The Horizon Holdings CEO describes his Cannes Lions award-winning NFT work and the excitement he first felt when making the UAE his home in 2001, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani
BIG KAHUNA FILMS, the award-winning creative production house based in Dubai and Beirut, is proud to support creativity across the Middle East. Over the coming months, as part of our sponsorship of LBB’s Middle East edition, we’ll be speaking to some of the great minds driving creativity forward across the region.
With a role in the company since 1994, it’s safe to say Horizon Holdings’ CEO Mazen Jawad has always had a personal connection to the company. Following the agency’s 45th birthday, in January 2022 Mazen assumed the CEO role at the IPG group company which encompasses Horizon FCB MENA, BPN MENA, GolinMENA, Blue Barracuda and Fuelcontent.
After many years working within the company, Mazen is now focusing on supporting creativity and substantiating this with a solid strategy, aligning it with the global network. The agency, founded by his uncle, has been aspirational for Mazen since his childhood. Looking up to his uncle for guidance, Mazen describes him “as an adman, as an entrepreneur, as one of the ad mavericks of our industry in the region.” Recently winning a Cannes Lions for its ‘Breakchains with Blockchain’ initiative, Horizon FCB Dubai has set itself up as a real contender in global creativity, with Mazen at the helm.
Taking the time to speak to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani, Mazen explains the journey which led him to Dubai and how it “remains this wonderful place that you can’t leave.”
LBB> Hi Mazen, thank you for chatting with us! We’d love to know when you first thought of yourself as a ‘creative’ and how that came about.
Mazen> This takes me back to Greece as a young teenager sitting at my uncle’s advertising agency, then Horizon FCB’s headquarters, watching TV reels, discussing them and wishing I can play a role in the industry one day.
LBB> You were appointed CEO of Horizon Holdings at the beginning of 2022. How have the past few months been and what have you been keen to bring to the role so far?
Mazen> It’s been a great start! I’d say, more focus and support for the creative product of the agency with a strategy and a plan that align with our global network at FCB, which led us to win our first Lions at the Cannes Festival of Creativity this summer [for ‘Breakchains with Blockchain’], a dream that was realised through a journey that we’ll progress in Dubai and soon in other markets where we operate.
LBB> Can you talk us through an average day in your role? What does it entail?
Mazen> Every day is typically ‘never finished’ but fun as well; you’re constantly feeling the heat coming from the various offices, the heat from our global leadership and the heat from our CFOs, all soaked into the vibrancy of Dubai. It's always joyful with the cool people whom you interact with, the happy clients who are always commending the agencies and the warm smiles that you encounter when you walk along the alleys of the agencies.
LBB> You’ve been in Dubai since your global role at FCB required you to move in 2001. What were your initial thoughts about Dubai when you first made it your home?
Mazen> There was always excitement whenever I heard the word ‘Dubai’ even before 2001. When I finally moved in, ‘Dubai Media City’ and ‘Dubai Internet City’ were just being launched and were paving the way for an incredible city to be built in this mesmerising place. Living here every day, I wish I can make everyone I interact with enjoy it and love it as I did over the past 21 years.
LBB> And what are your thoughts now? What has changed and what has stayed the same?
Mazen> Dubai remains this wonderful place that you can’t leave. And even if you do, it stays with you. Dubai changed and changes constantly as dreams are always being realised while its leadership is always reinventing it so it keeps surprising you while nurturing its citizens and residents alike.
LBB> For those who haven’t been to Dubai, what about the city inspires creativity? Where does that spark come from? And how has the content in the region evolved?
Mazen> Take a walk or a drive and the city’s architecture will surely start sparking creativity. Live here and watch the city constantly transform before your eyes and you may feel like living in a natural oasis of creativity. Listen to HH Sheikh Mo talk about Dubai and how he wants his people, residents and visitors to live happy, safe and fulfilled and you will have even more time for yourself to wonder and create. Meet, connect and mix with talent who come from over 200 countries and you may be able not only to be inspired but to create your ‘best of’ work.
Content is constantly evolving; [from] what brands once used to push to their customers, into a playground where brands influence those customers to create content for them. Today we still come across loads of fluff… the better are continuously shifting to be more data-based, customer-focused, targeted and with purpose with the aim of creating the economic multiplier desired by our clients.
LBB> Looking back at your career so far, is there a particular moment or piece of work that stands out as especially significant to you?
Mazen> ‘September Christmas’ that we did back in 2012 for ‘Tamanna’ remains the piece of work that stood out most in my career as it was created for an NGO that belongs to a childhood dear friend and therefore was very meaningful. Gladly, its success, impact and memory remained in our dialogues for the past 10 years. Today we’re working on something new and hopefully as exciting as we did then.
LBB> We’d also love to hear about some recent pieces of work that you’re particularly proud of, as well as hear about the experience of making these campaigns. Can you share a few with us?
Mazen> I am very proud of the work that we did for the ‘Children of Female Prisoners Association’ in Egypt, an initiative that was just celebrated at the Cannes Festival of Creativity with three Lions and five Shortlists. Not only were we able to free 17 women and reunite them with their families in such a short time, by selling digital art in the form of NFTs, but we also witnessed members of the parliament sign a petition to change this law that imprisons women for such small loans.
The experience was very challenging, first being based in Dubai running it all in Egypt, then having to identify and deal with the various partners whether it’s the NGO or the production house living the daily local challenges whether social, cultural, legal and the many red-tapes that we had to deal with in a very bureaucratic and complicated process.
LBB> Finally, if there was one thing you wish you knew before you started your career, what would it be?
Mazen> The constant and exceptional need for transformation, change and innovation that this industry demands, and will keep demanding. It’s a never-finished process that we have become on its frontlines.