Dubai lands on the world map

The IAA World Congress rolls into Dubai this week, bringing with it some of the biggest names in advertising. Richard Abbott looks at what local attendees can expect to hear if they pull up a ringside seat

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By  Richard Abbott Published  March 19, 2006

Dubai lands on the world map|~|Sheikh-Zayed-200.jpg|~|Rising high... Dubai’s hosting of the IAA World Congress has placed it on the world stage|~|If you can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes, hate networking, and fail to see the relevance of the ‘global perspective’, you are best off staying away from this week’s IAA World Congress. But if you think you can learn something by listening to the global marketing heads of Samsung and Procter & Gamble talking about what makes their brands sing, for example, then it maybe worth the delegate fee. And you will be in good company. Around 2000 delegates from 52 countries are expected to pass through the doors of the Dubai Convention Centre during the three-day event, which takes place from Tuesday to Thursday. For those who want to swell their contacts book, there will be plenty of opportunities for mingling between sessions, or at one of the scheduled evening events, which includes a traditional desert Bedouin supper. Alongside the congress will be an exhibition, where providers of everything from brand consulting to point-of-sale material will attempt to peddle their wares to delegates. The conference organisers have done their utmost to ensure that there is something for everybody at the congress, whether you are a media planner from Madras or a copywriter from Cape Town. “Our job is to give them what they are looking for on the professional side but at the same time our duty is to give them a little bit of what this place has to offer so that they become ambassadors,” says IAA World president Joseph Ghossoub, who is also CEO of The Holding Group. The theme of the congress is ‘Challenges of Change’, which is quite appropriate given the evolving nature of the advertising business. It will focus on issues that unite everyone in an increasingly globalised landscape: the changing relationship between advertising and media agencies, integrated communication and gaining better consumer insight. Local delegates will be keen to prove to their international visitors that there are some big ideas coming out of this part of the world following criticism from the likes of Lowe Worldwide’s Tony Wright, who called Middle East creative “linear” and “patronising”. On arrival, the international visitor’s first impression of Dubai advertising is likely to back him up. Giant roadside property posters dominate the vista while wince-inducing radio ads play out of the radio in the taxi. With this in mind, regional directors for the Middle East will be keen to get some of their best work under their noses. It is all too easy for fly in, fly out visitors to miss the good work in Dubai. Marwan Rizk, chief operating officer at Intermarkets — and a key member of the IAA’s UAE chapter — says the three days of the congress are an invaluable opportunity for local advertising businesses. “It is our channel to talk to the world and if we use it properly we can be in a much better shape,” he said in an interview with Campaign last week. For the Middle East’s copywriters and art directors, media planners and client services directors, the congress will be a welcome opportunity to get together with like-minded individuals and measure the progress that the Middle East is making against the rest of the world. In Dubai, the hectic nature of the advertising business and the long hours that accompany it mean there is precious little time for information and idea exchange. Blair Currie, regional director for Masterfoods at TBWA\ Raad, plans to make the congress part of his schedule. “I get bogged down in work and I miss what is going on in the overall world,” he says. “I am not finding enough time to communicate with the advertising community, so this is a good opportunity. “Hearing other people helps you get some best practice advice. There is also the networking part, which is often understated.” Fadi Kachkouche, general manager of Optimedia for the UAE and Lower Gulf, says the major benefits of attending such a large event are the “sharing of knowledge and information”. The subject of globalisation is likely to be a mainstay of this year’s congress, right from the moment that former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar takes to the stage on the opening morning to discuss the topic. Dubai is a prime example of the way the world is changing. From a small Bedouin settlement around the creek, the city has exploded into a festival of consumer culture, with malls and hotels jostling for space with fast food restaurants and imported car showrooms. The challenge for advertisers and marketers is how to take on international brand strategies and communicate them effectively to a multi-cultural population. The balance between global and local is likely to be a key element of discussions. Another hot topic at the congress is integration versus disintegration, which forms the outline of two debates at the congress. One looks at the future of advertising agencies as clients become ever more demanding of the service they are receiving. The second looks at whether advertising and media agencies should be separating further or forming closer bonds with each other. Optimedia’s Kachkouche has a keen interest in the latter. He says that the two factions should be moving closer together as more campaigns take a highly integrated approach. “You can’t have a good campaign without the two agencies sitting down together,” he says. “From our side, the more a planner understands about an account’s brand strategy, the better he can plan the campaign.” But he warns: “The process of moving closer together has slowed down because everyone is worried more about the bottom line.” The congress will also take a long, hard look at the future role of the traditional advertising agency. Two sessions in particular look likely to throw up some healthy debate on the subject. On day one, Tateo Mataki, the publicity-shy CEO of Japanese-based marketing network Dentsu, will deliver an eagerly awaited speech called ‘Transcending the traditional definition of the ad agency’. And on day two a panel will debate whether the future of ad agencies lies in integration or segmentation. One thing that most advertising commentators agree upon is that consumers are becoming more savvy and will fast forward past any message that doesn’t immediately, and usefully, grab their attention. So agencies will have to work harder with their clients to produce big ideas that cut through to people’s everyday lives, rather than through the traditional media channels. Whether advertising, media and PR have to join forces or retreat into niches to do this is the big question. The fact that Dubai is hosting such a prestigious event — coupled with the two-year term that Ghossoub will serve as world president — will put the Middle East at front of mind for IAA members across the globe. This should be positive as the region cements its position as one of the fastest growing regions for marketing in the world. Congress speaker David Taylor, author of The Naked Leader and European Business Speaker of the Year in 2004, shares the optimistic view of the region’s creative future. “The Middle East is a fantastic business home and creative thinking and public relations are at the very heart of it,” he says. “The next phase will be built on trusted networks and connections with word of mouth and word of web playing a critical role.” How the Middle East develops in the months and years following the congress remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, however, Dubai has put itself on the world map.||**||

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