A tough year, tough market and a new business model within the group… That’s the scenario ten-year Havas veteran Houda Tohme is entering in her new role as general manager of Havas Media UAE.
We catch up with her to learn more about her plans for the agency.
So, tough year, tough market?
Yes, it has been a tough year, not only for us, but for the region. [But,] anything that is going on now isn’t anything new. What we are moving into is the new norm and, although it has been tough, it should have been expected, given that we can’t expect to grow year on year at the same level as we used to.
Given that the situation was almost predicted, (1) How long do you forecast this will last? and (2) How do you prepare for it?
There is a lot of talk in the market that next year is supposed to be even tougher, but I think 2017 will be the year of adaptation, wherein we start living with this reality and understanding that this is the way it is going to go. The changing market realities are great, because media, too, is changing and we have been very fast at adapting through the way we structure ourselves and the different specialties we focus on and build. Moving forward, we need to understand how to manage the geopolitical situation in tandem with what’s going on internally with clients. We have become more integrated; we’re more of a Havas Village now and this is how we are dealing with this market’s realities.
How has the client response been to this integration at Havas?
The clients have always been pushing us and asking for integration. It is important for them that we understand communications from different angles – not only from the media side, but also from a creative side. A lot of industries and big players have integrated their specialized media units, but they are also pushing integration internally. On the client side, the marketing teams are basically in charge of everything and, when you have specialized people in certain channels, who all come together under the marketing umbrella, that pushes us to become more integrated.
With content playing a major role in the digital space, there is no room for a specialized media buyer only. Everyone needs to work together to make sure what we are saying is relevant; it is all about relevancy in the end to the consumer.
As clients continue to ask for more, how is the industry (and agencies) pushing itself to the next level?
The next level has been compared to the more advanced and mature markets. But, the truth of the matter is that when you go to [global] forums and seminars, you realize that we are not that far behind. Everybody has the same questions; everybody wants to understand the same problems and try to resolve them.
However, I do think that we tend to follow most of the time and adopt what’s new, instead of coming up with any solutions ourselves. But it is not our fault; the publishers and brands are global. We could imply certain rules and regulations for the market, but we cannot make industry-changing decisions because we are very much affected by international brands and they’re much bigger entities.
In this environment and new role, what are your challenges and goals?
The challenge is to perfect the integration and find the right talent and skills sets. We are still hiring [not just for junior positions], because we want to upgrade and bring the best in class. We need the expertise of the right people, talent and skill sets.
When looking to hire now, I’m looking at experience, maturity – which is very hard to find – and self-motivation. I find that it [self-motivation] is becoming an issue, as people, especially the young, are not self-motivated and want someone to push them – something that is different from the previous generation.
Also, I’m focused on client satisfaction, which has always been important to the agency and is a top priority. In fact, 70 percent of our clients have been with us for more than five to six years – some, since we started – and we get evaluated every year and our scores keep going up, which is very motivating and rewarding.