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Sun 13 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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How to stay ahead in advertising

Reaching the top in media and advertising ewquires passion, persoiration and inspiration. But is that enough? Campaign asks leading figures how they got where they are today, and what advice they would pass on to the next generation.

|~|Raja-Trad200.jpg|~|Raja Trad, CEO at the Leo Burnett group of companies in the Middle East|~|“I’m a perfectionist, someone who sees things differently from other people, who is a little obsessed and crazy, but sometimes you need to be that way.”This is the recipe for success adopted by Antonio Vincenti, CEO of Beirut-based outdoor firm Pikasso.

Not all media and advertising bosses in the Middle East will so readily admit to being crazy, but it appears to be among the familiar traits.

To put it mildly, climbing the greasy pole to reach the top of this profession can be long and demanding.

Success or failure is measurable with every piece of work produced. You can be the darling one day, the damned the next.

And it is not just peers that will sit in judgement. Potentially millions of consumers will proffer their opinion on what they subconsciously regard as good creative work, which will ultimately be reflected in sales at the cash register.

The key, according to Raja Trad, CEO of the Leo Burnett group of companies in the Middle East, is that the most successful people in the industry are the ones who are passionate about what they do, rather than those that just do the job to pay the bills.“It is about passion, believing, commitment, attitude. If you have these attributes you will go far,” he says.

“You have to believe that this is the place you want to be,” he says. “Are you looking for a job opportunity or a career opportunity? For me it starts there. As a manager I need to be able to differentiate between people who are fishing for a job and those who want a career opportunity.

“You need the mental energy. You need to keep learning by the day. If you don’t have that curiosity and interest to accept and indulge yourself in training, you will go nowhere.”

For today’s ad agency bosses, creativity is just one facet of the job. As well as being able to recognise and encourage groundbreaking work, they need to be adept at finance, human resources, business development, client servicing, as well as spotting and nurturing new talent.

In the Middle East, the latter is perhaps one of the most pressing and fundamental aspects of their jobs. In order to ensure that the region’s creative industry continues to develop and is able to compete on the international stage, identifying the next generation of leaders is of paramount concern.

With the careers of many larger agency heads moving into the twilight years, ensuring a solid foundation from which to launch future growth is a top priority. But what does it take to reach the highest levels in advertising, and how do those at the top recognise future leaders?Ronald Howes, the new managing director of Memac Ogilvy’s Dubai office has a masters degree in mass communication, but he says that qualifications are not what determines if somebody is going to succeed.

He says focus on getting where you want your career to take you is vital. “It’s very easy when you are on your way up to lose sight of where you want to go. There are a lot of temptations along the way,” he says.Howes recalls attending a senior leadership course for McCann, his previous employer, where he learned the importance of facing your fears.

The delegates were put in teams and invited to climb a tall, wobbly pole, supported only by teammates. Despite his fear of heights, Howes did it.

He says: “The thing that kills what you can do is fear. You are afraid to do things that may upset other people, for instance. You need to control that fear. What you most fear, you must do it first.”

Unlike many other industries, creative types have not necessarily needed formal qualifications or training to enter the ranks and succeed, and in the Middle East, where there is a relatively small pool of creative talent, this is certainly the case.

But according to Dawn El Tawil, senior recruitment consultant in sales and marketing staff for Clarendon Parker Middle East, those who want to go all the way as marketers need a mixture of personal skills and qualifications.

She says: “We are generally looking for a combination including an up-to-date degree. A lot of it is also about hands-on experience for senior positions. We look at the type of places that people have worked and the level of responsibility they have held.

“But a lot is down to personality too. Two people could have the same degree and experience but how they communicate with their colleagues could be completely different. You also need flexibility to adapt to fast paced and changing markets, creative ability and analytical skills, combined with inspirational leadership and sound commercial judgement.”

Pikasso’s Vincenti says people who are proactive and able to think on their feet, make the best leaders of the future.

“You need to be able to communicate this through all the levels of the company so that everybody is like that.

“You can detect a leader’s character. Inside the organisation I’ve spotted people who have this. They take responsibility, they grab things, I can rely on them blindly, they push me and I don’t have to take things to them.

“People all have a button to press to be different and smarter than others. It’s about detecting the location of that button and then choosing to press it.”

Trad agrees: “What I call fast-trackers are those that have the mental energy to make it happen. Half of what we do in life is about attitude. You can be super intelligent but without the right attitude you will not go places. This is the package that will move people to the top.”

But George Jabbour, MD of Fortune Promoseven in Lebanon, says there are no hard and fast rules. “I don’t think there is a secret formula. But you do need the background with things like knowledge, education etc, plus the ability to perform, plus hard work,” he says.

He says it is possible to spot that people who have got what it takes. “When you meet a young person, you can sense it even when he or she is at an early stage, and be correct 80% of the time. You can feel this person has the ambition and the brains.”Depending on the job, some of those who get to the top have experience in different fields, while others go more directly.

El Tawil adds: “I believe that experience in a range of industries is beneficial. Many of our clients in the Middle East and around the world want to see relevant experience within their industry and do tend to ‘pigeon hole’ people — for example a marketer in the automoative industry may find it hard to move into FMCG and vice-versa.”And the best advice of all? Be lucky. El Tawil explains: “I do know that some people have had an element of luck on their side.

“But I believe that a positive attitude, hard work and passion are more likely to bring success. Without these elements, luck will not keep you employed long term if you don’t perform.”||**||

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