'Why must we announce our own demise?'

BBDO's Allen Rosenshine tells Richard Abott why too much emphasis is placed on the impact of new media technologies

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By  Richard Abbott Published  April 23, 2006

|~|rosenshine200.jpg|~|Allen Rosenshine, chairman and CEO oa advertising network|~|This is Allen Rosenshine’s first visit to Dubai. But it is unlikely that the venue for our meeting will warrant a mention in his postcards home. We have found a corner of the lobby lounge at the business-like Novotel — an achievement in itself when there is a major exhibition going on around the corner at the Convention Centre. There is a hubbub from international delegates who are taking a break to chat with contacts. Cups of tea and coffee are being delivered by flustered looking waiting staff. Rosenshine, the 67-year-old chairman and CEO of advertising network BBDO, is suited and booted in preparation for a speech later this afternoon. Sat alongside him is Alain Khouri, the chairman and CEO of his agency’s regional arm, Impact BBDO. “Unfortunately, I am starting rather late in life,” Rosenshine says of his Dubai debut. “But you have to spend exactly five minutes here to get it.” Everyone and their brother wants a piece of Rosenshine’s time while he is in Dubai, so Campaign has been instructed to keep it short. Still, it’s not every day that you get to meet one of Advertising Age magazine’s ‘people of the century’. Rosenshine started his career with BBDO in 1965, long before most of today’s creative generation were even born. Writing copy for clients, including Gillette and Pepsi, he climbed the agency ladder and by 1986 had become chairman. He played a pivotal role in the creation of Omnicom Group when BBDO joined forces with Needham Harper Worldwide and Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), and successfully united the conflicting cultures under one banner. He is still an active part of the business despite his years. Anyone who saw his address at the IAA World Congress — one of the highlights of the three-day event — will testify to the fact that he still has his finger on the pulse of the industry. Rosenshine’s speech argued that not all new media technologies would change the way consumers live their lives. He suggested, for example, that not many people will want to watch sports on their mobile phone’s one-inch screen. And he attacked those who herald the end of traditional formats like the 30-second TV spot. “The fact that you can do something with technology doesn’t at all mean that anyone will be interested,” he explains. “The fact that technology is produced doesn’t necessarily mean that it will deliver. Yes, we have to adapt but we also have to be conscious of which make sense and which don’t, and why. We shouldn’t just accept the hype.” He pauses, before adding: “I don’t know why we feel compelled to announce our own demise.” With more than 40 years’ experience of agency life, Rosenshine is better placed than most to deliver an insight into the mind of a client. His view is that marketing directors are looking for their agencies to provide the “core branding intelligence” that will help them succeed. “They are looking for seamless delivery — the ability to talk to one part of BBDO and get it done in all the places that it has to be done. And they are looking for the economic efficiencies — they want to save money,” he says. Rosenshine defines his own agency’s brand essence as “the work, the work, the work. We are absolutely dedicated to every aspect of communication that we create on behalf of our clients,” he says. “It may seem obvious to say that but the fact of the matter is that it is not automatically practiced.” Despite his insistence that agencies must not over-react to new media technology, Rosenshine does recognise that the traditional advertising agency offer will have to change. Much debate at the IAA World Congress centred on the relationship between different types of agencies, especially whether the creative and media disciplines will join closer together or drift further apart. The BBDO chief’s view is that advertising networks — holding groups like Publicis, WPP and his own Omnicom — will need to increasingly approach clients as a single entity, with different agencies offering their own area of expertise. He explains: “Let’s win the clients and then work out who will do what. Our relationships with other Omnicom companies will grow and become much better as we get opportunities to work with them.” He cites the example of Proximity, the direct response and interactive division of BBDO (called Impact Proximity here in the Middle East), as an example of how this works. Other Omnicom brands operating within the region include TBWA, through its local arm TBWA\Raad, and media agencies OMD and PHD. But are clients in the Middle East getting braver with their briefs? And are they ready to invest in their long-term brand positioning? Khouri fields this question and is blunt in his appraisal. “We believe that branding in this part of the world is nowhere,” he says. “Branding is a new concept in this part of the world. They want to do it, but they don’t know how. “It takes time and not many people have that time.” Rosenshine interjects. “We need to turn branding into a sales tool rather than a positioning tool,” he says. “You have to show the value of branding. It isn’t just a way to organise your products and services under one name. Branding is not just a philosophy, it’s a business plan. You need to show how it fits in with the client’s business plan.” Rosenshine, looking at his watch, politely reminds Campaign that he has another meeting to attend, so it’s time for one last question. He has seen creative work from BBDO agencies all over the world. How highly does he rate the people in the Middle East? As if prepared for the question, Khouri jumps in once again. “The biggest challenge is people,” he says. “We don’t have enough people of the calibre we would like. Newcomers are not necessarily up to the job.” Rosenshine nods in agreement, but you can sympathise with him if he is less clued up on the region than his local representative. The global chairman’s role is inevitably an ambassadorial one. Local offices put on their Sunday best for the state visit. Only the very best ads are wheeled out for approval. Khouri continues: “Look, to be very honest, advertising is not at the top of the list, except for people who want their first job then will join a client after two or three years. We want to develop, but you lose so many soliders on the way. It will take another five years before we can have a reasonable availability of the talent we need.” What the Middle East would give for a generation of career advertising professionals like Rosenshine to come through the ranks.||**||

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