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Sun 12 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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Can Rizk help the IAA regain its credibility?

Marwan Rizk wants to repair the reputation of the IAA in the Middle East. Iain Akerman hears how he plans to do it

Can Rizk help the IAA regain its credibility?|~|Rizk,-Marwan200.jpg|~|Rizk... ‘The main mission is to re-establish the position of the IAA worldwide. Not by force but by showing tangible benefits’|~|Marwan Rizk is well dressed and in a talkative mood. He is, it would appear, on a mission or two.

His first mission: to make 2006 the year that his agency Intermarkets regains its rightful place in the hierarchy of agencies, may be attainable. His second: to improve the image of the IAA and bring all branches of the industry together under its banner, less so. Yet he remains confident.

As the IAA’s vice president and area director for the Middle East and Africa, the coming weeks will be a test. With the 40th IAA World Congress descending on Dubai next week and his boss, The Holding Group’s CEO Joseph Ghossoub, becoming the IAA’s worldwide president, the world’s eyes are on the Middle East.

Yet Rizk readily admits the IAA faces problems.

“The IAA has lost a lot of credibility worldwide,” he says.
“The position of the IAA is questionable. I’m talking across the world, not just in the Middle East. In America it is not very well respected. In Europe it is respected on and off in different countries.

“The main mission is to re-establish the position of the IAA worldwide. Not by force but by showing tangible benefits. For that we want to revive the relationship between the tripartite of the IAA — the clients, the publishing houses and the agencies. It is based on these three pillars.

“We cannot make it an agency club, or a client club or a publishing club. These three relationships should be so strong because they represent the total industry.”

Yet at present there are no clients on the UAE chapter’s board, although efforts are being made to attract them. And that’s not the only problem. Mike Gillam, regional communication channel manager for Unilever Middle East and founder of the GCC Association of Advertisers, has said previously that if the IAA was doing it’s job properly there would be no need for the GCCAA.

“He was right, I think, at that time,” admits Rizk. “But let’s not forget that he is thinking of the interests of his people, the clients only. He is not thinking of the interests of the agencies.

“The IAA has taken the lead in introducing CASTOR (Circulation Audit Steering Organisation). It’s not him. Up until now we have been meeting in the IAA offices. We have been asking for transparency since 1994.

“But I can blame the clients. Why can’t you guys be members of the IAA? At one time we had a very strong partnership with the clients. Many were part of our board,” he says. “We want the clients to be on our side.

“But the guys I blame more are the publishers, because at least the clients have an entity to speak on their behalf. What about the publishers? We don’t have a body that represents the publishers. They seem not at all to see eye to eye with each other. They can’t even sit around a table. They are always fighting. It reminds me of Iraq.”

Such talk may do little to persuade clients and publishers to embrace the IAA, but CASTOR — a joint venture between the IAA and the GCCAA which is calling for advertisers to boycott titles that do not have independently audited circulations — is important to Rizk, raising as it does the issues of transparency and accountability.

It is one of his ‘tangible’ issues.

He is confident that, come January 2007, most publications will be audited and that publishers realise clients and agencies are serious.

“You cannot have elastic, adaptable methodology to make you look good in one way because this is the only angle you want to be seen from,” he says.

Rizk’s office in the Oud Metha area of Dubai is pristine. Lopsided glasses and saucers with the cup ring off centre hint, says Rizk, at his and Intermarkets’ mission to do things differently.

He is a likeable man but appears less relaxed when I raise another issue sore to the IAA — its awards, which disappeared amid claims of bias and dodgy dealings. The organisation has said it is to team up with the Cannes Lions to hold the Dubai Lions in November in a bid to get the awards back on track.

“Like every single awards, everybody will have a different opinion,” says Rizk. “The winners will have an opinion, the losers will have an opinion. We have tried in the IAA every trick in the book to get consensus.”

The Cannes Lions will manage the new awards and Rizk says the IAA will not interfere in anything, which he hopes will silence the critics. “Now the same people will not be able to say that the Cannes awards are bullshitters,” he says.

With all this talk of the IAA, it is easy to forget that Rizk has a day job. He has been in the advertising business for more than 30 years since leaving his native Lebanon for Dubai in the 70s.

He was responsible for launching Impact BBDO in 1985 and worked for Horizon.FCB for 14 years before heading to Intermarkets where he is chief operating officer for an agency that has 12 offices scattered across the Middle East. Its latest addition is an office in Bahrain which opened last year.

After having its “blood sucked out”, as he describes it, when it became part of The Holding Group, Intermarkets, which is the region’s largest independent agency, is now keen to re-establish itself. It has been steadily accruing new business, has a new creative director and general manager and profits are increasing by 20-25% year on year.

A setback was the destruction of its Lebanon offices in the fire that destroyed the Danish embassy in Beirut last month, but Rizk is confident new offices will be found within six to eight months as the company looks forward to a good 2006.

“By the end of this year we should really be taking our rightful position in the Middle East,” he says. “We have recruited a new general manager and his mission is to recruit the right people with a strategic background and to train the people who are here.”

Central to this training will be the company’s ‘The Model of One’ ideology. “Some people call it holistic marketing, some people call it 360 degree marketing,” explains Rizk. “At the end of the day it should be led be one leader and one team, delivering one single message and communicating one single communication to make headway with a client.”

Inevitably, the discussion winds back to the forthcoming IAA World Congress and standards in the Middle East. “Let’s stop trying to outsmart each other,” he says. “For once let us do something really good for the total industry. I’m talking about agency level, client level and publishing level.”

Key to that, he says, is the forthcoming IAA presidency.
“It is our channel to talk to the world and if we use it properly we can be in a much better shape at the end of the term than we are at the moment.”||**||

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