The Dubai Lynx awards were launched in 2007 and have since evolved into an increasingly popular event on the international festival circuit. In tandem, the creative output of the MENA region has blossomed, proving its worth on the world stage and showcasing a distinctive blend of insight, vitality and humour. This year's event gathers together the best advertising minds in the region to discuss change at a global and local level. LBB's Laura Swinton caught up with Philip Thomas to find out more.
LBB> How do you think the presence of a festival like Dubai Lynx in MENA has influenced creativity within the region?
PT> It’s an interesting question because it has been a catalyst. We launched Dubai Lynx in 2007 and then it became a festival in 2008. The purpose of these events is to improve creativity and bring rigour to awards in the region. There were awards but they weren’t so respected. You need to get to the situation where you’re bringing international judges in who are having a rigorous debate about the work. If you look at results from Cannes, before Lynx came along, really the Middle East won virtually nothing. Now you have a situation where the Middle East is walking away with numerous Lions. You have Tunisia winning, Lebanon winning, Egypt winning, the UAE, Abu Dhabi, as well as Dubai. So there’s a really interesting movement going on. I’m sure you could say that some of that is due to factors other than Dubai Lynx, but we know that a lot of it is down to us, because the work is winning at Lynx and then winning at Cannes. It’s been a remarkable journey to see winners from Tunisia, Egypt, places like that. It’s really gratifying.
LBB> Since being involved in Dubai Lynx, have you learnt or seen anything that has surprised you personally?
PT> I think the speed with which that region has got on the map globally is remarkable. If you look at some of the work coming out of Lebanon and Egypt, it is of a very high standard and has deep cultural resonances. Some of the Egyptian work is fantastic – it’s hilarious, Egyptians are known for their sense of humour. That richness of culture comes through at Cannes because it comes from a really true place. The speed of the improvement has been amazing, especially at agencies like Leo Burnett Lebanon and Ogilvy Tunisia which have done some amazing work.
LBB> What's new for Dubai Lynx 2013?
PT> Branded Entertainment is a new category, which has done pretty well. We’ve just announced that we’ve had a record number of entries across the festival, which is nice because we had a big drop after the financial crisis. The Middle East had a really hard time. It’s not been a huge growth year-on-year but enough to get us to the biggest volume of entries ever. And that’s despite places like Tunisia which had a really big drop – Tunisia has pretty much disappeared this year.
So we’ve got one new category and at the festival itself we’ve got a number of training or academy opportunities, which we think is really important. It’s a key part of what we do, not only at Dubai Lynx but at our other festivals too. We’ve got JWT Think Tank, a creative academy, we’ve got the ‘Marketers’s Academy’, a Digital Academy. We try to bring learning and education to the Lynx as well.
LBB> Looking at the schedule, while there are lots of speakers dealing with universal industry issues, you’ve also got some very region-specific sessions. Things like ‘Creativity in a Conservative Society’, ‘Women and the Internet’ and ‘Developing an Arabic Brand Identity. How do you go about putting together a programme like this and deciding which region-specific conversations to tap into, some of which might be quite tricky?
PT> We talk to delegates and really what they say is the same as at Eurobest or Spikes. They say they’d like a mixture. “We want to see global superstars talking, especially for the creative side of the industry, but actually we have some really issues and really specific challenges here in this region that nobody else understands and we need to address." Some of the talks at Lynx are approaching some really difficult subjects– how can you persuade your client to be braver in a very conservative society? How can we be more creative in this society? Nobody is pretending that the Middle East is a completely free, democratic area – agencies have challenges there that other countries don’t have. They want to discuss these issues, but at the same time they don’t want them to dominate. They also want to learn from other parts of the world.
LBB> Roy Haddad is Advertising Person of the Year – why is this the year for him to take to the stage and receive this honour?
PT> Really the criteria is very simple. Has this individual made a personal and measurable impact on the quality of creative in the region? Roy has! With the work he has done over many years, and more recently with his agencies within the region. He’s a big character within the MENA; he’s a famous ad guy, very passionate about creative and very passionate about what we try to do with the festival, which is to improve quality of creativity. He’s used his position to make the work better with clients. He was a really clear choice, just as Raja was last year.