Roger Sahyoun: Looking into the future through the past
Posted on November 03, 2019

ArabAd has solicited the perspective of Lebanon's ad executives on the state of the business today in light of the prevailing economic climate. Roger Sahyoun, chairman of The Network Group shares his thoughts...

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I would like to sum up my reply to the proposed questions by referring to the previous quote noted by one of the great philosophers that I admire- George Santayana. If history has taught us anything, is its importance in shaping the present and the future. One who dismisses the traps of yesterday will fall into the same ones,
over and over again.

To answer the question of the general atmosphere of business in Lebanon, I would go a step back and talk about the general atmosphere in the world today, and especially that in the Middle East. Lebanon is part of the ME and is very much affected by it, as capital growth and economic stability are very much dependent on the Lebanese expats spread across it and the world in general.

The ME is currently facing the toughest of times, with world nuisance and foreign political difficulties putting the economy on the edge, with no clear future. It feels like everyone is waiting for something to happen, and this waiting game will never end until we start acting on it. Act on it by studying the past. And even if we go and learn from the past, there is no point learning about it for its own sake only. The only reason to read and study history is to dig out ideas, concepts and examples which can help us lead a better life in our own times. We
need to act as philosophical historians!

Do I feel frustrated by the seemingly stagnant state of the business? Well, in all cases, the market is small and it has always been this way. It has always been jumping between 10% to 20% increase or decrease, so my frustration now is not new, rather it is a continued one, dating back to a long time ago and still existing.
In any way, we all want stability, a better economic situation, better safety and a clear vision of what is coming next. And aside from the foreign barriers and the world’s economic situation, there is a very important subject that we need to openly address and put on the table. That subject is my lead to the last question “what do you think should be done by agencies and clients?”

A lot of businesses went down today because of the rise of social media, and as much as social media is important, one cannot deny that some products cannot be sold there. I am talking offline, as well as eCommerce as other mediums that can lift up the businesses again. Clients should invest in eCommerce, and at the same time not forget going on-ground, in-stores, on billboards and so on…

For me, we should consider taking a step back and going back to basics! Yes, I am confident enough to claim this, in a world that sees the basics as something outdated. Basics are never outdated, they are timeless- they are the pillars of the world, and without basics, everything could collapse. ‘Going Back to Basics’ doesn’t manifest forgetting where we are now and running backwards, but it asks us to go back to history, learn from it, take ideas, concepts and implement our learnings in the world we live in today.

After everything has become digitalized now, which to a certain extent is excellent, one should never underestimate the power of other mediums. I am talking billboards, TV, on-ground marketing and so on… Think of the offline media as a book. Books will never die, because they leave a special feeling in us, and so does billboards for example. The feelings and connections we experience with a billboard can drive unique desires that the digital world will never achieve, because of its inhumane structure. Again, I am not fighting the digital world, on the contrary, I am with it, it is a great medium to reach the world in an efficient and fast way. All I am suggesting to agencies and clients is not to forget the
offline mediums. And that should also be made clear for the new generation.
Offline works best with online, they complete each other, exactly the same way history completes the future.