Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Coffee with Leo Burnett's Regional Planning Director MENA, Ramzy Abou-Ezzeddine

DC: Is planning undervalued in the region or does the region lack value in planning?

R: It is yet another case of the chicken and the egg and which came first. Planning is a very young discipline in this part of the world and as such, has not had enough time to mature and display its true colors. At the same time, it is sad to say that many clients in the region still view advertising agencies as suppliers and as such still fail to perceive the full added value that strategic planning can bring to the equation. Within our agency, we took this challenge upon ourselves a few years back and managed to demonstrate to most of our clients how strategic planning can positively contribute to their business by helping build their brands. Today, a large majority of our clients are paying us retainer fees for our strategic planning output. So the more we demonstrate the real tangible value in planning, the more planning will be valued by clients.

DC: So Burnett are known to combine both planning and account management disciplines in one. Some would argue that both are a full time job. What are your thoughts on this? and what is Burnett’s philosophy on planning?

R: When I took over my current assignment, one of my objectives was to spread the planning culture within our MENA region. Our ultimate goal is to turn our Client Servicing colleagues into Brand Planners. This is when I raise the question about the true role of Client Servicing. We try to gear up our Client Servicing colleagues to become the true guardians of their brands, in charge of the fate of their brand. For that to happen, they have to live their brand… they have to breathe their brand… they have to know everything about it… everything about its competition… everything about the people it is trying to target… everything about the people who are currently buying it… and why others are not…. They have to know how similar brands are fairing around the world, in different geographies and how the category to which the brand belongs is evolving globally. This kind of knowledge today separates mediocre account handlers from successful ones. When you have acquired this knowledge, when you have developed so much expertise on your brand and when you have become so passionate about your brand, then carrying a business card that reads "Account Supervisor" or "Planning Supervisor" becomes a matter of pure semanticsOn the other hand, we put together a loop team for every brand we handle and this loop team contains a representative of every discipline. Our clients today interface with the whole loop team. Furthermore, we no longer believe in creative briefs but rather in creative briefing sessions including the whole team and this is where the knowledge I mentioned becomes essential and this is where the whole team cracks the brand idea. So if you accept all of the above, you should then find it logical when we expect our most expensive minds to be channeled towards the strategic aspects of the brands. Having said that, we will always have someone part of the loop team who would be running the day to day projects, but let it not be the most expensive/senior brains.Obviously, this whole metamorphoses will not happen overnight, and the transition will ultimately prove to be a lot smoother with some naturally gifted colleagues and some planning prone accounts. However, today I can safely say that the plan is well underway.

DC: Ramzy what are the job opportunities for planners like in the region? Are planners as demanded client side as they are in the west?

R: I go back to the fact that planning is still a young discipline in the region, and as such, finding experienced and well seasoned planners is still a difficult task. On the other hand, each agency seems to define the planning role differently, which is why, we have found it much easier to recruit passionate well rounded curious individuals and inject in them planning skills. So full fledge planners remain to be a rare commodity, and while they are still not as highly demanded as they are in the west or in Asia Pacific, the industry in the region is definitely on the right track.

DC: Saatchi's Brenda is an archaeologist, LB Chicago's Tamer is a philosopher, JWT's Hadi is an Aspirin pill. What's Burnett Ramzy?

R: Given my diverse background prior to advertising and the various responsibilities I have held within the agency, I shall not go there… let me instead describe the traits that I believe are essential ingredients for any successful planner: passion, mental energy, curiosity, business flair, art indulgence and an overall well-traveled, well-rounded personality.

DC: The planning role has evolved over the last 30 years from research based planners all the way to gonzo planners...what do you feel the planning role will be like in 10 years time?

R: With the increasing competition within the advertising industry and the heat that brand consultants are adding, it is imperative for planning to include a business dimension. At Leo Burnett, we have started venturing there by often going beyond traditional planning into business model analysis that would then feed into strategic planning, the output of which being an integrated communication solution that stands out from the clutter… As an agency, we are aiming to become an economic advantage to our clients, and the strategic planning function will have an essential role to play.

DC: Great having you with us Ramzy and good luck at Burnett!


Anonymous Spoon said...

Something to add to Ramzys first point, the improvement of planning in the region is interdependant on the right planning training as well. Planners need to be trained and the region should invest in some form of a planning body to offer such trainings.

10:51 AM  
Blogger X said...

A planning body would definitely help elevate planning in the region as well as advertising in general. The APG in Australia is funded by the AAF (Australian advertising federation) or something of the sort, Brenda would know. By training planners both junior and senior you better equip them in allowing what Ramzi called planning culture to spread not just though Leos but throughout the industry in general.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question for Ramzy, when and if planning eventually becomes as vital as in the west as rated by clients and the demand increases, will Burnett's philosophy on planning to change to accommodate? Or will the roles still be intertwined?

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all I applaud those such as Ramzy who are pushing for planning in the ME. Writing from London I can say that you are in a far more positive situation now to grow and nurture planning rather than trying to drag it out of old skool mud which is a problem here.

Secondly, you mention heat from brand consultancies and we all know of the BBH clash with Sony due to such an issue. However, is the planning of agencies not in a whole new ball park if not game? Brand Consultancies really operate in the areas of new product development/portfolio, packaging and even staff engagement. Would LB Dubai not be wise to start making buddies with these guys now so to avoid such a clash or even since you're building a planning culture absorb it into your planning services?


1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

Leo Burnett MENA is going forward with recycling the traditional client servicing role into brand planning, as stated in the interview. So our philosophy on that front will not change... however, as planning gets to be as valued by clients as it is in the west, we will be dedicating more and more resources fully to planning. In the past few months, we have had 2 clients demand 100% full time equivalent of a planning resource dedicated to their business... so we are indeed on the right track...



2:10 PM  
Anonymous Ish said...

Ramzy, what role do planners have with regards to research? Should the planners be doing their own qual? Or does the client own this realm? It is the case now in London and the US that most large clients have their own dedicated research arm. Planning in the 70's used to be rooted in research. How do you feel this has forced planners to evolve? Or is it not the case in the region?

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anton,

I mentioned Brand Consultancies because in many instances, as we start adding a business dimension to strategic planning, we end up doing the work of the Booz Allen's and the Mackenzie's... and if one takes a step back, we can quickly realize that we also have the MBAs from top universities... we also acquire brand expertise and hence we also can make business sense... but since we are still operating as a "traditional" advertising agency, the remuneration clients would pay us for the same output is but a fraction of that paid to consultants...

Ideally, strategic planning should become a profit center of its own, charging separate fees, within the overall offering of neo-advertising agencies



2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent direction Ramzy and I understand the issue with the cost estimates. Hopefully one day it can be something to be resolved.

The only reason I mention it is due to Dubai being such an explosive and exciting place to be in for planning as it can take all the positives from the west (not meaning to sound condesending) and build it to avoid all the neagtives. E.g. Trying to get a trdaitional ATL planner with his walking cane here to understand user generated content is a near impossible task along with other digital revolutions.

The point I'm trying to illustrate is that Dubai, as the advertising hub of the ME, can nicely side step a huge generation/traditional problem and embrace new media along with standard planning thinking and rise to become the advertising centre of the world. Ambitious yes but not nothing is



2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear ish,

it doesn't matter who does the research (qual or quant)... anyone can undertake/commission research... what matters is what to do with the research findings, once you have them. A talented planner is definitely one who would not take research results at face value but rather one who would know how to interpret the underlying messages voiced by the respondents... most often, the "unsaid" is a lot more significant than the "said"


4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A question that wasn;t asked and has been asked to every planner so far. Ramzy can you sight any good campaigns from the region that have planner written all over them.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The One
Sony Walkman

Whether or not planners worked on these, planning is written all over em.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's face it... most of the campaigns we all adore are driven by great creative ideas. You could bring in the best planners in the world and come up with the most inspiring brand idea... but then a weaker creative idea may simply fail to do justice to it... And sometimes, an average planning work could be complemented by an amazing creative idea that would lead to genius end result... so go figure.

Looking at the work LB does in the region, i can safely say that many of our campaigns have planning written all over it... from the GM work we do in Dubai to Aizone, Beirut Marathon, Speical K in Beirut, to the Mobinil campaigns we develop in Cairo, to the P&G work we do across the MENA (some being acclaimed internationally)... a lot of that work has planning written all over it... some work stands out because of the creative spark it receives to bring it to life... others simply don't.

To go back to your question, two of my favorite planning led campaigns generated in London are Johnny Walker's Keep Walking and Emirates Airlines' Keep Discovering and the line "when was the last time you did something for the first time"


5:18 PM  
Anonymous AV said...

Great interview Ramzy. X - keep bringing the planners in, but i think you should start to talking to a few more copywriters as well... ;)

One question though for you Ramzy -taking an earlier question a little further:

"when and if planning eventually becomes as vital as in the west as rated by clients and the demand increases, will Burnett's philosophy on planning to change to accommodate? "

Your answer was that Burnett's philosophy on "recycling the traditional client servicing role" would remain the same.

Yet you also gave an example that 2 clients have requested a "100% full time equivalent of a planning resource".

Assuming more and more clients make the same demands, would you not then be forced to change your philosophy and hire enough of these resources for it to qualify as a "planning resource department"
in order to keep up with client needs?

If not, would you not then risk losing business to a Booze Allen or the like? Or perhaps an agency that will accomodate such a request with a full time planning team?


12:00 AM  
Blogger X said...

Well you have been missed dearly AV!Good to see your name pop up again!

Shall we make it an 'and again' then? I think it's time.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous brandarchist said...

I would like to agree with av, it is impossible to have client servicing and planning roles that overlap. Are you saying that you already offer the planning function as part of client servicing, but would offer more planning if the client wants? Would Leo Burnett hypothetically deliver a mediocre campaign because a client did not assign a planner? Or are all campaigns of high quality because client servicing can do a planning job? In either case the take-out is not satisfactory.
Brand planning is becoming a hot topic in the region, however resources are scarce; saying that client servicing does partial planning is a great way to cover up however without the necessary training client servicing staff will never be good planners and if they are they would definitely rather work as planners and get much higher remuneration with Leo Burnett or any other regional ad agency.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear av and Brandarchists,

For you to understand where we are trying to head, you should avoid looking at it through the eyes of today's agency structure... look beyond titles and official job descriptions...

Today, some of our best "planners" (read thru that, people who do planning tasks) are our client servicing team assigned to P&G... Yes, their business cards may read "Communication Director" or "Communication Supervisor" and NOT "Planner"... but in essence they do all the strategy work for their P&G Brand... and for the record, in every agency evaluation in the past years, P&G have consistently praised the fact that LB people know the P&G brands and the target consumers more than the P&G Brand Managers themselves... and to top it all, a large majority of the work we do on P&G, out of the Middle East, has travelled the globe and has been adopted in various geographies.

I have also mentioned that this objective of ours is a long term objective and we are working towards it through various phases. Today we may need to increase the number of dedicated planners, due to client requests (which is a great achievement in itself), but we see the future one where our structure would contain planners and project managers... and to ease Brandarchist's mind, we are investing behind giving our client servicing colleagues proper trainer that would equip them with planning tools, knowledge and know how...

And i would like to reiterate what i had mentioned in a previous posting... some people have a natural flair for planning and they will be recycled much faster/easier into planning... others, who lack the natual plannng talent, would have to become more "mechanical" planners, or ultimately find home in the client servicing department of a traditional agency.


12:49 PM  

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