Reda Raad: 'We are concentrating on what we can influence'
Posted on April 14, 2019 | By Iain Akerman

The chief executive of TBWARaad, Reda Raad, believes a corner was turned in 2018 and that Dubai is once again on the up

Reda Raad, the chief executive of TBWARaad, is sitting comfortably in his office in Dubai’s Emaar Square. He has the kind of relaxed confidence that only the successful can muster.

“Everyone’s talking about the economy and challenges and how tough the advertising industry is, but I don’t see it like that,” he says. “I honestly believe there has never been a greater time to be in advertising. Clients across the world are looking for two things. One is how to navigate the confusing and often daunting world of digital. The other is growth. And because clients need us now more than ever before, agencies that deliver on both of these will benefit greatly.

“We also have to remember that technology has enabled advertising to be more immersive and interactive than we could ever have imagined. We should therefore be revelling in the magic of the moment and discussing how, as a region, we can produce an ever-expanding body of outstanding work, not despairing over economic conditions. That’s how I see things. Not as negatives, but as a series of opportunities.”

A lot has happened since Raad was last interviewed in ArabAd back in July 2018. In January the agency was once again placed eighth in Contagious magazine’s list of global industry pioneers, while the Big Won report ranked it the 16th most awarded creative agency of 2018. Even parent company TBWA was named Adweek’s 2018 Global Agency of the Year. All of which points – in theory at least – towards a positive 2019.

“I believe a corner was turned in 2018,” says Raad of Dubai and the wider UAE. “We are moving towards industry-wide growth and you can see signs of that everywhere. There is movement in the market, more clients are pitching, there’s unprecedented activity from small and medium-sized businesses, and there’s a sense of sober confidence in the air. The price of oil is rallying, the industry is coming to terms with change, and the UAE economy is growing. The acquisition of Careem by Uber has also shown that Dubai’s business environment remains healthy.

“But it’s about more than just focussing on advertising spend. It’s about focussing on how you can deliver the most for your clients and retain their trust. We have proven that data-driven creativity works. We have shown that bravery and innovation enable you to stand out. We have shown that great campaigns deliver the results clients want. That’s why I’m optimistic we will attain stronger numbers this year compared with 2018.”

“We should be revelling in the magic of the moment and discussing how, as a region, we can produce an ever-expanding body of outstanding work, not despairing over economic conditions. That’s how I see things. Not as negatives, but as a series of opportunities.”

Raad is looking fitter and spritelier than ever. Maybe in person he is mimicking the success of the agency. Even being placed second in both agency and network of the year at the Dubai Lynx following last year’s double victory hasn’t dampened his spirits.

Issues remain, however, amongst them the size of the market and the problems associated with adspend per capita. “There is a misconception about the size of the market in this region,” says Raad. “You only have to look at Google and Facebook, both of which have their regional headquarters in Dubai, to realise that there’s plenty of money floating around. Unfortunately, much of it is being sucked out of the region and into the pockets of Silicon Valley. 

“A considerable gap also remains between the Middle East and the rest of the world in terms of advertising spend per capita. Revenues per capita for TV, for example, are a tenth of what they are in the US and a quarter of what they are in Western Europe, so there is considerable room for growth. Addressing both of these issues successfully would give the industry a significant boost.”

For now, however, Raad is concentrating on consolidation. That means bedding down new business wins, delivering for clients, and maintaining the agency’s momentum. Further transformation is also on the cards as integration intensifies. 

“Clients want simplicity, not complexity,” says Raad. “They want a single agency partner for all their needs, not a multitude of agencies doing a thousand different jobs. We also have to recognise that there’s no such thing as certainty anymore. We will always have to change and customise and move quickly in order to ensure we have something that works.”

 What can we expect in 2019?

“Further consolidation is inevitable,” replies Raad. “Expect further network integration in 2019. Accenture Interactive’s recent acquisition of Droga5 also indicates that consultancies are aggressively pursuing creative capabilities, which could have considerable repercussions for advertising agencies. It’s the first time that a consultancy has managed to buy a creative shop of Droga5’s quality and it will be interesting to see whether a precedent has been set.

“But for us, it’s about concentrating on the things that we can influence. We can’t do anything to influence the economy, but we can focus on making sure that we have world-class creative that delivers growth for our clients. That’s the focus. And as a result we’re growing.”