Creativity is on the rise in MENA, and why it matters

Emma shares her thoughts with Jon Watkins ahead of FIPP Middle East & Africa, taking place on 10 and 11 February 2016 in Dubai, where she will speak.

• See the list of confirmed speakers here

• See an outline of the programme (subject to change) here.

• Discounted, early bird bookings are available until 15 December 2015. Secure your place today to save on your delegate tickets).

You’re presenting a session entitled ‘Creativity Matters’ at FIPP ME&A. Why is there such a focus on creativity in your events and what does the term ‘creative’ mean to you?

Creativity is at the core of everything that Lions Festivals does as a business – whether that’s Dubai Lynx, Cannes Lions, Spikes Asia or Eurobest. We believe that creativity matters for business, for change and for good. This is proven time and again when you look at our Creative Marketer of the Year over the last few years at Cannes Lions – where the share prices of the recipient companies has significantly increased at the time of being awarded. When a client’s had a great year, with truly creative work, it really pushes them forward.

So for you the term ‘creative’ can be the whole creative approach and direction of a business, as well as just a single campaign…?

I think every form of creativity, particularly in today’s world with the current disruption going on in the industry as a whole and the ever-changing landscape, is such a huge, huge thing. For us the word ‘creativity’ encompasses every part of brand communications – from innovation and entertainment to the very best in print, design and digital. Yes, creativity can be found in that one groundbreaking campaign, but it’s also a business approach, a way of life.

Is it more difficult for media businesses to be creative in this fast-paced world where the onus is on getting content out quickly? Or does that just allow the really creative firms to stand out?

I think that’s really interesting. Our theme for Dubai Lynx, which takes place in March next year, is ‘The future of creativity’, with the idea that the importance of an idea is absolutely essential – whatever medium you’re putting it on. So if you just want to have a quick digital banner ad, you’ve actually still got to create the concept, create those storyboards. I had a very interesting meeting with the CEO of an agency the other day, where he was saying when his ECDs and his young creatives all speak the same language is the day that you get that truly genius creative idea – which works in the modern day.

Are we seeing differences in the levels of creativity from platform to platform?

Yes, I think we are. Every brand creates content now and with ad blocking and disruption, people have to be really careful to make sure that creativity stays at the heart of what they do to ensure that their product stands out on whichever platform they use.

How did Dubai Lynx come about and what does it add to the region?

Dubai Lynx launched in 2007, so we are celebrating our 10th anniversary next year. With it, we’re also celebrating a decade of excellence in the MENA region. Back in 2004, there’d only ever been one Lion won by an agency in the Middle East – an agency called Tonic. We came here and looked around this amazing market and thought that was a little bit odd.  So an opportunity then arose and, in 2007, we launched Dubai Lynx. Year one was an awards show and then it became the festival. This year the Middle East won 22 Lions.

So you could say the creative successes in the region are increasing constantly and it really is on the map of creative excellence now. That’s down to multiple things, but Lynx originally came here to inspire and nurture creativity across the Middle East and North Africa – to bring that inspiration and that platform to start gaining success here at a local level. That had to happen before the region could get to the global levels of Cannes Lions, especially as the region didn’t, and still doesn’t, have a host of awards shows to recognise and spur creative excellence.

That’s a remarkable shift. Do those sorts of changes act as a barometer for the region in terms of the quality of content it produces – and indeed a barometer for you guys?

Yes, absolutely. For us, it certainly shows what we’ve achieved by bringing Lynx here. The model really is working and helping to nurture young talent. Lynx has obviously become known the world over and Dubai as a city has certainly become recognised creatively. The talent that is coming to Dubai from global agencies is quite something. Agencies here now have people from Brazil, people from Australia, people from New Zealand – amazing cultural diversity.  I lived in the region when I was growing up as a kid and, you know, it was a hardship posting back then. Today, living in Dubai is anything but a hardship posting.

Who in the region is doing particularly creative work? Can you share some names?

We have local brands doing great work here – people like Emirates NBD Du and Henkel are doing fantastic things- while the big global bands like Coca-Cola, for example, are also getting great messaging out in this region.

What do creatively successful businesses have in common? Are there common traits among that are doing this well?

If I’m really honest, I think some of it is just having the confidence to experiment, having the confidence to not do what you’ve always done. And I think that’s particularly the case here because it’s a region of cultural sensitivity, a region where you need to be very aware of culturally sensitive themes. I think sometimes people shy away from creativity because of that – particularly when you’ve had a client who’s been doing the same thing for 20-30 years. Where we’re seeing really strong creativity is where companies are coming in and using the culture in a good way.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be working in the region?

I was originally a musician and was producing a lot of musicals at University. From that, I fell into events.  All of a sudden I found myself at Centaur Media, running Design Week Awards amongst others, as an event manager and, given my background of having lived in the region as a child, when the opportunity arose to come back with Lions Festivals I grabbed it. I had a brilliant time trying to develop our student awards and our young talent programme, which has really shone a light on the young talent here. Now, I’m having a great time running Lynx.

FIPP Middle East & Africa takes place on 10 and 11 February 2016 in Dubai (discounted, early bird bookings are available until 15 December 2015. Secure your place today to save on your delegate tickets).

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