Losing patience over the issue of transparency

MindShare CEO Samir Ayoub is passionate about research, but he tells Richard Abbott why he’s at the end of his tether

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By  Richard Abbott Published  February 12, 2006

Losing patience over the issue of transparency|~|Ayoub,-Samir--200.jpg|~|Ayoub.. ‘ when it comes to execution or commitment the reality is different from what we want’|~|If there is one thing that is guaranteed to get Samir Ayoub talking, it is the subject of media research. Once the Lebanese boss of media agency MindShare is started on the subject, there is very little that can stop him, such is his passion for the numbers game. Ayoub boasts a masters degree in statistics and spent the early years of his career number crunching at the Pan Arab Research Center in Beirut and Kuwait. “It is in my blood,” he says. “I am a man of perfection. I would like this dream to come true where we have TV meters established in Saudi Arabia. I would like to see regulation for magazine titles whereby we don’t have a new title coming out every week, which is a frustration. I would like to see some research on outdoor.” But Ayoub, who is the CEO of MindShare across the Middle East and North Africa, is losing patience on this issue. He claims that increased frustration with the lack of progress on people meters and print auditing has led him to focus more on MindShare’s own market research projects, which have provided valuable insights into previously unmeasured markets. “We are active in the industry to push up the standards but if there is a delay, we can’t wait forever,” says Ayoub. “We waste lots of time talking and talking, discussing issues and projects. But when it comes to execution or commitment the reality is different from what we want.” The Media Agency Committee (MAC) was charged with pushing the research agenda, but it has now been disbanded, with Ayoub blaming industry “politics” for its lack of progress. “We all want to have transparency. This has been the talk of the town for the last couple of years. But transparency has to be across the board. First of all, within agencies. But all players need to be transparent or people can claim what they want,” he says. We are sitting in Ayoub’s office in the workmanlike Garhoud area of Dubai. It is a modest affair. Not for him the panoramic cityscape views that many agency bosses afford themselves. On the plus side, he is a short drive from his home in the suburb of Mirdif. MindShare in the Middle East and North Africa is owned jointly by ad agencies JWT and Memac Ogilvy. Global giant WPP owns just under half of each company, but is likely to increase its stake in order to take a majority holding in MindShare soon. In this region, MindShare’s biggest clients include Coca-Cola and Samsung. However, it lost Unilever after the client controversially decided to take its media buying unit in-house in order to get a better deal by negotiating direct with media owners. Much has been said about exactly what triggered Unilever’s departure — indeed, even a year later the dust is yet to settle. “We are the leader in the industry when it comes to research,” says Ayoub. “Everybody claims that he has best planning, best people, best writers. Claiming something like this is very easy. “But there is evidence that when it comes to media innovation as well as research, MindShare has been the first.” As evidence, Ayoub cites MindShare’s research into understanding how Saudi consumers watch TV. One of the questions it was looking to have answered was whether the amount of advertising being broadcast was too high. “Prior to 2003 there were no rules and regulations for clutter. The sky was the limit. Some programmes had up to 25 to 30 minutes of advertising per hour,” he says. “This research was an eye opener for us. We took it as a tool and when we started negotiating with the TV channels in 2003 we put conditions in our contract whereby they limit the advertising minutage, up to 12 to 15 minutes per hour. “If any of our ads appear over this, they would be considered free of charge. Most, if not all, TV channels adopted the policy whereby they restricted the advertising to 15 minutes.” Another project looked into the impact of using different positions in print media. Ayoub proudly points out a framed page from Al Bayan which is mounted on his office wall. Two columns of advertising run the full length down the centre of the page, generating quite an impact. More recently, MindShare unveiled its Communication Channel Survey, which looks at how people interact with different types of media from the moment they wake up to the time they go to bed. “It opened our eyes on moving from traditional media to non-traditional media,” he says. Ayoub started his career at the Pan Arab Research Center in the mid 80s as a data processing manager. He became manager of the Beirut office but was relocated to the Kuwait office when war broke out in Lebanon. From Kuwait he moved to the PARC office in Dubai. After this he moved to Memac Ogilvy as media manager. “It was an eye opener for me to walk into the advertising industry,” he says. When MindShare was created in October 1999, Ayoub was snapped up as managing director. In 2004 he was promoted to his current position of CEO of MindShare in the Middle East and North Africa. He describes his management style as “down to earth”. “I am friendly with the staff. I am very fair but I am very tough. If you have somebody responsible for a job he has to be accountable. But when he delivers I am very fair.” With non-traditional media becoming more prevalent in the consumer environment, Ayoub believes the role of media agencies will change, focusing more on added value, and how to improve the return on investment for clients. “We will move away from the traditional approach into what some people have called the communication approach. But I would call it the relevant approach for the market you are operating in.” The next stop for MindShare will be North Africa, Iran and Iraq. Ayoub talks enthusiastically about the potential of the latter. “ If we assume that Iraq is a stable market, the potential there is huge,” he says. And looking to the future, he believes research will dictate the future direction of the industry. “When we have peace of mind on the research currency, peace of mind on transparency and the regulation of media, then you are free to compete based on quality,” he says. But Ayoub would be the first to admit that this is not going to happen overnight.||**||

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