Amr Darwish: ‘It’s hardly business as usual’
Posted on January 10, 2019

Amr Darwish, Chief Operating Officer of Leo Burnett Egypt, shares his hard-hitting views on the current state of the ad business in Egypt.

How would you assess the current state of the ad industry in Egypt?

The potential for growth is exciting but it’s hardly business as usual as the market has been very challenging and every day comes with a new set of challenges.

Clients want more for less, slashing marketing budgets at the expense of long term brand building and cutting costs is on everyone’s mind.

The creative output has also suffered over the past few years, but that’s another discussion.

Has this been a good or bad year? 

It was a good year considering the economic “rollercoaster” we’re all riding. The business of advertising has enormous potential in Egypt’s and has a positive growth outlook but only if the right kind of policies take shape helping foreign investment and local production.

What is the quality of the work like?

Unfortunately, I believe the creative product in the market has been in decline for several years and the quality of the creative work is driving the market in the wrong direction.

Egypt’s creative work was the best in MENA 10 years ago. Creatives were passionate about what they did and were committed to their profession, but now, every creative wants to be a film director after 4 to 5 years. Senior experienced creatives are very important but also very rare. We’re lucky to have some of the most experienced creatives on board.

The industry hands out senior titles without real merit to creatives and account management people who are not qualified or experienced enough to deserve these titles. I assure we don’t follow the same trend.

As a consequence of the lack of experienced senior people in the market, young talents are not getting enough or the right kind of coaching.  Agencies must invest in their young talents but should not be too hasty to give them senior titles before they grow into these roles and mentorship has to be a criteria to evaluation and reward.

To cut it short, what’s happening now is a type of slow self-destruction to the entire industry in Egypt.

“The industry hands out senior titles without real merit to creatives and account management people who are not qualified or experienced enough to deserve these titles.”

How can they be overcome? 

Go back to the way we used to work. Let’s regain our “PASSION” towards creativity. The way we used to coach, to create and to produce our work. Clients also have an equal role to play, we should receive better briefs, that are thorough and well written, with clear understanding and deep thinking. I am not referring to a specific client here. It is a general observation from the market. Great briefs lead to great creative work if you have the right people on the agency side.

What trends have you noticed in the Egyptian market? 

I’ve noticed that some local agencies have resorted to giving their creative work and production for free in return for the client’s media budget. This is a disaster for the industry. The impression that the creative product can be given for free decreases its value to clients in the long run.  

I’m speaking as a man who loves this career and cares a lot about the industry. It is unfair for everyone to give your creative work for free. This approach makes us our worthless.  I am sure they can package it differently. For sure we are working in this field to make money, but we also have an obligation to create excellent work that builds our client’s business and that can’t be perceived as free, even if you make your money in other ways.

Another trend, is the transformation of the TV/digital landscape into a “jingle jungle”. I am not against music driven work, but I am against creating work with clearly no idea or thought simply because the client wants a jingle. We are turning our business of communication into music video production. Unfortunately, we are all committing this crime. Agencies have to keep pushing back against this trend by selling “Ideas”. This is what we should be getting paid to do. We have to keep the brand at the center of all of our communication. We have to ask ourselves candidly if we are building brands and growing the business for our clients or we are just cashing in money to keep going.

What major challenges does the industry face? 

The biggest challenge in Egypt is how to transform from the TV centric world to the digital one. Digital and social media are now ruling. Egypt is following but at a slower pace because clients go to digital to save money or to follow the latest trend. Unfortunately, most digital agencies lack the creative and strategic edge, but they have the right attitude and the cheap offering.

What does the outlook look like for the year ahead? 

It looks like no major differences in 2018. The same challenges will continue till we start witnessing improvement in the economic state of the country.

What are your hopes for the future? 

I hope that all agencies in Egypt develop their homegrown talents. This will enrich the market with new talent and energy and create healthy competition. It is an investment that we have to make to revive the creative industry. I am sure if we all commit to doing so over the coming five years, most of our “creative” talent issues will be resolved.

I also wish that clients take more risks and do projects that are conceptually strong and creatively distinguished. A tip for any client: if you like an idea and your gutfeel says so, even if you feel it is risky, go ahead with it. Distinctive ideas make you feel out of position, because your mind is not used to it. Don’t worry, you will reap the fruits at the end.

Finally, I wish that all agencies sit on the same table and start truly collaborating on how to improve the industry, how to fix our market issues and develop talents, etc.