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!