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Heavyweight Haddad

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Marketing, Profile, Published journalism on November 22, 2010 at 11:24 pm

JWT’s regional boss talks about stepping down. And agency biology

Originally published in Communicate, November 2007

In the training gym of regional advertising, Roy Haddad is a gruff, experienced sparring partner – the sort of adversary younger pugilists can learn from. He sways and bobs and weaves as he talks, rolling back in his chair, fidgeting with energy.

Haddad delivers his answers, insights and analysis in sharp jabs. He says what he has to, then stops. Asked what agencies he worked for before he founded Tihama Al Mona International, which eventually became JWT, in 1981, he parries the question. “You want me to promote the competition? Forget it.”

We forget it fast. You don’t want to upset Roy Haddad, because he looks like he’d kill you if you do. Standing over six feet tall, with a stocky build and thick black eyebrows, Haddad is not a man you’d want to meet on a cold dark night.

DON’T BE FOOLED. However intimidating he may appear, Haddad is no thug. “Roy is a gentleman and a consummate professional,” says Ramsey Naja, JWT MENA’s chief creative officer who, like Haddad, is based in Beirut. He’s also the hardest working man in the company, Naja adds.

Haddad takes the pressures of running a regional agency in his stride. When he retires, he says, “I will go home and rest. I have been in this business for more than 30 years. I think it’s more than enough.”

Part of the coterie of Lebanese businessmen that runs the big network agencies based in Dubai and Beirut, Haddad says he expects to step out of the ring within the next four years. Unlike Fortune Promoseven’s Akram Miknas, the first of the Middle East’s old school agency bosses to retire, Haddad says he won’t stay on as chairman but will leave the company completely. “It’s only fair to the agency,” he says. “The business is a young people’s business. And I think there comes a time when, if you want to keep the dynamic of an agency, this has to happen.”

Haddad won’t say who will take over, but admits there is a succession plan in place. It won’t be a relative, however, since Haddad has no family in the advertising trade. “I am not at all nepotic,” he says. Don’t be fooled by the last name of Chafic Haddad, JWT’s creative director. “[Chafic has] the same family name but, you know, Haddad stands for Smith.” The two Haddads joke that few people have tried to poach Chafic, in case he tells his “uncle.”

ANTHROPOLOGY IN ADVERTISING. When he’s not working, Roy Haddad reads about brands, history and sociology, listens to jazz and watches people. “To be a good ad man, you have to be an anthropologist first,” he says. “That’s the JWT culture, as a matter of fact: the anthropological side, and a natural curiosity about society, how trends come about, how trends disappear.”

He also helps young Arab writers, poets and musicians get published. Having told us this, though, Haddad raises his guard again. He parries further questions on his artistic philanthropy by saying why he helps, rather than how.

“It’s really the alternative cultures I support, rather than the mainstream. Because this is what normally drives the evolution of trends and societies. If you look at how trends come about, they start alternatively and they then become the mainstream. It’s the effect rock music had in the early 1960s.”

A sense of one’s place in time is vital, says Haddad. This applies to culture, society and the 143-year-old JWT. “You have to be proud of your past,” he says. “Because if you don’t have a past, you don’t have a future. But you should be proud of your past and obsessed with the future, rather than obsessed with your past and proud of what you achieve.”

Although he dodges most questions about his own background, Haddad says he has always been in the same trade. “Through and through it’s advertising,” he says. He started out as a copywriter more than 30 years ago simply because, “I like communication.”

He elaborates on this with a barrage of points, landed with passion and force. “[Communication] always fascinated me. And what fascinates me most in this business is actually watching the response to a message, and that whole process of brands and the ties that are created around brands, and how people define themselves more by brands than by the society they live in, and brands on their own create societies in a way.”

PARTNERS, NOT SUPPLIERS. “Building brand loyalties is exactly what we do for a living,” says Haddad. And that goes for his agency’s brand too. “I see myself as the brand manager for JWT in the region. My job is to make sure that JWT stands for what we say around the world, for consistency’s sake.”

Michael Maedel, JWT’s worldwide president, tells Communicate Haddad is “at the forefront” of client relations. “If you talk about Roy as an individual,” says Maedel, “here is someone who is really driven by helping clients to become more successful. The clients appreciate it enormously. You have a level of trust between Roy and his senior clients which is absolutely outstanding.”

Relationships like these are vital to keeping ad agencies in “strong partnership” with clients, says Maedel. The industry is seeing a trend of clients treating ad agencies as mere suppliers. “If we don’t deliver value, then one day you’ll have a client calling up saying, ‘Can I have two kilos of storyboards delivered tomorrow, and I will pay by weight.’”

Haddad and Maedel both say the areas the industry must concentrate on now are digital and customer relationship management. JWT’s sister company RMG Connect helps out with CRM aspects of the digital space, such as search marketing and data collection, but the creative side of digital has to be treated as an equal to radio, press and television.

DIGITAL DIALOG. “There is talk of creating a digital department,” says Haddad. “I think this is a lot of bollocks, because if you think of this industry in the last 120 years, when radio came in, everybody said the press would be dead. But it continues to flourish. When TV came in, they said it would kill all other media, such as press and radio. And then it continued. Today in the digital revolution, everybody is talking about the death of the traditional agency and the TV spot. … But for us it’s part and parcel. When TV came up, we didn’t create a TV department. And now digital is growing, we’re not going to have a digital department. It is part of our creative department.”

The arrival of digital has led to a need for more targeted and engaging advertising, says Haddad. “The whole industry is moving from broadcast to narrowcast. Tools such as mobile telephony and the Internet allow a greater dialog.

“The consumer is in power. He now controls all the media,” he continues. “It is no longer a matter of interrupting, but actually engaging with what he does and then establishing the dialog through his own interest set rather than the good old model of sender-receivers.”

CELLS IN A BODY. So what have Haddad’s biggest successes been? “I think Lipton is a good example, even though it has now been realigned to DDB,” he says. “I worked on Lipton probably since 1979, non-stop in a way.” After reeling off a list of other major brands he has worked on over the years, Haddad says, “In 30 years, man, you work across a lot of products. Some are still there, some have gone, some have been realigned. But I have handled a lot of products.”

His proudest achievement, though, is the agency itself and its standing in the region. “If you accept that we are brands,” says Haddad, “then the core ingredient of this brand is the talent. That forms the brand because, at the end of the day, the communication industry is all about talent. It’s the way you train this talent, it’s the way this talent adopts your culture as a company and portrays it day in, day out in every action.”

The regional JWT brand is more than just Haddad’s creation, he says. He has shaped it “as much as each individual in the company helped shape it in a way. … Each one is a cell and those little cells come together to create a body that is called JWT.”

That would make Roy Haddad the hardest cell of all.

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