Interview with Khaled Ismail, regional vice-president, communications, Tetra Pak
With over 24 years of experience in the marketing and advertising sector, Ismail has worked for large corporations, most notably The Coca-Cola Company and Tetra Pak. At the Festival of Media MENA in April (see Communicate May 2017), Ismail and his colleagues from The Marketing Society brought to light the key issues concerning advertisers. We spoke to him to further understand advertisers’ frustrations – and what agencies can (hopefully) do about it.
What’s going on with the agency model?
Although this has been a topic of discussion, it’s one that needs constant addressing due to the lack of a perfect solution. Perhaps that itself is an indication that there is no one right model. So, to make matters simpler, we asked Ismail which model he prefers. “What I’ve concluded right now is prioritizing,” he says. “What is it that I am trying to achieve?” Once you answer that you have a strategy that enables you to decide which specialties are needed and therefore, which agencies to bring on board.
Many hats, no heads?
While that sounds good in theory, the complication arises when one agency offers many services. Agencies have been evolving their offerings to survive but, “Don’t pretend to be something you’re not,” asserts Ismail. Even when agencies offer multiple services, the costs can vary in extremes. “In some cases, sadly, the cost of production is very high from an [creative] advertising agency point of view,” says Ismail. However, a digital agency would be able to produce that content at much more affordable rates and without comprising on the quality.
Yet, there is a temptation to go with one agency because otherwise, “chances are I am not going to be efficient in how I spend my dollar,” says Ismail. So, it comes down to the size of the client and budget. Bigger corporations can afford to go for an integrated offering where the agency offers the client a dedicated team – and obviously charges for it. Even though companies with lower budgets are offered the same promise of integration, they luck out on the delivery of said promise, because, as Ismail says, “They [agencies] need to manage their budgets as well.”
Simply put, he says, “I don’t have the formula. Obviously if I had one, I would have left my job and started an agency.”
Show; don’t tell
As agencies work to figure out the best model for their clients, there’s a bigger issue dampening trust between the two: transparency. For Ismail, it’s about going back to basics. Even though ‘engagement’ as a metric has been defined by agencies, dictionaries, and tech giants, “Define engagement for me,” he says. Often times, agencies take a certain pride in stating the numbers of likes, comments, views and so on, but it’s pertinent to look at where they are coming from and the quality of those interactions. “Sometimes we look at the 20,000 or so comments and they are “hi”, “hello”, “give me a job”,” says Ismail. “That’s not a comment!”
So, the issue isn’t just transparency, but the need for better KPIs, he suggests.
The big (bad) boys
The problem doesn’t lie with agencies (not alone, at least), but also with tech companies. “There is a conflict of interest now inherent to the industry,” says Ismail, stressing on the need for independent auditors. And yet, Google and Facebook dominate roughly 80 percent of the digital spend in the region. If lack of transparency and trust are real concerns for marketers, why are ad spends on the rise? “Is there an alternative? The answer is no,” says Ismail. Even if a certain percentage – however small – of the audience is engaging with the brand, it’s more than well, zero. In the meanwhile, Ismail suggests creating and participating in industry bodies such as the IAB to introduce regulations.
Interestingly, in a surprisingly large number of organizations, the top-level management doesn’t understand the nitty gritties. “The guys sitting on top do not appreciate the challenge, but they will question you if you are on social media or not,” he says. This attitude gives marketers a certain lackadaisical license, but also, the freedom to push the envelope.
Whatever the challenge may be, at least now there’s awareness and conversation around it. As Ismail says, “I’ve been around in the industry for 25 years and five years ago, none of these conversations would take place… nothing.”