Can creative standards be lifted by new Lowe?

Network aims to become a creative powerhouse in the Middle East. Richard Abbott hears how it plans to achieve this

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By  Richard Abbott Published  February 26, 2006

Can creative standards be lifted by new Lowe?|~|Wright-,-Tony200.jpg|~|Wright… Lowe Worldwide’s president wants to create an agency in the Middle East that can stand up and be counted on the world stage|~|Considering his new agency doesn’t start life for another month, the boss of Lowe Worldwide is setting himself some tough targets. Tony Wright is in Dubai to kick the tyres of the network’s new incarnation, after taking the Middle East franchise away from the agency’s previous partner. And he’s out to raise the mediocre level of advertising creativity he says he’s found. He says ads from this region are “patronising” and remind him of campaigns that came out of the West in the 1950s. “I don’t see very much brilliant work in almost any category,” he says. “If you look at advertising that was running in Western Europe or the US even in the 50s and 60s, you can look at some of the work running here now and see similarities. “It says ‘if you’re this kind of person, this kind of brand is for you’. It’s very linear.” Wright, who is based in London, is joined for his visit by Peter Atkinson, the agency’s president of Africa and the Middle East. “I have found that people use the restrictions on what can and cannot be done as an excuse,” says Wright. “Obviously there are restrictions but actually sometimes they can be a very interesting opportunity.” Lowe already has its name in the region. A franchise agreement enables local outfit Brand Com to use the Lowe name and service Lowe’s global clients, but that arrangement is coming to an end. As of April, Lowe will have a financial stake in the Middle East through an agreement with the Middle East Communications Network, which runs Fortune Promoseven. Lowe will come under the MCN umbrella but will remain independent of FP7. “I think Brand Com have done some good work for our clients. We’re not trying to fix a crisis so much as respond to an opportunity,” says Wright. Atkinson adds: “We have never been critical. We just want to move on and have a bigger agency. At the moment we are a mid-size agency who have done a solid job.” The move is a welcome diversion for Lowe, which has seen the loss of several major accounts in recent months, including a 16-year partnership with UK supermarket giant Tesco. Nirmal Diwadkar, chief operating officer at Lowe Dubai/Brand Com, says he has not had much dialogue with Wright but respects the work he has done thus far. “Tony has had to cope with a tough challenge and I hope he can put the house in order,” he says. “The good thing is that the quality of the creative product has stayed intact in spite of all the turbulence in the network. We must give him credit for that.” Diwadkar says the feedback that he has received from Lowe has always been appreciative. But he is now focused on making Brand Com a success. “In terms of culture, there won’t be much of a difference,” he says. “And it now opens up opportunities to do things a little more unconventionally.” New Lowe is already gearing up for launch day. An office in Dubai Media City is being secured, senior management are being signed up to head up a team of around 25, although no names are being made public. The mission is to create an agency in the Middle East that will produce work that can stand up and be counted on a world stage. Wright says Lowe wants to get its hands dirty and jump into this market with both feet with powerful partners, big ambition and genuine world-class creatives. “We will expect some work to come out of here that sits among the best work that we do globally,” he says. To demonstrate the scale of the ambition, Atkinson says he will be “very disappointed” if within 12 to 18 months the agency had not tripled or even quadrupled in size, which would put it among the real heavyweights in the region. But Wright adds: “We need to get out and do the work. We can talk about ambition until the cows come home.” The move to have a bigger presence in the Middle East is part of a global strategy to capitalise on fast growing markets. Wright says some of his biggest clients, including Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, have been talking to him about the opportunities in the region — markets like Iran, where the consumer base is huge. Wright explains: “We needed a partner here in which we had an equity stake and was much less of an arm’s length franchise relationship. MCN were the obvious partner due to their strength and power in this region and their existing relationship with IPG.” IPG, otherwise known as Lowe’s parent network Interpublic, will have a larger equity stake in MCN than it currently does in return for MCN operating with the Lowe brand and Lowe’s clients. “We have a gut feeling that this part of the world could be at the beginning of an upward curve,” says Wright. Both Wright and Atkinson say they have been impressed by the can-do spirit of the region, citing architectural projects like the Ski Dubai indoor slope as evidence of the ‘anything is possible’ attitude. But they feel that this level of ambition is not being reflected in advertising, something they hope to change. As Atkinson puts it: “I don’t see any ski slopes in campaigns.”||**||

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