Nadim Samara has taken on the mantle of chief executive for OMD across the entire MENA region. He talks consistency of product and the importance of purpose with ArabAd.
The office may be the same but the role has changed significantly. Nadim Samara, once the khaki jacket toting chief executive of OMD UAE, has swapped the UAE for MENA, bringing a new level of accountability and pressure to his professional career. Not that you’d guess from talking to him, such is his affability and composure.
“If you have that four-letter acronym in your title you’re responsible for them,” he says. “I don’t want these four letters to be just a brand. I want to own them.”
Samara stepped up to the plate in early October, tasked with leading a network of 15 offices and managing more than 200 clients. His challenge? To drive the network’s transformation and to better respond to current and emerging client needs.
Much of the hard work on a UAE level has already been done. The agency’s service offering has been strengthened, a new breed of talent brought in, a new agile structure created, and expertise in tech, analytics and performance has been scaled up. The end result has been the creation of what Samara describes as a business performance company, not a traditional media agency. The job now is to roll that out regionally and to ensure consistency of service.
“The purpose of this appointment, or this role, isn’t a fix-it job. It’s a grow-it job,” says Samara, who is sitting comfortably in his Dubai Media City office. “That’s important for us to understand. There are no market weaknesses: there are market opportunities and there’s a network opportunity first and foremost.
“In terms of priority, it’s the consistency of the product, it’s the consistency of the leadership team, and at the same time (which is an oxymoron) it’s the specialisation of each market and the specialisation of each leadership team. I want to make sure that we have this intersection of consistency – to make sure that you get one version of OMD across 15 offices – and the bespoke mentality of each market. That character, that culture that comes out in a positive way.”
Samara is one of the industry’s more likeable characters. He talks of pain and suffering as only a true Star Wars geek would, referencing Yoda’s terminology for training like a Jedi, and views data as sexy. He uses words such as extrapolate and talks finance with the best of them (“When OMD is seen as the investment banker for brands, whether it’s on the short or long term, you need to think like an investment banker”).
“If you have that four-letter acronym in your title you’re responsible for them. I don’t want these four letters to be just a brand. I want to own them.”
He has been with OMD for 17 years, beginning his career as a media manager in 2002 and working his way up the corporate ladder via a five-year stint at OMD in the US. Since returning to the UAE in 2012 he has helped build OMD into an agency that currently sits second in RECMA’s agency rankings for the Middle East and North Africa. For the first half of 2018 it was rated number one in pitch performance by Comvergence and has submitted gross billings of just over $1 billion to RECMA for 2017, up from $931 million in 2016.
Challenges remain, however, not least the level and frequency of uncertainty in the market, while still being labelled a media agency is of concern.
“The more we are treated as an agency – we take something with the right hand, add our fees or subtract our commission, and then give it away with the left hand – then that’s something that I think is going to make us obsolete,” says Samara. “This intermediary role is something that’s vague, that doesn’t show value. The second you show you’re providing value through a unique proposition and you have a vested interest in performing for a brand, which will also have an affect on your own performance, then you start to have a viable and sustainable role.
“And I think that purpose is yet to be defined. It's very important to talk about purpose, and when we sit in a pitch or a client meeting, I want our clients to know that our purpose is one and the same - which is to create work that works”
What does work?
“Personalisation at scale,” replies Samara. “The fact that personalisation at scale is a combination of creative and media is actually something that’s working for our clients, and OMD’s structure is designed for that. In fact, it is harder and harder to de-couple creative, technology, distribution, measurement, analytics and the many other disciplines within marketing.
“And something that I have driven for a handful of accounts but should be scaled out is ‘flawless execution’,” he adds. “It’s something that I would love to be able to claim with full confidence, but we’re not quite there yet. Every time the rubber hits the road it needs to be 100 per cent. But we’re human, there are some errors, and we’re in a very complicated infrastructure when it comes to digital. But we should get to a point where we have flawless execution.”
It's very important to talk about purpose, and when we sit in a pitch or a client meeting, I want our clients to know that our purpose is one and the same - which is to create work that works.
Samara is not alone of course. He is supported by Wissam Najjar, who leads OMD’s offices outside North Africa, and Eric Bequin, who heads its luxury practice and the three offices in the Maghreb region. Samara himself reports to Elie Khouri, chief executive of Omnicom Media Group MENA.
“There’s a level of frustration that in 2018 AI is just an acronym,” he says, discussing the need for further transformation. “Machine learning – or ML – is just a term. That’s the transformation that we should go after. Not specifically these two terms, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a lot in that belly of the iceberg that is low hanging fruit.
“For example, ad tech solutions are now foundational to every investment made on measurable media, augmented with new focal areas, such as what we are labelling as ‘CreTech’ (technology that further enables creative and content solutions) revolving around dynamic creative optimisation, rapid response management, on-ground/online real-time activation synergies, and so forth. Most of this is common practice. However, it is not systematically scaled to cater to the consumer demands each brand deserves. Now that our 15 offices are working in unison for 2019, it’s a key focal point to further add to our integrated structure.”
“The fact that we’re intersecting our business performance company mentality with our portfolio of integrated products, all under one roof and with one goal, is something that will help us grow,” he adds. “And I know that we’re structured in a way that we’re very resilient; we’re very agile, and we’re very integrated. And when you have these three things in you as part of you’re DNA, then you come out on top.”