Time for the power hungry to step aside

A nostalgic smile swept across my face the other day. It wasn’t triggered by thoughts of childhood innocence, of musical moments, or of women I once knew. No, it was triggered by a threat. The kind we used to get all the time. Do this, do as I say, or face the consequences. That’s basically what it amounted to.

It was my second such threat from an adman in as many months. What made me smile was not the threat itself, but the fact that people like this still exist. The arrogance of it beggars belief. They are, unfortunately, stragglers from an older world – a world where individual power (or perceived influence) was what mattered, not the industry as a whole. These people still believe that intimidation, jobs for the boys and the pursuit of personal gain are acceptable business practices.

But as Louis Hakim, chairman of the Advertisers’ Business Group, and Philipp Vogeler of Al Jisr Company, say, it’s time for individual power to be well and truly replaced by the power of institutions. As Hakim remarks: “The time has come to leave legacies behind by institutionalising the advertising and media industry.” If this happens, the theory goes that people leading these institutions will work for the good of the industry, rather than for the good of themselves.

However, what advertising institutions do exist are either weak, little respected, or cater only to a small close-knit community of people. In the absence of strong institutions, individuals have filled the gap. Therefore, just as a creative directors’ forum or an art directors’ club is needed in the UAE to help raise creative standards and encourage community interaction, so a regional equivalent of the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) is a prerequisite for industry advancement. The IPA’s goal is to promote the value of agencies and it is a hugely respected and influential professional body. It offers globally recognised training, constantly carries out research, organises industry-wide events, and has its own effectiveness awards.

If the Middle East’s adland is to distance itself from a scenario where “the region is governed by a few people in whose hands the fate of the industry lies”, as Vogeler points out, then a strong, respected, influential and world-class institution such as the IPA must be established as soon as possible. Recent events have only reinforced this view.

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One Response to Time for the power hungry to step aside

  1. Tom Roychoudhury says:

    This is both funny and sad at the same time. Funny because, it’s laughable that such bullies exist, and that they till this date believe that they can threaten to take their ball away when you won’t play by their rules. And it’s sad because as an industry in this region, we have built a legion of such characters. Bullies, who believe they own the ball and the ball game. Sadder still is the fact that no one checks them, no one sticks a hand in their face and points out that the goal posts may have moved, and that they may own the ball, but the playground is for every one.

    What I question is the assumption that ‘individual power (or perceived influence)’ still exist. If it does, we need to counter it, and rather than trying to cure the disease, euthanize the corrupt, the diseased and stamp out the plague. Yes, I do know it exists. But I think it’s more perception, than power. More sabre rattle when the shields are down and one is weak and exposed, than true bravado. Creating, building advertising institutions are a solution, but these bodies need to be led by people who are about the good of the industry, the round table, rather than knights themselves.

    No one is above the law, no corner of clout is bigger than the ring, no tight group of influencers can hold sway today, because the way we communicate, share, speak and listen is changing. Voice is no longer a one way rant, a sermon, a beatitude from a hilltop. It is many-to-many, it is peer-to-peer, and it is in many ways making ‘power’ open source.

    To me, the danger is not in the threat. Bullies always have used threat. Power (or perception) empowers corruption. The danger is in the threatened consequence. If by some odd chance, our industry allows that consequence to unfold and the bully has the last laugh, than we are in trouble. In need of policing such abuse and ending it.

    Let’s go to the round table. An IPA like body for our region? Yes. But before that let’s unite, use our voices, our new open sources, to stand up and say No to Hunger for Power. Let’s disarm them.

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