Rola Ghotmeh: ‘We adapt and move swiftly’
Posted on 2024 Mar,15

"In the ever-shifting landscape of global advertising and creative agencies, where adaptation is key for survival, the challenges are magnified in a market like Lebanon, marked by inconsistency and unforeseen obstacles," states Rola Ghotmeh, CEO of The Creative 9, who elaborates on the agency's response to this dynamic environment, as she explains what has been the new normal for her and her team in such a volatile market.


2023 has not been a vintage year in Lebanon. What is the new normal for you, and what practices have changed in your agency to attain a new modus operandi compatible with the current state of the market?

In the ever-shifting landscape of global advertising and creative agencies, where adaptation is key for survival, the challenges are magnified in a market like Lebanon, marked by inconsistency and unforeseen obstacles. The need to adapt every minute of every day is our reality. Clients, tightening marketing budgets without compromising expectations, and talents seeking higher earnings in a market where salary brackets are often overlooked, present ongoing challenges.

Our response to this dynamic environment involves coaching multi-hatted talents through continuous training, mentoring, and support. We navigate the volatility of retaining and onboarding clients, managing with agility, punctuality, tech integration, and maintaining 24/7 availability. This is the new normal—we adapt and move swiftly.

In a market marked by volatility, brands operate from a place of fear due to budget constraints, affecting their confidence in agency services. Here, the synergy of creativity and data plays a vital role in alleviating concerns and supporting our agency's work. While not all our efforts are directly measurable with data, managing client expectations on measurability is an ongoing focus.

Addressing financial demands, we restructured our rates and bundled services through strategic partnerships, enhancing our appeal to brands without compromising quality. Selective pitching became a crucial approach, considering the time-consuming and costly nature of creative pitches. We've become discerning in our pitching efforts, aligning them with projects that genuinely warrant such investments.

Moreover, transparency and open communication are more than ever central tenets of our client relationships. In a market where trust is paramount, we prioritize clear and honest communication to build lasting partnerships. This extends to setting realistic expectations and demonstrating the tangible value of our services. Simultaneously, our commitment to talent management involves investing in professional development, offering competitive compensation, and fostering a collaborative culture that retains top talent not only within Lebanon but also across other countries with remote work.

Overall, the new normal for us involves a holistic approach that combines talent management, financial agility, digital innovation, and client-centric communication. By adapting our practices to align with the current state of the market, we aim to not only weather the challenges of 2023 but also position our agency for sustained growth and success in the future.


What is still slowing the business?

While we have made significant strides in our creative agency, overcoming challenges in 2023 has been a complex task. A high employee turnover and clients' budget constraints have been the primary impediments to our business. The concerning issue of a talent exodus from the country has resulted in a scarcity of skilled professionals, leading to a competitive environment where talents seek better opportunities. The frequent changes in agency teams across the industry have caused disruptions, impacting our ability to maintain stable and consistent client relationships.

The repercussions of a fluctuating workforce extend beyond our agency, as clients have voiced their concerns about the instability within other agencies. This widespread turnover trend, driven by a pursuit of higher earnings and limited talent availability, poses a potential threat to the industry's stability if not addressed and controlled.

Budget constraints on the client side have further exacerbated challenges. Marketers, fatigued by financial concerns, often make choices based solely on cost-saving measures, resulting in poor decisions that lead to dissatisfaction, skepticism, and unnecessary pitches. Unpleasant experiences stemming from wrong choices in selecting advertising partners have scarred clients, eroding trust in the industry. Additionally, the easy access to design tools like Canva and social media platforms like Instagram has given rise to self-proclaimed 'experts,' potentially devaluing the significance of strategic thinking behind every piece of communication.


What is needed to re-build a prosperous and thriving industry that resembles for instance the one of the golden age of advertising in Lebanon?

To rebuild a prosperous industry reminiscent of Lebanon's golden age of advertising, we need to address the root causes. This includes implementing measures to retain and attract top talent, fostering stability in the workforce, and advocating for a collaborative industry culture. Moreover, we must work towards educating clients about the enduring value of well-crafted, thoughtful communication strategies, countering the perception that advertising can be commoditized into inexpensive, one-size-fits-all solutions. By navigating these challenges and promoting a holistic approach to creativity and client relations, we can contribute to the restoration of a thriving creative industry in Lebanon.


Also what key trend you believe will disrupt existing global marketing practices in 2024? 

I believe that the key trend poised to disrupt existing global marketing practices in 2024 remains Artificial Intelligence (AI). The talk is all about AI, and it's not merely a buzzword; it's a transformative force that is making waves across the marketing landscape. However, with great power comes controversy. We've witnessed instances, like a model unknowingly featured in a metro ad generated by AI without her consent, indicating the potential ethical challenges AI can introduce.

AI is revolutionizing marketing by providing us with tools that enhance agility in content creation, facilitate fast reviews, enable precise customer segmentation, conduct predictive analysis, and deliver personalized experiences. It empowers us to engage our audience effectively and stay ahead in the rapidly evolving digital landscape. The need to adapt quickly to the evolving capabilities of AI is imperative for staying competitive and relevant.

Additionally, the overarching trends in the industry continue to revolve around tech integration, agility, data-driven decision-making, creativity based on insights.

 Alongside these trends, there's an unexpected but exciting addition – the influence of crazy fashion. While it may seem unrelated, it's a testament to the dynamic and unpredictable nature of creativity in our industry.