Ali Khalil, Strategic Planning Director at J.Walter Thompson KSA firmly believes that today the whole world is at an inflection point, not only Saudi Arabia. While he offers a brief overview on advertising trends and challenges in the kingdom, he asserts that the key here is to apply creative thinking not only in the work produced, but also in the way operations are led.
How would you assess the overall business atmosphere in KSA and what are your expectations regarding the volume of advertising in 2017?
After a year of fluctuations in oil prices, the economy is showing signs of growth and improvement. Today, with the launch of the national transformation programme and nationwide economic reforms, there is an atmosphere of optimism and trust in the economic performance of Saudi. Businesses are getting back into the game and the government is increasing its investments in communication activities that promote a better and a more transparent image of the Kingdom and its institutions. Of course, we don’t expect growth rates like those achieved during the years of peak oil prices, but we do anticipate a very good performance stimulated by improved confidence in the future of Saudi Arabia.
What are the most significant current trends in Saudi advertising industry? Where are client budgets and attention mostly focused?
Like many other markets, the advertising industry in Saudi is trying to catch its breath. High internet penetration rates, a multi-screen culture, the emergence of big data and the explosion of digital technologies are creating more complex ecosystems and are naturally shifting the conversation towards online communication. Clients are demanding more digitally native work that can be scalable, with better reach, results and accurate metrics. And they are doing so more often than not.
What are some of the biggest challenges you will be up against this year?
Today, in Saudi, we are facing several challenges:
How can we produce outstanding work that delivers what is desired, without sacrificing what is needed? That is, work which blends a balanced infusion of channels and media with exceptional results every time.
How do we help our clients grow beyond Saudi – to discover different opportunities across the region and reach a wider global audience as they embark on a journey to diversify and expand into new and varied markets?
How can we help local brands adapt, become more resilient and be prepared to compete with global brands, as the Saudi market opens up to investment and to more international brands?
And last but not least, what can we do to help governmental organizations leverage ‘the zeitgeist’ through communication that resonates with a young audience? And how can we strengthen trust in their image and enhance their reputation within the context of more transparency and continuous transformation?
The distinction between types of agencies has shrunk, and the ability to deliver a whole package has become the core competency of any communications agency. Where do you stand in that complex shift – competing against a whole range of communication specialists from social and boutique agencies, to in-house teams, freelancers and even media companies?
Today, the whole business world is at an inflection point – not just the advertising industry.
Convergence and cross-pollination of industries, the emergence of new ecosystems, and exponential growth in technology are producing new dynamics. For the advertising industry, having to create omnipresent and always-on communication, along with the notion of interactivity and content as essential elements in the formula, is creating a massive experimentation lab in an uninhibited environment. For some, this may look scary but, for many, it is an opportunity to thrive and show what they are made of.
How is this affecting the way you do business?
The key here is to apply creative thinking not only in the work we produce, but also in the way we operate. What business models can we embrace to retain a valuable position in the communication industry? How can we stay relevant, essential and ahead of the curve when the curve keeps on moving? What talents and skill-sets must we attract to stay on top of things? Should we specialise, open new departments, adopt new technologies or partner with third parties to nourish existing revenue streams or expand into new ones?
The answer will ultimately boil down to the capability, resilience, agility and willingness of agencies to embrace new systems and methods that might be alien to their existing mindset.
What we have learned so far is that, in our industry, the need to be creative is the only thing that’s written in stone.
So, apart from new ecosystems, emerging technology and playful media, we should embrace and celebrate opportunities for change, without losing sight of what really matters: the one big idea that changes everything.