilis’ for the communications industry, but there were some encouraging signs that show that the region has moved forward over the past 12 months. The formation of the GCC Association of Advertisers to combat the Choueiri Group’s near dominance of TV ad sales, and its determination to introduce people metering for television and auditing of newspapers and magazines has been applauded. Sceptics are quick to point out that it has all been said and even tried before but, despite the doubters, there is a real sense that the GCCAA means business. Time will tell, but real progress will need to have been made by this time next year if the industry body and its ambitions are to be taken seriously. The year started, as it ended, with calls for greater media transparency and a stronger commitment from publishers to audit their titles. Leading the charge was BPA Worldwide’s president and CEO Glenn Hansen, who visited Dubai to address a Middle East publishing summit on the needs for greater accountability in the media. In a bid to wrestle away market share — and its number one position — from rival Pepsi, Coca-Cola hired the services of Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram to be its regional ambassador in the hope that she would connect with the region’s large youth population. Television viewers not already overwhelmed by the more than 150 free-to-air TV stations had one more thrust upon them, after pan-Arab network MBC underwent a major eorganisation of its portfolio. Entertainment channel MBC2 became a 24-hour movie station while new channel MBC4 became its new ntertainment channel. For the younger audience, MBC3 was also launched in competition against Al Jazeera’s children’s channel, which also made its debut in 2005. But far from resting on its laurels, MBC looks likely to expand its network even further next year. Mohammed Al Mulhem, MBC’s group director of PR and marketing said: “If there’s a clear opportunity that we can connect further with our consumers then, for sure, we will be looking at a further channel. Call it MBC5 if you like.” If TV viewers felt as if they were spoilt for choice, lovers of celebrity news and gossip had their needs more than catered for with the entry of international franchises OK! and Hello! to the UAE, taking on the already established Ahlan! stable of titles. But in July OK! Middle East editor Jason Coates walked out on the magazine claiming that its publishers, Corporate Publishing International, were racked with “internal politics”. ITP, publishers of Ahlan!, lost group editor Jason Leavy, who was poached to be launch editor of Emirates Today newspaper. Despite the in-house machinations at CPI, it was quick to roll out an Arabic version of OK! Middle East, leaving Hello! as the only title without an Arabic language sister. Not to be left out, Motivate made perhaps the boldest move of all the celebrity mags by applying for an audit. Its rivals have yet to follow suit. FMCG giant Nestle put its multi-million dollar regional planning and buying account out to tender, with incumbent Media Insight widely predicted to lose the account to Optimedia. However, in spite of the doomsday predictions, Media Insight managed to cling on to the account. Sighs of relief were palpable at Media Insight HQ. Fellow FMCG giant Unilever did an about turn on its media representation, forming a strategic partnership with MCN/Interpublic Group to handle its US$75 million ad spend in the Gulf. The decision was widely regarded as a climb down by Unilever who had previously taken all its planning and buying in house just 12 months previously after dumping MindShare. Dubai’s ADA International Publishing landed itself in hot water with Dubai Media City officials after featuring a pullout of a semi-naked model, “Miss May”, draped over a motorcycle in its first issue of Focus On (FO!) magazine. Officials shut it down after the second issue for not sticking to its “business plan”. Attempts to get the suspension lifted failed and FO! has been consigned to the increasingly crowded magazine graveyard at DMC. The Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA) made attempts to establish PR as a credible and authoritative medium, with a series of educational seminars for practitioners and students. But the year ended with a call by a MEPRA member for the PR industry to appoint its own PR agency in order to better communicate its importance and value to the grassroots. MEPRA and PR agencies still have much work to do in order to improve credibility and professionalism in the market. For the region’s creatives, 2005 will be regarded by many as a breakthrough in terms of having their work recognised on the international stage. After years of waiting, the first creative Cannes Lions gold award was given to Tonic for an execution it created for Sony. Vincent Raffray told Campaign in June: “This is definitely a positive thing for all of us in the Middle East. We are getting better as a region and better creatively.” The auditing bandwagon continued to gather momentum throughout the year. Business portal AME Info became the first website to be audited, UAE daily free sheet 7Days unveiled the results of its audit; magazines continued to commit to having their distribution independently verified and The Week became the first publication in Oman to say it would have its numbers independently checked. Media agency Starcom saw its regional CEO Tarek Ayntrazi quit the agency to head up Lebanon’s Future TV. Matt Blackborn was parachuted in from the UK to shake up the agency and assure that it complies with owner Publicis Media Groupe’s “corporate policies”. Rival OMD had a particularly busy year. Not only did it lay claim to being the Gulf’s number one agency, according to figures from Ipsos-Stat, it welcomed sister agency PHD into the region as part of a scaling up of operation throughout the Middle East. Samar Salman, who helped set up MindShare in the Levant and North Africa, was named as head of PHD and is promising a rapid expansion of the agency across the region. But one of the most electrifying moments of 2005 was the interview of Antoine Choueiri by former BBC journalist Tim Sebastian at November’s Marketing and Media show in Dubai. The most powerful man in Middle East media, whose company the Choueiri Group is said to control a huge percentage of TV ad sales across the region, took to the stage and in front of a packed room of industry peers declared “I am not the godfather”. During an at times heated interview that was permeated with howls of laughter, the 66-year-old defended his approach to business and said he had “never told a lie in business”. The media landscape certainly altered across the Middle East over the last 12 months and, while there have been some significant achievements, no one would claim it has reached its zenith. Questions about how to improve creativity, transparency and professionalism still remain, but 2005 will go down as the year that at least some answers, whether right or wrong, were offered.||**||2005: A year to remember|~||~||~|12 months in Saudi Arabia The region’s largest and most important advertising market enjoyed highs and lows during 2005 as it made preparations to enter the World Trade Organisation. The death of King Fahd led to the delay in production of some newspapers as hundreds of Saudi company’s paid their respects with full-page condolence ads. Asharq Al Awsat carried an astounding 112 full pages of ads the day after the King’s death, while Al Riyadh put out a 116-page edition with 90 pages of tributes. The Kingdom’s qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in Germany sparked a marketing bonanza for advertisers that will run well into 2006. The country’s huge youth population means advertisers will not waste an opportunity to capitalise on the event. July saw the entry of Japanese advertising giant Dentsu into the Middle East after it teamed up with Saudi’s Drive Communication, while cinema made a welcome, if limited, return during Eid. Billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal upped his stake in media giant news corporation and forced conservative Fox News to change its “Muslim riots in Paris” caption line after a quick telephone call to Rupert Murdoch. But outdoor agencies in Jeddah face a more uncertain future after a decision by the Municipality to ban billboards adorning shopping malls, rooftops and petrol stations. Many said they would be forced out of business as a result of the decision, which they allege was made after pressure was applied by the three largest agencies in the Kingdom. Rumours that the decision may be reversed after intense lobbying has so far failed to materialise. While 2005 was another good year for the media industry, the implications of the country’s entry to the World Trade Organisation means next year will offer even more lucrative opportunities.||**||2005: A year to remember|~||~||~|12 months in Lebanon It was a year that creatives, marketers and PRs in Lebanon will want to forget. Optimism abounded at the start of 2005, with predictions that it would be the year Lebanon’s media industry got back on track. But the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February quickly extinguished any hopes of the creative community reaching its peak this year. Advertising spending dried up almost overnight with the retail and tourism sectors hit particularly hard. Most TV stations pulled normal programming which caused advertising income to drop dramatically. George Jabbour, managing director at Fortune Promoseven, said: “We have been through a very difficult year in 2005 where we had the assassination. TV stations didn’t have proper programmes for the next month and didn’t accept advertising for two weeks. “Frankly, we cannot evaluate what the drop was for the whole market. Our drop was about six to ten per cent.” The country’s cash-strapped state owned television and radio stations were thrown a potential lifeline after a report presented to the government called for the merger of Tele and Radio Leban, ahead of a possible sell-off plan. The government also passed a bill allowing Murr TV to resume broadcasting after it was shut down three years ago when it was accused of broadcasting material that destabilised Lebanon’s relationship with Syria. Dar Assayad, one of Lebanon’s oldest publishing groups announced plans to launch a Arabic women’s magazine and a personal finance title in 2006. Red Cell’s decision to pull out of the region left Joe Ayoub, the agency’s Beirut boss, seething with anger over the WPP owned group’s lack of commitment to the Middle East. Refusing to be beaten, Ayoub decided to go alone, rebranding the agency as SpiderMonkey. Agency heads will be hoping that the expectations at the start of 2005 will be finally realised in 2006.||**||

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