J.Walter Thompson’s new chief executive for the Gulf, Sasan Saeidi, talks agency culture, creative consultancies and transformation
If there was an award for the best dressed man in advertising, the chances are Sasan Saeidi would win it. Consistently well turned out, with smoothed back hair and designer stubble, he is the sartorial embodiment of Gentlemen’s Quarterly. If nothing else, he’s a man who appreciates impeccable tailoring.
Formerly of FP7, where he was managing director for the UAE, Saeidi now finds himself heading up J. Walter Thompson’s operations in the Gulf, overseeing the Dubai, Kuwait and Qatar offices as chief executive.
For eight years he was with FP7, which makes it hard to picture him with another agency. But here he is, all smiles and positivity. He is as friendly, approachable and committed as ever.
When we meet, it is downstairs from his new office in Business Central Towers, where he has inherited a team used to the turbulence of J. Walter Thompson Dubai.
“The job is going very well so far,” he says. He has been with the agency since early September, succeeding Michiel Hofstee. “JWT is a phenomenal brand; we have a solid reputation and I am excited to be part of it. I’m here to help the agency group become even better. And that’s my KPI.”
He has been hired, essentially, to transform the agency. To build a ‘creative consultancy’ of the future, with a ‘new spirit, vision and ambition’. Although the nuts and bolts of how this will be achieved are not openly divulged, at the heart of it lie talent and culture. Which, given the agency’s past, is understandable.
J. Walter Thompson has had a tough time stabilising its Dubai office in terms of personnel over the course of the past few years. The departure of managing director Mohammed Sabry and executive creative director Marco Bezerra at the beginning of this year was just the latest in a long line of staffing upheavals.
Sabry himself had instigated a purge following his arrival in January 2015, with a wave of firings and resignations diminishing the agency’s headcount significantly. Added to this is the agency’s historic inability to retain executive creative directors. It currently does not have one, although Chafic Haddad has held the post of chief creative operations officer for the MENA region since 2015.
Whether more tranquil times lie ahead following the arrival of Saeidi awaits to be seen, but a re-invigoration is necessary, both in terms of personnel and creative output.
“JWT is obsessed with the future and being ahead of the game, so I really want to help create an agency of the future model, where the creative product, the interactions, and the thought process is seamlessly connected and fast.”
“New people are a must for any transformation,” admits Saeidi, who is also the International Advertising Association’s global vice-president for content strategy, and regional vice-president for the Middle East and Africa. “But we also have a lot of great people at JWT and I have already commenced my work with them. What gives me great comfort is that JWT has a lovely people-oriented culture, and this gives me great confidence that great talent will always find JWT a real home.
“JWT is obsessed with the future and being ahead of the game, so I really want to help create an agency of the future model, where the creative product, the interactions, and the thought process is seamlessly connected and fast. Of course, this will mean improving culture, improving the creative product, and injecting strategy in every single offering we provide our clients.”
Key to this is Saeidi’s commitment to agency culture, which he has been a strong advocate of for years: This idea of a company caring about its people and promoting experimentation and entrepreneurship.
It was this desire to create a culture of meritocracy and healthy competition – free of any appetite to micromanage an agency’s best people – that helped turnaround FP7 following its controversies of the past.
“I joined JWT because it was a great opportunity,” says Saeidi, who began his career as an account manager at FCB Canada. “I also feel that I did everything I wanted to do at FP7 and I helped reposition the brand and elevate it to where it is today. I want to do some amazing things at JWT, and really support it to go from good to great.
“My strategy is to focus on building a culture that stands for great work and great strategy, revolving around great people. My aim is to help the agency become the best creative consultancy. Which means an agency that provides not only the best creativity, but also refined marketing solutions for our clients. That will be our edge.”