Tahaab Rais: ‘I’d love to see award shows where consumers judge us’
Posted on 2024 Jun,27  | By Ghada Azzi

Tahaab Rais, Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Groupe ME&T, talks about the importance of awards in general, why he believes they have become an integral part of the industry ecosystem, while he also shares his candid take on Dubai Lynx 2024 edition.

What’s your take on this year’s results at the Dubai Lynx?

Speaking neutrally, it was a very competitive Dubai Lynx after quite a few years, wasn’t it? You really didn’t know who was going to rank 1, 2 and 3 until the closing stages of the night! On the flip side, I do believe several juries were unnecessarily brutal with the number of awards given to work across agencies and should’ve awarded more work. A lot of agencies and teams worked really hard on not just the work but on presenting it to juries, during a regional crisis and tough times, and I believe a lot of work across agencies should have gotten more respect and recognition than it ending up getting. I would also like to see work done by agencies from the region win versus work done by global agencies for the region. This is Dubai Lynx and it’s for regional agencies.

   On the exciting side, what was interesting to see, besides the competition, was a range of work win across proper brands and across a variety of marketing disciplines – from films to social causes to good old product advertising to use of data and of course, to A.I. What it does show is that regional industry is pivoting to doing bigger work on bigger brands and is taking conscious steps towards embracing more modern marketing approaches.

    But (and also on the exciting side) it also showed the side where we’re lacking – truth be told, we’re behind in several aspects such as proper entertainment (not some fun films masquerading as entertainment), diversity, equity and inclusion (beyond stunts), commerce-driven work that drives transactions and purchases, sustainability (beyond the green washing work) and creative use of data. We all need to get better at it. And therein, lie opportunities aplenty for us.


How do you view award shows in general?

I do believe they matter – in any industry. And ours is no different. They are a recognition for the work done. I particularly love the ones where our clients judge too – and not just our peers. Because those tend to be tougher to win at, and therefore, more fulfilling from a professional standpoint. Eventually, we do work for brands. I’d love to see award shows where actual people – our consumers – judge us. Maybe I’ll launch one such show one day!

   And why they do matter is that award shows, when done right, help condition agencies to think in the manner they should be thinking in. I genuinely believe the introduction of categories like Entertainment, Sports, Gaming, Commerce, Data, Business Transformation, B2B, and the like have nudged agencies to create work that entertains, delivers sports engagement, leverages gaming, drives commerce, uses data creatively, enables business transformation, makes B2B marketing enjoyable - and therefore, becomes more contemporary and relevant to people too.


“I would also like to see work done by agencies from the region win versus work done by global agencies for the region. This is Dubai Lynx and it’s for regional agencies.”


Are your participation in awards something planned way in advance with a budget specially allocated for it? How do you choose which show you want to participate in for instance?

There are a LOT of award shows around! There are way too many of them in my humble opinion and that is also a factor behind why awards aren’t respected as much as they should be. Every two or three weeks, we see an agency of the year on LinkedIn and at the end of the year, we have the most awarded xyz lists!

   Therefore, yes, we do have a list of award shows we consciously choose to enter. They tend to be the top tier ones. We don’t choose these based on individual vanity. We choose these based on, firstly, importance to our clients (Will they benefit via recognition at these shows internally within their companies and externally within their idnustry and ours?) and secondly, based on what platforms we want to be recognized on as agencies that positions us as leaders and importantly, attracts talent to us. This way we are selective and don’t spread ourselves and our budgets thin.

   And yes, we do have a budget allocated for the work we put into entering awards across our agencies that we align on at a leadership level and work with the agencies on.


We have noticed a growing confidence and quality in the work coming out of the Middle East. What are your thoughts on why that is happening now? And what are the factors of this notable upward trajectory? 

We work in a region that’s an underdog on the global stage – not just in advertising and marketing but in many aspects of life. And the underdog always tries harder and punches above its weight. The underdog is also supported and cheered on by people, because everyone loves an underdog, as everyone has, at one point in time in their lives, been an underdog. So, we all, across agencies in the region, share that spirit – that hunger to create, to disrupt, to stand out, to be seen, to be noted, to make something that matters.

   And the world is watching and noting that – journalists first, and jurors next. More work is being featured on global media platforms than ever before. More work is celebrated. More people are being celebrated. More people are becoming Jury Presidents and Jury Chairs. More people are being included on juries. And it’s because of the talent we have in the region – from not just the region but from around the world that is wanting to create work they’d be proud of.

    We’re also seeing the rise of Saudi Arabia with brands based there wanting the same as their agencies. In fact, at times, I believe they want it more than agencies – which is awesome! So, this ambition to be the world’s greatest is also unlocking several exciting opportunities for work coming out of the region. Saudi Arabia dominated at Dubai Lynx this year, for instance. And I’d love to see more work win from there than it already has, so it encourages even better work from brands and agencies there, and even better work from others markets in response too. As a result, we shine as a region.


Many believe true winners of award shows are the organizers charging exorbitant prices for entering work or attending ceremonies. What’s your take on this?

Have the prices for fees and tables increased around and after the COVID-19 break? Yes, they have for most shows. Could they cost lesser? Yes, they could in order to make more people enter and win, especially the smaller agencies who deserve to be seen and noted too. But we must remember the companies hosting award shows are a business too. They’re not all foundations or pro bono. And like any other business, they need to make money too. In turn, we as agencies benefit too as do brands who enter the shows, because of the recognition they get. So, it’s perfectly fair for them to charge. What would also be nice is for these shows giving back some of their fees to causes – i love how the Glass Lions gives back the entry fees to relevant causes. That’s a really neat thing to do. Here’s to more, by more.

   I do want to take this opportunity though to remind the perennial naysayers and the little armchair critics that the agency that enters the most does not win because it has entered the most or has bought the most tables. The agency that wins the most is the one with the best quality and the most distinctive range of work that is voted and ranked high across its categories by the jurors. The jurors don’t see entry fees or table invoices. I believe that accusation against award shows and agencies who participate is naïve, immature and ill-informed.


Some agencies have a creative force specially dedicated to crafting award-winning campaigns, mostly ghost campaigns. What do you think of this?

It’s not my place to comment on what other agencies do or don’t do. To each their own. But in my experience, when winning really works well, comes down to two things. Firstly, treat every brief as an opportunity – whether it’s from a brand or from you for a brand – every brief can lead to something great. Secondly, when you make creativity a culture versus the job of one discipline, you have that true creative force – all talent working towards creating great ideas and fame-worthy work, versus just those with creative in their titles. And truth be told, in that great culture, the idea is bigger than who came with it.

   This combination of treating every brief as an opportunity (that leads to legitimate work done that did see the light of the day) and having a culture where everyone is creative (that leads to more minds working on creating), leads to what I’d said earlier – quality work and a great range of it. We’ve done that consisently at our end and have hence been the only agency and network that has won Dubai Lynx and MENA Effies Agency and Network of the Year. The work there was judged by global peers and clients and competitors alike. And the same ideas won at both festivals. Creative and effective. Those wins feel good when you go back home after the awards night.

Interview was first published in ArabAd print edition dated Q2 - 2024