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Omnicom Executive Colin Gottlieb on The Differences Between Great and Average


Omnicom Executive Colin Gottlieb on The Differences Between Great and Average

Auto enthusiast, movie buff and ardent Disney, Spielberg and Steve Jobs fan, Colin Gottlieb is also the CEO of Omnicom Media Group EMEA and Chairman of OMD Worldwide. When he visited Dubai last month, we caught up with him to talk advertising, business and movies. 

On why he was in Dubai

I am responsible for Europe, Middle East and Africa, and MENA represents a very important part of our region. I’m visiting Dubai as it is our hub in the GCC, which represents 60 percent of MENA advertising investments.

On the importance of the region

In terms of financials, MENA sits easily in our top five [markets], but in terms of talent, techniques I would put it in our top three. We have a superb team here delivering exceptional performance, especially when one considers the significant contraction in regional ad investments from $5.5 billion in 2014 to $3.4 billion last year. Elda [Choucair, CEO of PHD MENA] has done a magnificent job and added new offices in Lebanon and Egypt; OMD with Nadim [Samara] as the new CEO is enjoying tremendous success [like the Zain win] and has achieved notable awards; and Fadi [Maktabi, GM of Hearts & Science MENA] is an outstanding talent who is also delivering exciting new business. That’s just a few people and of course, full credit must go to Elie [Khouri, CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA].

On client challenges

The impact of technology on business is asking questions of everything and everyone. And it couldn’t be more exciting as the opportunity for new thinking is unlimited. But the shift for clients and their agencies to a total customer-first mindset is a major challenge, as many legacy structures and ways of working still exist. For example, how will marketers construct fast, fluid and enjoyable consumer journeys for their customers? How do they unify data effectively to enable this? How will they dismantle silos to allow disruptive integrated thinking to quickly flourish? And how to do this in today’s world when there is no time and financial expectations are largely short term? With 5G connections in the MEA forecasted to grow from 1.2 million in 2021 to 16.6 million by 2023 and m-commerce expected to jump from $17 billion in 2018 to $37 billion in 2022, the shift is accelerating. So, if you’re a client and you are trying to make sense of everything, it’s not surprising you are impatient with your agencies. But then, that’s the opportunity for everyone to raise the bar. 

On client education

As a client, I would expect my agency to passionately understand every area of my business, my challenges, my customers, the pressures I face and the barriers to new opportunities. As an agency, you must therefore be ‘all-in’. Only then, based on the agency’s contribution, is trust secured, and only then will a client be receptive to new ideas.

On traditional vs non-traditional clients

When it comes to success metrics, there is often a significant difference between marketers who have grown over many decades and those whose career started in the last 15 years, in particular those who have successfully embraced the commercial impact to their business of smartphones and tablets. Steve Jobs said the iPhone was going to change everything and he wasn’t wrong. 

The clients who have been born of the smartphone tend to look at the mid to lower end of the funnel, where attribution and conversion are everything. Their success metrics tend to be sophisticated, customer-centric and focused. As their businesses grow, however, they start to move up the funnel and begin to think about the power and value of their brands. That’s very exciting. Equally exciting, the more traditional marketers are rapidly evolving to the point where ‘digital’ silos begin to disappear and integrated precision marketing at scale becomes the norm. 

More precise success metrics covering business, marketing, channel and customer will be employed and force everyone to improve outputs and re-establish the value of great ideas. 

On the Middle East region being slow to change

I don’t think this is a fair assessment. Marketers everywhere are going through a period of tremendous change and significant uncertainty. For instance, it’s easy for people to talk about omni-channel strategies, but it’s difficult for large established corporations to make that happen immediately.

With digital’s share of total media investments in the region increasing from ten percent in 2012 to 42 percent in 2019 [in the GCC] and the rapid rise of m-commerce, I think the Middle East is working very fast to shift. In terms of innovation, this [region] remains one of the most agile areas in the world.

At the end of the day, you either change or you’re out of business. Cost-cutting alone will never grow a business in the long term. Embracing and investing in change and unleashing creative talent in all areas is the only way to deliver sustainable growth. 

On technological over-reliance

Technology has to work for the customer experience, not the other way around. Take motion pictures for example. When Spielberg made Jurassic Park, he wanted the dinosaurs to have life-like movement because, in his opinion, the film wouldn’t work without it. But the existing tech couldn’t deliver it. Yet his driven creative genius and focus on his audience resulted in him finding a tiny experimental unit who were developing what then became the CGI business. Much like Steve Jobs, Spielberg’s view was “how do we get technology to create something that people have never seen before”? And that for me is always the key to business success.

On the future of holding groups and consultancies

There are many competitive challenges facing agencies but holding companies will determine their own future. The days of scale being measured by billings alone are disappearing. When I started this role in 2001, our business was much smaller; we had 1,500 people across EMEA. We now have 9,200 very talented people who have helped generate outstanding results. 2018 was our best year yet, based on all quantitative and qualitative measures. That said, clients have never faced greater challenges. We can’t rest for a second. Harnessing and nurturing our collective intellectual scale is key. Diversity is vital to encourage opportunity and fresh perspective. Empowering that talent matters. For instance, Omnicom’s creation of Omni will enable our teams to work together to develop and execute integrated, precision marketing-based outcomes through different parts of the group in real-time. Ultimately, success is determined by the quality of the work and scale of the outcome. 

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