Posts Tagged ‘profile’

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.” Read the rest of this entry »


Bates and switch

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Profile, Published journalism on November 22, 2010 at 11:12 pm

As Bates Pan-Gulf rebrands as BPG, the agency’s always-on-the-move CEO Avi Bhojani tells Communicate about multitasking

Originally published in Communicate, October 2007

Avishesha “Avi” Bhojani doesn’t like standing still. In his school days he was a keen runner, and has been dashing between companies since his first start-up ad agency got off the blocks in his homeland of India in 1985.

His latest initiative, as part owner and CEO of Bates Pan-Gulf, has been overseeing the Dubai-based agency’s rebranding as BPG. This project has given Bhojani – who was trained in design before shifting to business and deal-making – a rare chance to get his hands dirty.

“More often than not, I am perceived as the guy clients want to meet at the highest level for deals,” he says. But on company rebrandings like this one, “I am the brand manager.”

Like Bhojani, BPG has never been static for long, having gone through a series of reinventions and name changes since it was launched in 1980.

First came Pan-Gulf Publicity, which Bhojani joined towards the end of 1991 when it was still “a classic, old-school agency.” When the company was helping set up Dubai Shopping Festival and needed a PR arm, he started to create a handful of strategic business units within Pan-Gulf: Pan-Gulf Advertising, Pan-Gulf Public Relations, Pan-Gulf Direct and Pan-Gulf Strategy.

Then, in 1998, the former global advertising holding company Cordiant Communications Group bought a minority share, and the new joint venture took the name of one of Cordiant’s flagship agency brands, Bates Worldwide. Bates Pan-Gulf was born. The joint venture inherited globally aligned clients like British American Tobacco and Cussons.

In 2003, global ad giant WPP aquired Cordiant, and Bates in the UK and North America were merged into JWT. The name Bates began to disappear, remaining only in Bates Asia and here in the Middle East with Bates Pan-Gulf.

Last month the agency rebranded again as BPG, leaving the titular legacy of American advertising executive Ted Bates, who died in 1972, to a single initial. “Think of it as Bates Pan-Gulf 2.0,” say the advertisements.

Are more changes in store? Global ad giant WPP now owns 40 percent of BPG, and chairman Martin Sorrell has already told Communicate he wants majority stakes in all his Middle East partnerships. Bhojani is not prepared to talk about if and when this might happen.

Bhojani is one of those people who can rattle dates off the top of his head. He can put a timeline to most events in his life. He can tell you when he left one job, when he entered another, when he brokered one deal, when another was announced, with the ease of reciting a multiplication table learned by rote.

His organization travels with him. He is a walking ad for the Nokia Communicator, for instance, with his phone/e-mailer/mobile office by his side constantly. He admits one of his vices is multitasking. “I respond to e-mails while I’m in the car. I take calls and SMSs. … Multitasking has become a way of life,” he says.

Presumably accompanied by his PDA phone, Bhojani plays golf – but only to unwind. “I normally book myself two rounds of golf a week. … I play to reduce my anxiety. So I’ll only play nine holes. I don’t play 18 holes, so I never track my handicap. Because I play basically to destress, I don’t want the stress of trying to beat myself. I just want to take it easy.”

For a man who thrives under the pressure of business, the golf course seems to be one of the few places he eases off. That and going to the gym.

“In my earlier years, I was an athlete. I was a competitive person, a runner. From 100 meters to 3,000 meters I had my school record. It’s funny, because [normally] either you’re a sprinter or [a long distance runner]. But I was 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,500, 3,000 meters. When I was 15, I was very good at that.”

But these days, he leaves the competitive spirit to the boardroom, working out only to stay fit – not to beat his rivals.

His main passion in life, now, is starting new businesses. “I like building businesses,” he says. “I like building ideas. So I tend to be very passionate about what I do. That’s how I multitask.” He makes sure, though, that his side projects don’t get in the way of BPG.

For example, a few years ago Bhojani started a school. He admits the idea was more his wife’s than his own. Now in its third academic year, Dubai International Academy is located in Emirates Hills. “We’ve got 1,420 pupils,” he says. “It’s a school of choice. … This school has been designed from a parent’s perspective.” Both his sons attend DIA.

DIA is popular with Dubai’s comparatively small Dutch and Scandinavian communities, with Bhojani describing it as “a community school for communities that are not numerically large enough to create their own school.”

He adds, “Quality education does not have to be the most expensive education. … We are perhaps the only international school that did not raise fees this year.”

Teaching the international baccalaureate curriculum, the school caters to “internationally minded people.” Sounds like Bhojani himself, who seems at home anywhere – even as one of the few non-Lebanese nationals heading up a major Middle East agency.


He talks openly about being the odd man out in the Lebanese-dominated Dubai advertising scene. “I speak French,” he jokes. “But that doesn’t qualify me.”

When he lists his proudest moments – “the things that have given me the biggest high” – one date he includes is June 1993, when Pan-Gulf won 11 out of 23 prizes at the IAA advertising awards. “We just walked away with everything,” he says. “And as the ‘wrong’ nationality.”

And his agency goes it alone now as one of the few WPP agencies in the region lacking an international brand badge,unlike Grey Worldwide, JWT MENA, Memac Ogilvy and Team Y&R. “We are blessed with the delightful absence of aligned business,” he says, adding that despite WPP’s ownership stake, BPG sees no reason to model itself on a sister or parent company. Those companies that share a name and an ethos with a wider brand “need to adapt ideas and concepts, but they don’t need to innovate.”

It’s a bit like Dubai, he says. “Why has Dubai become such an entrepreneurial hotbed? Because Dubai was blessed with the absence of hydrocarbons.” Likewise, without a roster of clients gained only by dint of affiliation with a global network, BPG has to work from scratch. It’s one of the many things that have set Bhojani apart.

A patient pioneer

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Profile, Published journalism on November 22, 2010 at 10:59 pm

TBWA/Raad boss Ramzi Raad relishes the road less traveled. He talks to Communicate about potholes and partnerships

Originally published in Communicate, September 2007

Ramzi Raad is set on uncovering new paths. In his youth he hiked all over Lebanon, discovering caves and trails, taking Boy Scouts to interview villagers about their superstitions, and exploring and documenting the countryside. Now the CEO of TBWA/Raad sees the agency he founded as a chance to break the rules and cover uncharted ground in advertising.

When he founded the Lebanese Potholing Club, Raad would delve into the caves of his native country, marking them so that others could follow and share his discoveries.

“I was with an old friend recently,” he says, “remembering when we ran short of carbide for our lamps. We had gone in and slept inside a cave system, and it was on the third day we ran short of carbide, so we had to rush back.

“You know, as you’re going in, you’re discovering. So your path is very slow. You have to mark all the time, and you have to remember where you are marking. And if you get into a hole with many entrances, you have to make sure you mark the one you came in through. Luckily the way out is much faster, because it’s all marked.”

Professionally, too, Raad has come through situations where time and options were limited. When he was executive vice-president of Intermarkets in Dubai, he initially worked with numerous international agencies before Intermarkets joined forces with Saatchi & Saatchi in 1982. By the time Saatchi decided to set up alone in the region in 1986, the only agency left for Intermarkets to affiliate with was TBWA.

Although his choices were limited, Raad is keen to emphasize that Intermarkets’ ties to TBWA were not a last-ditch attempt at international respectability. “When my colleagues started asking, ‘Why did you pick TBWA?’ I told them it was partly because I was forced into a situation, but more importantly it was because TBWA represents where I would like to be, because of a number of factors.

“It’s a truly multinational agency where you can grow, and you’re not worried that you cannot become more than a senior person in the Middle East because there’s a hierarchy of Americans or French or Brits on top who have been there for a longer period.”

In 1991, TBWA ended the affiliation with Intermarkets. Raad left the agency later that year. He eventually reestablished the relationship, launching TBWA/Raad in 1999.

“I was fifty-something years of age,” he says. “And people said, ‘Ramzi Raad has become cuckoo, he is losing it, he is starting again. Who has the passion to do that?’”

For an agency run by a suspected madman, TBWA/Raad hasn’t done badly. Today, its roster includes Etihad Airways, CNN, Standard Chartered Bank and Nissan, and it was shortlisted at Cannes this year for its “Tears in Lebanon” campaign for the Trillion for Lebanon charity.

Raad is immensely proud of his agency. His work, he proclaims, is about “the young agency, not the old man.” Youth and innovation are words that continually crop up when he discusses his agency and its work.

When Raad launched TBWA, he says, he took on board their motto of the time: “Change the rules.” He says you can see how his agency is different by looking at the accessibility of its management.

“We are a small group of people,” Raad says. “We’ve built an agency with no walls. This is how we started, because each one of us is part of this bigger team and we are all going to work for you and you’re going to see us. My promise is that no matter how much we grow, you will continue to see us.”

Perhaps Raad’s preference for an open-door, all-involved team atmosphere stems from his introduction to the industry. While he was studying Arabic literature at the American University of Beirut, Raad took up a part-time job as an account manager at the Publicite Universelle agency. When he graduated, he joined full-time. “I did it all,” he says. “I was the account handler; I was the idea generator, working with the creative people. I was even the photographer. I still keep my portfolio. I’m so proud of the work.”

One of Raad’s employees describes him as “a kind and patient man,” although Raad admits this might be changing. “I’ve started losing my temper more,” he admits. “Because of age. But I have always been accommodating, teaching people who make mistakes rather than punishing them. And forgiving them too. Because my great belief is that in every human there is a good side and a bad side, and a good manager is the manager who takes the good side in every individual, polarizes it and makes it bigger. That’s what I’ve always done.”

Raad may believe in leading the way, but he likes to take the path less traveled. When Communicate asks what his failures have been, he answers, “We could have grown bigger, much bigger.” A man of measured speech, he weighs each word carefully. “We should have sobered up to the reality that good work alone will not win you the business every time. I will say, to be polite, that we underplayed the personal [relationships] aspect. But in all honesty, I did it consciously.”

One day, Raad intends to return to his home country. “I am from central Lebanon, from the mountains. We have a very nice family house there, which is like a fortress. It’s totally wrecked, though, and my dream is of starting work on it and repairing it.”

However, as TBWA/Raad outgrows its offices – there are plans to move into larger premises in Downtown Dubai – and wins such coveted pitches as MTV Arabia, Raad’s retirement seems a long way off.