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Brands will still need get into ‘relevant conversations’

Whatever be the state of markets, clients will adjust, says J. Walter Thompson CEO

Gulf News

Dubai: Tamara Ingram is not one to let the burden of high office — and market forces — wear her down.

“Whilst TV budgets have slowed somewhat, there is still a major need for clients’ brands to be having relevant conversations with consumers and building long-term relationships with them,” said the CEO of J. Walter Thompson Co, one of a handful of powerhouse advertising agencies in the world. And with a portfolio that dates back all of 153 years.

“The market has gone from unprecedented periods of long-term growth to a recent period of extreme volatility that has not yet run its course. Whether that is a correction or substantive change is yet to be determined. And depending [on] what happens, clients will adjust.”

That’s optimism for you, and Ingram is quite comfortable carrying that sentiment.

“The potential for innovation is what keeps me passionate about the industry. Advances in AI and VR continue to offer exciting possibilities of what we can do for brands. We are already using A.I. to innovate and help our clients grow.”

Even without AI and its infinite possibilities, there was a belief in the global ad industry that 2018 will pan out to be much better than the recent past. The US growth uptick looked to be sustaining, Wall Street remained on a perpetual high and Main Street — and its advertisers — were following close behind. Elsewhere, growth possibilities were coming back on the horizon, and that could only mean advertisers and agencies will find the need to spend more dollars on the messaging.

And then the recent volatility hit Wall Street, and it did feel that matters may not necessarily go swimmingly well.

But Ingram is not one to fret. “I am very optimistic about the role communications has to play for our clients. In the Middle East and North Africa markets, we saw growth in Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia... and we continue to see growth in digital across all regions.

“We are anticipating that growth will continue in the region for the advertising/digital business in 2018. In the Middle East and North Africa, we have been present since 1927, when we first established an office in Alexandria [Egypt]. That’s longer than any other agency.

“It’s still early in the year and [client] budgets are not yet finalised. More and more of our relationships with clients have evolved from fixed fees to projects — and projects are more fluid depending upon marketplace needs, new product developments, etc”

On the product side, JWT did have quite a bit to show off in 2017. Last October, it became the first ad agency to come up with an internal AI platform called ‘Pangaea’ for its 12,000 employees.

“We successfully leveraged Pangaea for new business momentum, including winning the Sky account in Brazil, and have applied it to existing client work,” the CEO said. “And the more we use Pangaea, the better the learning intelligence will be able to identify the best person to tackle the question at hand.”

So, armed with AI and VV, is the global ad scene veering back towards the big, generic agency networks? And away from the small and independent creative/digital firms that may not have the cash flow to do so?

Ingram does not much care for the characterisation — “J. Walter Thompson is far from a generic enterprise, so disagree with the ‘big generic’ description,” she added. “We have been at the forefront of advertising for over 153 years, constantly evolving and drawing upon our unique DNA to reimagine the future for our clients and our agency.

“We have built many of the world’s most iconic brands with culture-moving, ground-breaking creativity. JWT has always been first. We aired the first TV commercial, launched the first global campaign, and promoted the first female creative director. But what you may not know is that we also rocketed the first candy bar into space, created the first amphibious prosthetic limb, and taught a computer to paint a 3D ‘Rembrandt’.

“We consider ourselves to be a billion-dollar start-up. And we are constantly re-thinking our business and upgrading our capabilities to operate more like an agile start-up.

“Sure, clients are facing increased pressure to cost cut... and they want and need streamlined resources. Our experience in working with 50-plus major global brands is the need to provide unique models based on their priorities, structure and needs. Our global footprint allows us to build bespoke teams.”

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