Fresh from toping the WARC Effective 100 rankings, the co-regional ECDs are leading the agency’s creative charge as an indominable tag team, writes LBB’s Laura Swinton
“There are two dads in the agency,” jokes Olly Robinson, co-regional ECD of FP7 McCann, “they’ll come to us with all their complaints and happiness and joy.”
When it comes to creative leadership, McCann has been embracing the power of two for quite some time. In New York, there are co-Chief Creative Officers Sean Bryan and Tom Murphy, and over in London Rob Doubal and Laurence Thompson are leading the creative charge. And for the past seven months, that dual-wield model has been in place in FP7 McCann’s regional headquarters.
The tag team is Olly Robinson and Fouad Abdel Malak. As the agency grew exponentially following a string of new business wins, Fouad joined Olly as co-regional ECD. Olly has been at the agency for five years and as business grew and the agency continued to top regional Effies rankings (which it has done for seven years) it became clear to him that a creative partner was in order.
Enter Fouad, who joined the agency from TBWA\Raad, where he’d worked on Gold Lion-winning campaigns and taken them to a Dubai Lynx Grand Prix. “Sometimes a refresh is important, especially when you come from a different culture – the TBWA culture is like hippy surfers and FP7 is like the sharp suits. It’s quite different but the two philosophies coming together can create something quite amazing,” marvels Fouad. “Something I’ve been experiencing is that there’s an openness here for innovation and change that has been remarkable – you don’t find that in a lot of other agencies.”
On a practical level, this partnership works by splitting the accounts down the middle and managing the creative work separately – although it’s not so separate in practice as they pick each other’s’ brains and draw from each other’s teams. “Even though we are in this split dynamic, we’re certainly not split at all when it come s to collaboration,” says Olly.
As they find their rhythm, the ambition is to deconstruct that way of working more. They’ve started a system that allows creatives to work flexibly and dip into new projects and accounts. On the one hand, having teams who understand a brand inside out, can crack a brief quickly and have the clients’ trust, but they’ve made space for people to mix things up and keep fresh and motivated. And when a really funny, juicy brief comes in they’ll throw it open to the whole agency.
One recent project they’re particularly proud of is Astronomical Sales for Mastercard, where they used the December 2019 eclipse to project the Mastercard logo and give customers a discount for the window of the eclipse. The idea came from a junior team who did not work on the brand. With a rapid turnaround over the Christmas period, it was a challenging job, but one that saw record sign ups with Mastercard’s partner, online retailer Noon.com.
The pair have a delightful Stan-and-Olly dynamic, with the boisterous, shoot-from-the-hip Fouad ready with a joke and the calm, considered Olly, the epitome of English understatement.
“Funnily we’re totally aligned we know when an idea is right , we know when an idea is not quite right. I’ve known this guy for two or three years and I’ve known his reputation in the region – it’s an honour and a pleasure to work with him, he’s a jolly decent guy. We’ve been fairly lucky – if you had two people who didn’t get on this wouldn’t work,” says Olly thoughtfully..
“I’ve been here seven months and I only wanted to have a fight with him once and it was over something very silly! It’s amazing!” interjects Fouad with a hearty laugh. “He’s calm, very thoughtful and I’m a little bit like he acts like my shrink. But also vice versa but hopefully I have energised some of his teams. Hopefully we complement each other. We have an open dialogue. It’s helps that he’s British. If he was Arabic we would have killed each other. He’s so calm!”
Their complementary temperaments and personalities and clear mutual respect form the foundation for this partnership. But from the off, the pair also agreed ground rules. First off, to stave off wilful creatives refusing to take a ‘no’ and going to the other, they agreed that they make decisions with one voice and back each other. And the other ground rule is that both are credited as ECDs in projects, which also makes it easier for teams to move more fluidly onto projects.
Looking to the future, there’s a lot to be excited about. True, like every other agency in the world, they’re faced with the immediate challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic which will hit some clients harder than others. However the agency has just won four chunky pieces of new business on the trot, including the Museum of the Future, an ambitious institution set to launch in Dubai later this year.
“Any team would give their eye teeth to work on this because you are showcasing the best of the best in the world to inspire the world to be better. It doesn’t just end with interacting with things in the museum – something needs to have clicked in your head.. The museum is a catalyst,” says Olly. As Dubai doesn’t have the same wealth of galleries and museums as somewhere like Paris or New York, so this institution will also serve as something of a beacon. “If we don’t make it famous we’ve failed as an agency, basically. That’s something I’m not going to let happen. It’s epic. The worlds your oyster.”
It’s the sort of project that is going to filter down to the rest of the agency with its spirit of possibility and innovation.
Somewhat closer to home, their other big ambition is to make greater inroads into the Saudi market, as the economy there continues to evolve. “It’s a burgeoning country with a burgeoning advertising industry and it’s the next step for most of our clients, looking to break into Saudi. It’s up to us to find creative and interesting ways into that market – and that market is more diverse. It’s a tough one but it’s our next challenge.”
Ambition and energy is high in the agency – on the day we talk FP7 has been named most Effective Agency 2020 by WARC, the first time that an agency from the region has topped the global ranking. Most of the agency is working from home as a precaution against Covid-19, but buoyed by their successes and keen to keep pushing the agency’s creative output this dynamic duo won’t let something like a lockdown stop them.
“I can’t,” says Fouad, “understate the importance of doing iconic work for McCann.”