INTERVIEW: ‘This region has got so much to grow and so much to give’: VMLY&R EMEA CEO

Special INTERVIEW: ‘This region has got so much to grow and so much to give’: VMLY&R EMEA CEO
VMLY&R EMEA CEO Andrew Dimitriou. (AN Photo)
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Updated 11 April 2022

INTERVIEW: ‘This region has got so much to grow and so much to give’: VMLY&R EMEA CEO

INTERVIEW: ‘This region has got so much to grow and so much to give’: VMLY&R EMEA CEO
  • Andrew Dimitriou, agency chief, discusses growth and potential of MENA region

DUBAI: Although the global advertising agency market grew by 10 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, according to Research & Markets, employees across industries left companies in larger numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, in a phenomenon dubbed the “Great Resignation.”

VMLY&R, a WPP agency, however, saw employee numbers rise by almost 60 percent in the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA), in addition to year-on-year organic growth of 17 percent among the agency’s top 25 clients in 2021.

The growth of the agency has been supervised by CEO Andrew Dimitriou, who has been with WPP for 20 years in offices across four continents. Under his leadership last year, the agency recorded double-digit YOY growth across new business and existing client partners.

Digital and e-commerce might seem like the biggest growth drivers, owing to the acceleration of digital transformation due to the pandemic, but Dimitriou, who visited Dubai last month for the EMEA Leadership Meeting, told Arab News that all areas of the business have grown in the last two years. “The more traditional creative services are still growing because the canvas of creativity is much larger now, and for sure, digital transformation and technology are accelerating even faster.”

When advertising first began back in the days of soap operas and radio shows, there were fewer outlets and touchpoints, he said. “Now, the choices and channels for creatives to paint a picture and build a brand are endless.”

Many of these possibilities can be found online. Web 3.0, the metaverse and non-fungible tokens are buzzwords for some, but a reality for many brands and agencies that have either launched NFT campaigns or opened virtual offices in the metaverse.

The latter “is not high on our priority list,” said Dimitriou. But the agency is exploring new ways and spaces of interaction for both employees and clients.

For example, it is building a new space in its London office called the “home of the connected brand,” which will reflect what the agency can do — from an in-store shopping experience to a virtual interactive room.

The agency also promotes a global policy that lets employees choose where they work. “We’re reimagining the workplace to be a destination,” said Dimitriou. Workers can come in and check their emails, but also use spaces to brainstorm, innovate and conduct meetings.

He said: “We like human interaction and that’s why we want to encourage human interaction with purpose rather than just human interaction.”

Part of encouraging purposeful human interaction, especially for clients, involves exploring new and potentially buzzy technologies in the advertising space. The agency’s mission “is to build the world’s most connected brands,” said Dimitriou, and that means having to understand all new technologies. The next step, he added, is to see if the technology plays a role in building a connected brand and what that role might be.

“We’re always looking at all of the new technologies, and it’s in service of our mission to build the world’s most connected brands.”

He added: “You have to figure out where the consumers are and how they behave, and engage them wherever they are and however they want to be engaged.”

Honing in on the Middle East, Dimitriou said that he is “always amazed at the ambition of the vision,” particularly in Saudi Arabia. “When I think of the cultural transformation that is going on there, I think it’s fantastic because there is a good balance between keeping authenticity and culture, and building tomorrow — and sometimes they can be at odds with each other.”

The modernization and advancement of the Kingdom has not only benefited the agency, but also clients. “It’s good because they’re more marketing-forward than they have ever been. They are building brand new things from the ground up, so there’s infrastructure at play, as well as technology, communications and commerce.”

For clients, he said, “the demographics are in their favor,” with 75 percent of the Saudi population being under the age of 35. And as more people enter the workforce, he added, there will be more job opportunities, and therefore more disposable income, resulting in more opportunities for brands.

Every time Dimitriou visits the MENA region, he learns something new and finds himself amazed at the sense of ambition. He said: “I really think that this region has got so much to grow and so much to give that we’re just at the beginning of it.”

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
Updated 18 min 13 sec ago

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks
  • Demand for software to record, archive messaging on the rise
  • Continued remote working underscores risk of compliance missteps with banks paying hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory fines

LONDON: Asset managers are tightening controls on personal communication tools such as WhatsApp as they join banks in trying to ensure employees play by the rules when they do business with clients remotely.
Regulators had already begun to clamp down on the use of unauthorized messaging tools to discuss potentially market-moving matters, but the issue gathered urgency when the pandemic forced more finance staff to work from home in 2020.
Most of the companies caught in communications and record-keeping probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been banks — which have collectively been fined or have set aside more than $1 billion to cover regulatory penalties.
But fund firms with billions of dollars in assets are also increasing their scrutiny of how staff and clients interact.
“It is the hottest topic in the industry right now,” said one deals banker, who declined to be named in keeping with his employer’s rules on speaking to the media.
Reuters reported last year the SEC was looking into whether Wall Street banks had adequately documented employees’ work-related communications, and JPMorgan was fined $200 million in December for “widespread” failures.
German asset manager DWS said last month it had set aside 12 million euros ($12 million) to cover potential US fines linked to investigations into its employees’ use of unapproved devices and record-keeping requirements, joining a host of banks making similar provisions, including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
Sources at several other investment firms — described in the financial community as the ‘buy-side’ — including Amundi, AXA Investment Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management and JPMorgan Asset Management, told Reuters they have deployed tools to keep all communications between staff and clients compliant.
Spokespeople for the SEC and CFTC declined to comment on whether their investigations could extend beyond the banks, but industry sources expect authorities to cast their nets wider across the finance industry and even into government.
Last month Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the country’s top data protection watchdog, called for a review of the use of WhatsApp, private emails and other messaging apps by government officials after an investigation found “inadequate data security” during the pandemic.
Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones.
This practice is designed to deter and uncover infringements such as insider trading and “front-running,” or trading on information that is not yet public, as well as ensuring best practice in terms of treatment of customers.
But with thousands of finance workers and their clientele still working remotely after decamping from company offices at the start of the pandemic, some sensitive conversations that should be recorded remain at risk of being inadvertently held over informal or unauthorized channels.
Brad Levy, CEO of business messaging software firm Symphony, said concerns on managing that risk had driven a surge in interest for software upgrades that make conversations on popular messenging tools including Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp recordable.
“Most believe the breadth of these investigations will go wider as they go deeper,” Levy said.
“Many markets participants have retention and surveillance requirements so are likely to take a view, including being more proactive without being a direct target.”
He said Symphony’s user base has more than doubled since the pandemic to 600,000, spanning 1,000 financial institutions including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
Symphony peer Movius also said its business lines specializing in making WhatsApp and other tools recordable have more than doubled in size in the space of a year, with sales to asset managers a growing component.
“Many on the buy-side have recognized that you can’t just rely on SMS and voice calls,” said Movius Chief Executive Ananth Siva, adding that the company was also seeking to work with other highly-regulated industries including health care.
Movius software integrates third-party communications tools such as email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp into one system that can be recorded and archived as required, he said.
Amundi, AXA IM, BNPP AM and JPMorgan Asset Management all confirmed they had adopted Symphony software but declined to comment on the full breadth of services they used or when these had been rolled out.
Amundi and AXA IM both confirmed they used Symphony services for team communications, while AXA IM also said they used it for market information.
Amundi, BNPP AM and JP Morgan AM declined to comment on whether they thought regulators would seek to investigate record keeping at asset managers after enforcement actions against the banks were completed.
A spokesperson for BNPP AM said it had banned the use of WhatsApp for client communications due to compliance, legal and risk considerations including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds
Updated 17 August 2022

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds

TV viewership among UK youth slumps amid ‘generation gap,’ report finds
  • ‘Young, vibrant’ MENA population bucks trend with streaming surge

LONDON: A new Ofcom report released on Wednesday found that young people in the UK watch almost seven times less TV than people aged over 65.

The UK’s communications regulator said that the “generation gap” in the way media is consumed has reached an all-time high.

Brits aged 16-24 reportedly favor streaming platforms and social media over traditional broadcast TV and spend an average of 53 minutes per day watching TV — a decrease of two-thirds over the past decade.

“The streaming revolution is stretching the TV generation gap, creating a stark divide in the viewing habits of younger and older people,” said Ian Macrae, Ofcom director of market intelligence.

“Traditional broadcasters face tough competition from online streaming platforms, which they’re partly meeting through the popularity of their own on-demand player apps, while broadcast television is still the place to go for big events that bring the nation together, such as the Euros final or the Jubilee celebrations,” he added. 

However, the latest market study undertaken by Arabsat in conjunction with Ipsos in 2021 found that TV viewership in the Middle East and North Africa region “boasts a young, vibrant,and diverse community” with 45 percent of viewers aged under 30.

This trend, in stark contrast with the Ofcom report, illustrates “the strong sustainable relevance of satellite TV also amongst younger TV audiences in MENA.”

Ofcom attributed the decline in TV viewership among young people in the UK to the rise in popular streaming services and short-form video platforms.

In its report, the regulator said about one in five UK homes have a subscription to all three of the biggest streaming services: Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.

The regulator also warned that public sector broadcasters will continue to experience declines in viewership over the coming years.

MENA’s streaming industry has been “rapidly increasing,” according to an independent study by market research firm Dataxis. The region’s streaming platforms saw a 30 percent increase in subscribers between 2020 and 2021, reaching close to 10 million users in 18 countries.

By 2026 subscriptions in the region are expected to triple to close to 30 million.

However, the Arabsat report said: “Satellite TV continues to remain the strongest mode of content distribution in the region, with 93 percent total market share.”

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’
Updated 17 August 2022

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’

Airbnb targets illegal get-togethers with ‘anti-party technology’
  • Move comes after property rental company made a ban on house parties permanent earlier this year

LONDON: Airbnb said on Tuesday that it will roll out “anti-party technology” as part of efforts to stop illegal partying in its listed properties.

The new system, which will be deployed initially in North America, will look at a range of factors to identify types of reservations that are likely to result in unlawful parties. These include “history of positive reviews (or lack of positive reviews), length of time the guest has been on Airbnb, length of the trip, distance to the listing, and weekend versus weekday.” 

Airbnb said in a statement that “the primary objective is attempting to reduce the ability of bad actors to throw unauthorized parties which negatively impact our hosts, neighbors and the communities we serve. 

“It’s integral to our commitment to our host community — who respect their neighbors and want no part of the property damage and other issues that may come with unauthorized or disruptive parties.”

The announcement comes after the company decided to make a ban on house parties permanent earlier this year.

Since October 2021, Airbnb has been trialling the technology in select areas of Australia, where it recorded a “35 percent drop in incidents of unauthorized parties,” the company said.

Similar initiatives were previously put in place by the peer-to-peer property rental platform. In July 2020, it introduced a system that prevented under-25s in North America from booking large houses close to where they live if they did not have a history of positive reviews.

“As we get more reservations and bookings, we look at how things are trending, how our metrics are trending,” said Naba Banerjee, Airbnb’s global head of product, operations, and strategy for trust and safety.

“We try to look at the rate of safety incidents, and we try to make sure that we are launching solutions that constantly try to work on that rate.”

Airbnb has long sought to crack down on illegal parties. The company announced in 2019 that “party homes” would be banned after five people were killed in a shooting at a Halloween gathering in an Airbnb property in Orinda, California, where over 100 people were reportedly present.

In 2020, the company began imposing stricter regulations around its “house party” policy amid the global pandemic. Both the “event friendly” search filter and “parties and events allowed” house rules were removed as it sought to counter a rise in house party bookings as bars and clubs were closed.

More than 6,600 guests and some hosts were suspended in 2021 for attempting to violate the party ban, the company said.

Airbnb also announced the introduction of a neighborhood support helpline to “facilitate direct communication with neighbors regarding potential parties in progress or concerns with any nearby listings.”

“We are, at the end of the day, an open marketplace, we are making real-world connections, and we are often a mirror of society. And no solution is 100 percent perfect,” Banerjee said.

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms
Updated 17 August 2022

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms

TikTok to clamp down on paid political posts by influencers ahead of US midterms
  • Critics and lawmakers accuse TikTok and rival social media companies of doing too little to stop political misinformation and divisive content from spreading on their apps

LONDON: TikTok will work to prevent content creators from posting paid political messages on the short-form video app, as part of its preparation for the US midterm election in November, the company said on Wednesday.
Critics and lawmakers accuse TikTok and rival social media companies including Meta Platforms and Twitter of doing too little to stop political misinformation and divisive content from spreading on their apps.
While TikTok has banned paid political ads since 2019, campaign strategists have skirted the ban by paying influencers to promote political issues.
The company seeks to close the loophole by hosting briefings with creators and talent agencies to remind them that posting paid political content is against TikTok’s policies, said Eric Han, TikTok’s head of US safety, during a briefing with reporters.
He added that internal teams, including those that work on trust and safety, will monitor for signs that creators are being paid to post political content, and the company will also rely on media reports and outside partners to find violating posts.
“We saw this as an issue in 2020,” Han said. “Once we find out about it ... we will remove it from our platform.”
TikTok broadcast its plan following similar updates from Meta and Twitter.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said Tuesday it will restrict political advertisers from running new ads a week before the election, an action it also took in 2020.
Last week, Twitter said it planned to revive previous strategies for the midterm election, including placing labels in front of some misleading tweets and inserting reliable information into timelines to debunk false claims before they spread further online. Civil and voting rights experts said the plan was not adequate to prepare for the election.

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum
Updated 17 August 2022

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum
  • The airline’s CEO stated that the its sponsorship is in line with its vision to support all efforts promoting Jordan

AMMAN: Royal Jordanian Airlines is sponsoring the inaugural City Talk, a forum for Arab influencers due to take place in Jordan in early October, the Jordan News Agency reported on Tuesday. The airline said that it will also serve as official carrier for the forum’s guests from across the region.

The event is being organized by the Jordan Tourism Board and Omnes Media, a digital-media and communications platform based in Dubai.

Royal Jordanian CEO Samer Majali said the airline’s sponsorship of the event reflects its vision and desire to support all initiatives and events that promote Jordan.

He added that by attracting social media content creators and marketing industry professionals from across the Arab world, the forum will help to market the culture and heritage of Jordan and its tourism sector.

City Talk is scheduled to take place Oct. 2-5 at King Hussein bin Talal Convention Center near Sweimeh, on the Dead Sea shore. More than 500 Arab social media influencers and industry leaders are expected to attend.

The forum will explore and discuss recent advances in the marketing and advertising industry. The schedule includes six panel discussions and six workshops, along with daily meetings with influential Arab figures.