On completing one year as the Chief Strategy Officer for Publicis Groupe across the Middle East and Turkey, Tahaab Rais reflects on the journey to date.
Tahaab Rais took over the role of the first-ever Chief Strategy Officer at Publicis Groupe in the Middle East and Turkey in April 2022. His appointment announcement was met with great anticipation, given his decade-long legacy at FP7 McCann where he led the agency to be recognized in the Global Effie Index and WARC's Effectiveness Ladder. In an exclusive interview with Communicate, Rais reflects on his journey over the past year.
In image above: Tahaab Rais, Chief Strategy Officer at Publicis Groupe across the Middle East and Turkey
We’ve seen you’ve been recognized in the Middle East for some great work, but, with Publicis Groupe, it’s been relatively louder and greater. What has been so special about your journey with the network?
We’ve indeed done a lot and achieved a lot too in the past 12 months. And I’d put this special journey thus far down to 2 reasons - Opportunities and Freedom.
I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity and the freedom to work across a range of disciplines - creative, media, PR, digital transformation, and even film production – to help create a range of work that has been recognized considerably.
I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity and the freedom to work closely with a range of wonderful, intelligent, and collaborative people who have helped make things happen, with no insecurities, no egos, and no siloes – all wanting to create great work.
And I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity and the freedom to hire the best strategy talent across our agencies - talents who have been kind enough to believe in the vision and the ambition shared with them. Put together, with the absolute faith and support of Bassel, our CEO, the results have been exponentially better.
May it long continue for us all.
You’re the first-ever Chief Strategy Officer for Publicis Groupe in the MENA region. What’s that like? How has working in this role helped you grow? Do you think your expertise has contributed to the group’s successfully growing footprint in the region especially?
I wanted new challenges and to develop new skills, which is why I moved from my previous company. And when Bassel, Bashar (our Chief Talent Transformation Officer), and I formalized the role I’d be playing, the 4 key challenges I’d prioritized for myself as CSO for the Groupe were clear: Talent, Product, Reputation, and Connection.
The focus was to get the best talents into the agencies. The dogged efforts made were to elevate and uplift our strategic and creative product across the board. The ambition – single-mindedly – was to enhance our reputation among the most recognized agencies. And the way in was through connecting our agencies and our people reinforcing our “Power of One” philosophy.
Looking back, our footprint has grown in terms of new business. We’ve won a lot of big new businesses across the region that have made headlines.
Our footprint has grown in terms of talent across the region. Our strategy headcount has tripled, we have a diverse and beautifully balanced profile of talents, and they’ve been intricately woven into a community that works.
Our work across our offices has been the best it has been - consistently. Speaking of new skills, I’ve been supported and encouraged to hone my own passion for directing and filmmaking here - something not a lot of agencies are open to or collaborative enough to support. I’ve seen nothing but immense backing here - from our creative leaders to our production teams and communication teams.
Our awards performance has been top-notch with us winning Global Agency of the Year at the prestigious Jay Chiat Awards, and becoming the first agency to win Holding Company, Network, and Agency of the Year at both - Effies and Dubai Lynx.
Truth be told, there has been a lot that has been consistently happening behind the scenes to make this all happen such as initiatives, training, systems, and ways of working that have been put into place to reinforce the “Power of One”. But most importantly, it’s because of the leaders we have and our people - every day. Everyone, including the leadership across, is in it together - with a shared belief that good isn’t good enough and with a shared ambition to be greater at all we do, together.
In a 2018 video interview for B&W Report, you spoke about how important it is for the region to recognize and reward young talent in the industry. How far do you think the region has come in that realm? What can advertisers do more to attract and retain young talent?
Back then, we were facing a talent crisis. Today, the tide is turning. We are seeing even more talents from consultancies, technology, and platform companies wanting to join the industry - or return. I’m getting CVs from these disciplines – people looking to join strategy. It’s awesome.
And that’s because the industry, thanks to companies that have the foresight and vision, is getting its mojo back. And with talents seeking to grow within agencies, 5 years on, I still believe it’s important to recognize and reward young talents – wholeheartedly.
Be who you needed when you were younger. I believe in that.
We need to make sure we give them the opportunities and the freedom to learn fast, to fail fast, to grow well, to perform potently, and to shine vividly. Have proper goals in place to evaluate them. Have regular check-ins on those goals so they know where they need to step up. Have proper systems in place to reward and grow those who shine year after year. Not all will cash in. Not all will give it their all. It happens. But the ones who do, need to be cherished, challenged, nurtured, coached, and cared for.
Along with those opportunities and the freedom, we also need to provide them with more active mentorship and active empathy – teach them, guide them, tell them when they’re wrong to help them, tell them when they’re right to help them too, and importantly, care for them. Do personal status checks versus simply work status checks. Genuinely listen to and remember their problems – both professional and personal. Goes a long way. We can all get better at it.
There is some exquisite work coming out of the region, and we continue to prove ourselves in terms of building effective and creative work. Where do you think the industry is going to be in the next couple of years? What can agency networks and marketers do more to keep generating an effective and ground-breaking world that is worthy of global recognition?
We’re looking at creating ideas that make people here question something that was previously unanswered. Ideas that move people, changing perspectives. Ideas that dissolve boundaries between the world and us, between generations, and between genders, that remind us of what is possible, and that encourage us to think differently, to probe at the adjacent possible. So, yes, we are getting better.
What I feel we need more of in the immediate term and in the near future, is for clients to believe in the work we do and spend behind it – to give that work scale, to make these ideas more long-term, to make them seen by more people versus only industry trade, LinkedIn and award jurors. If we get clients to truly partner on these exciting ideas, we’ll start seeing a much more impactful industry out here and out there in the world.
What I also feel we need more of is for agencies to have each other’s back and uplift each other versus bringing each other down as it tends to be the case in the region when compared with global markets. Letting go of petty insecurities and jealousies is imperative. We are stronger together and an industry with agencies that respect each other and cheer each other’s work is just going to be a much better industry. Yes, keep the competition alive, but blowing off someone else’s candle isn’t going to make yours shine any brighter.
Additionally, as we start to see the exponentially powerful potential of A.I., I also expect to see us using it on an everyday basis, as a tool to augment us and what we do versus replace us. I’m a fan and have seen how it leads to better work, better connections, and better performance tracking - all valuable to our clients. In the next year, agencies that embrace A.I. and become the “go-to” ones for brands seeking A.I.-driven creativity and marketing, will be the ones who will thrive.
As someone who’s dedicated over two decades to MENA’s marketing and advertising industry, list for us some major learnings you’ve gathered.
We’re a rebellious region! So, increasingly so, embracing the archetype of being an outlaw with the work we do, helps. Be a rebel with a cause. Respect the status quo, but don’t shy away from working tangentially to it. Enjoy it.
We’re an innovative region. So, being inventors helps. Create new ways of working. Experiment. Have fun playing with ideas. Very important: Have fun.
We’re also a constantly changing region. So, being active truth hunters and cultural compasses is imperative for success. Putting yourself in people’s shoes in a changing region helps you stay in tune.
We’re a region that thinks big and aims big. So, thinking big, matters. Doing the best work on your big brands goes a long way.
We’re a region that’s fast-paced and results-oriented. Working speedily. Being impatient. Making things happen. Faster than others. It’s a competitive advantage! Remember, there’s always someone thinking of the same idea as you.
We’re a region that’s learning. So, don’t subdue your passions. Inculcating them and honing them, bringing them to the work we do, helps enhance what we do. Let your passions get the time they deserve.
We’re a region that’s divisive yet so collective. It’s essential for the industry to remember that too – while competitors, we’re also a community that needs each other.
Importantly, the world has enough politics at play. Don’t play politics. Don’t have the time for it. Spend that time on inventing.
And finally, we can all try and change the world, through ideas that matter and make a difference. Even one life, we changed, influenced, or saved, matters.