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.”