Time for the power hungry to step aside

April 27, 2009

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.