Interview with Publicis Media MENA's Alex Saber

Sarah Saleh, Contributor , Jun 07 2016

Those Were the Days

In a 1-on-1 interview conducted by ArabNet Founder and CEO Omar Christidis during the ArabNet Digital Summit 2016 in Dubai, Publicis Media MENA’s Chairman Alex Saber had quite the experience to share. Saber started his 25-year long media journey with Leo Burnett at the age of 23, back when the internet was yet to infiltrate the media and advertising industries. Today, he is considered a pioneer in his field, with contributions that have helped propel him to the forefront of the industry.

To introduce the company… a French multinational advertising and public relations company founded in 1926 and headquartered in Paris, Publicis Groupe is organized across 4 solution hubs that include renowned companies such as Saatchi and Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Starcom Mediavest, VivaKi, Sapient Consulting and others.

During his interview, Alex spoke of Starcom Mediavest Group’s launch in 2000, and its impressive rise to number one by 2005. He also reminisced about the days when they were 2-3 executives doing media bookings in the 90’s. Pitches would last 7 hours, with 5-10 minutes presentations. How times have changed!

Keeping Up

To describe the changes undergone by the company in order to keep up with the latest demands, Alex said: “Most clients today want a simplistic approach to their business. They want to deal with fewer companies and fewer agencies, so we have organized ourselves globally to offer simple solutions and more efficiency.” 

Publicis Groupe’s 6 global agency brands were consolidated into four earlier this year. Starcom and Zenith continue to operate as global agency brands, while Mediavest/Spark is a third large global agency brand and Optimedia/ Blue 449 are brought together to form a powerful global challenger brand.

Aside from internal changes in divisions, investments such as Sapient’s $2.5 Billion acquisition – considered a major strategic move in the industry – are a step towards creating more specialized solutions. Alex explained that sometimes one cannot ask for a lot internally, given people can only deliver specific things. A solution would be to invest in a startup, build its capabilities, and create further possibilities for clients.

The Demand for Digital

Alex described the MENA region as a major TV-driven market, with high growth in digital, especially in the GCC. He said that 50% of revenues came from digital media, which was in no way predicted by 2015. Omar added that back in 2008, digital represented only 10% of revenues.

Keeping up today, Publicis Media has 4 core brands powered by 7 global practices (5 of which are digitally-based)

  • Data, Technology & Innovation 
  • Content 
  • Trading & Buying 
  • Performance 
  • Business Development & Communications 
  • Business Transformation 
  • Analytics, Research & Insight 

The Future of Media

Alex expressed his eagerness to see the benefits that arise from VR as a major trend in the next while, and the way consumers may interact with it. Both Alex and Omar pondered upon the question of choice, as services become more automatized - such as the replacement of a defective light bulb as soon as a message is sent to the store and service is provided. This left us wondering about the increasing power of advertisers in changing our tastes as consumers.

The session was concluded with Alex mentioning the 90th birthday of Publicis Groupe, making it one of the oldest players out there. He continued saying that the company is working on investing into 90 chosen startups, with a shortlist of 15 in MENA. Alex’s encouraging last words before closing were: “today there are significant plans for MENA in terms of acquisitions and startups. We cannot disclose them right now, but you will be positively surprised in the coming few weeks.”

A Look at Saber’s Career Timeline

25 years ago – Alex started with Leo Burnett Dubai

3 years later – Launched the P&G AOR operation in Dubai

1997 – Relocated to Saudi Arabia to set up Starcom Saudi

2001 – Returned to Dubai to launch Mediavest Dubai

2005 – Appointed COO of VivaKi for MENA

2011 – Promoted to SMG/VivaKi Chairman for MENA

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