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Communicate Levant | Advertising, marketing, public relations and media in the Arab world and beyond

Communicate Levant | Advertising, marketing, public relations and media in the Arab world and beyond

What a difference a year makes…

Maroun Hassoun


What a difference a year makes…

PHD Lebanon’s general manager, Maroun Hassoun, reflects on the changing media landscape and considers the challenges and opportunities that still lie ahead.

“Born and raised in Lebanon during the 1970s, I have seen my fair share of the country’s ups and downs. I have experienced first-hand the knock-on effect of this cycle on the economic climate and am still amazed by our legendary resilience. Predicting the future at any time is a game of chance and yet, business, like life, must go on.

It’s been one year since PHD Lebanon opened its doors and before we did, we asked ourselves whether it was an opportune time to do so. Was the economic climate, or the political situation, set to improve later? Should we wait? The fact is if you keep hesitating, you’ll miss the boat and remain gripped by indecision. One year on, I can proudly say that PHD Lebanon is a force to be reckoned with, driving real change and challenging what it means to be a marketer in this age of disruption.

Being the new kid on the block could have been a significant hurdle, forcing us to conform and accept the status quo. Instead, we focused on finding a better way to differentiate ourselves and create our own place in the market. The business we’ve won over the past year has a common thread to it: data and performance. While we may not know what tomorrow holds, we have a reasonably clear idea of what the longer term will yield. This helps us deliver certainty to our clients even though we live in an uncertain world.

There are unmistakable signs of transformation all around us and Lebanon isn’t idly standing by. It’s throwing itself head-on into the change. Traditional marketing thinking is giving way to a business-led approach, driven by data and performance. We’re seeing growing demand for increased data investments from clients as a result of this digital transformation.

Enterprises such as the Beirut Digital District is one such illustration of this shift. Offering a hub for creativity and innovation, the ecosystem has benefited entrepreneurs and startups in the region since its launch in 2012. The telecommunications infrastructure has also vastly improved, with fiber optic connectivity running through the capital’s heart.

Self-deprecation may be a good way to remain grounded but it can also blind us to important facts. Lebanon isn’t the technological laggard some of us think, as we have the 16th largest penetration of mobile phones in the world. Clearly this is indicative of the shifting mindset, and more importantly, presents an opportunity for brands to capitalize.

eCommerce too is growing, albeit at a slower pace to the rest of the region. Online trust still presents the biggest issue and will require a significant change in attitudes. While this won’t be achieved overnight, we can take some comfort in knowing that it will gradually shift.

Add to this the promise of autonomous vehicles, wearables and hearables in this lifetime, as humans and technology merge a little more every day, and it’s safe to say the future is ours for the shaping. While the path may not always be lit, especially with our notorious power cuts, the thrill of exploration and the reward for our efforts more than compensate for the grueling aspects of the journey.

Still, there’s a long road ahead and we need to carefully plot the markers for development. Along with the evolution of our lifestyles, our societies and our business models, brand communications and the role of media agencies will also transform too. If nothing else, they will need to in order to deliver on market and client expectations.

Evolution doesn’t mean eradication though and the naysayers are being proved wrong. For all the talk of disintermediation and other existential threats to our business, we’re here to stay, thanks in part to our enormous talent for evolution. Just consider how we’ve changed since the mid-1980s. One thing remains and it’s our focus on providing value and growth for our clients, to advise and chart the best course of action; that responsibility is ultimately what makes us still relevant and required.

Yes, there will always be challenges and threats, but name one industry without its mountains to climb. This is an exciting period for Lebanon and doubt should give way to opportunity, as digital activism takes hold and powers the next wave of change in the country. For us, it is our collective knowledge gained from a broad and deep experience of brand challenges, coupled with the ability and agility to navigate the changing landscape over the years, and experience working with multiple sectors and clients, that sets us apart.

It’s clear that the fear of the unknown is subsiding, replaced instead with cautious optimism about what lies ahead. We’re only just at the start of this incredible journey, with so much to experience and try, to learn and explore. The market is experiencing a real thirst for change, embracing it with confidence, with assurance, challenges and all. And that, above all else, is certainly worth celebrating.”

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