Georges Najm, CEO of NOISE PR Firm, Partner and Managing Director of Clémentine Ad Agency and Lecturer at USEK School of Business, shares what he believes are priorities agencies need to deal with in such challenging economic climate.
Lebanon has unfortunately been living, for years now, in a truly difficult economic phase. Economic growth is terribly slow, even non-existent. The market seems to be in freezing situation. Companies are generally afraid to invest and to develop their businesses. There is a trend of “keeping the dollars safe”, which communication practitioners face on a daily basis. This being said, giving in is never an option. Corporations should absolutely create opportunities and invest in tough times! As a matter of fact, this is certainly the only way out… In this regard, the advertising industry is suffering from the ongoing crisis and got caught in this vicious economic downturn. The role of advertising players should be reinvented and create substantial value to the clients. They should guide their partners through difficult times and supply them with the proper consultancy, while tackling positively the current market situation. Our history shows that we have witnessed several harsh crises, yet, we remained resilient and adapted our ways to survive and win. Thus, we have responsibility to convince our clients that, in these tough times, we need to invest and do our part in pulling the economy from its down lows. As a matter of fact, advertisers can use periods of insecurity to communicate reassuring messages to their audiences, and here, agencies should be convincing, then conceiving, and emitting these messages to win the masses.
Let’s focus on digital media
Undoubtedly, digital and social media revolutionized the way that communication is carried. We all know that advertising has had its glory days and been a social catalyst of change in its beginnings. It has evolved throughout the times of technological and economic innovations, considerably modernizing itself. Today, the digital and social media trend is taking much of the advertising industry’s spotlight. We are seeing a major shift towards the digital channels as more budgets are leaning towards these new platforms and are stripped from traditional outlets. Ad agencies can play this card, creating new campaigns, new concepts, new productions, new methods… They can recruit a new and different type of clients that (eventually) pay less but which will be certainly on the rise, while put on the right track. However, they must keep in mind that advertising in the traditional sense of the term will remain the original spring board from which brands blossom and create their notoriety, and this is particularly relevant for Lebanese brands in spite of the new digital reality.
Creativity has always been the bread and butter of our Lebanese agencies. Actually, it became the Lebanese trademark, as fragrances and wines are the pride of the French. It is the “ideas” industry. And that’s exactly what we say to our clients. Yet, we are unfortunately seeing a drainage of creative concepts, and we are not living up, at least in this market, to the industry’s expectations. That is why we need to rekindle our creative potential and reinvent advertising concepts and ideas. In this sense, schools and universities have a big role in spurring the fire of creativity and inspiration to create executives who have abundant communication skills flowing with a rich stream of thoughts to rival the highly competitive markets of Dubai and the GCC that brilliantly managed to establish themselves as the “creative hub” of the region.
Given the challenging situation we are facing in the local market, and in light of the huge responsibilities that advertising agencies have towards their employees, their partners and their clients and to ensure their survivability, it is of utmost importance for local agencies to expand outside Lebanon with so many untapped markets, thirsty for Lebanese talents. Taking the plane, moving constantly, is a survival element. Agencies do not necessarily need to open offices abroad, if small actors don’t have the means to. They can simply tour, prospect, present, sell, produce locally, pitch abroad, and bill from Beirut. It is a way to survive on the individual level. On a more important macro level, it is a precious way to export ideas against dollars in…
Investing in training local talents
Finally, one of the key elements to survive this crisis is for advertising agencies to start seriously investing in the Lebanese human capital, the existing one. In difficult and uneasy times, instead of recruiting low-caliber human force and cutting expenses, retain what you have and train them. This human capital was always the cornerstone and the engine of the Lebanese economy, and most particularly the advertising industry. It is crucial to adopt continuing education and training as a means to allow these professionals to cope with the growing challenges they face on a daily basis, to adapt to change, to counter the hardships in convincing their clients to spending money on advertising, and to keep up with new realities in the market.