BBDO’s Dani Richa on Passion, Resilience, and Immortal Creativity in the Middle East
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 United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia editions, we’ll be speaking to some of the great minds driving creativity forward across the region.
Today we meet Dani Richa, Chairman and CEO of BBDO MEA. In this conversation, Dani reflects on thirty-three years of resilience and creativity, the business advantages of an affable disposition, and how to stay focused and motivated amidst a world in chaos.
LBB> Dani, you’ve previously been referred to as ‘an affable and loveable character in a theatre of rogues’. Is that a fair description of you?
Dani> I’m happy to agree with the first part of the sentence, although I would not describe the industry we work in as ‘theatre of rogues’. We work in the industry of ideas, and the industry of people. The more approachable we are, the better we are at attracting and retaining talent.
LBB> So do you find that being ‘affable’ is an advantage in your work?
Dani> Being affable and approachable creates more solid relationships with our people and our clients as well, who in turn trust us to push the envelope by taking more calculated risks. That invariably results in better work. We have some of the most amazing people in the world but they’re all humble and down-to-earth. There is no room for prima donnas at BBDO.
LBB> Looking at your career, you started on the creative side. And yet you’re now firmly placed on the business side. What advantages does that creative perspective bring to your current role?
Dani> Having taken a path that crosses through different sides of the agency, my job now is to make sure there are no sides to the agency. Having spent time in the creative kitchen, I developed a deep understanding of the process, more importantly, of creative people. Creatives are probably the most complex individuals to manage, and in fact I believe the term ‘manage’ is not the correct word to use in this context.
Being creative has taught me the first-hand terrors of a piece of paper staring blankly at you, waiting to become a great campaign. Couple that with the stress of a pressing deadline and a business problem to solve. That is why we arm our creatives with deeply relevant insights and strong planning of inspiring briefs. We also nurture a safe creative environment where all ideas are welcome, developed, brought to life, and amplified. That has helped us work to achieve better with partners and clients. People coming from the creative side are wired to think with swift problem-solving ability, to use innovation; a lateral thinking approach to dealing with challenges and issues has helped me evolve and adapt throughout my career.
LBB> And is it possible to be both a ‘businessman’ and a creative at the same time?
Dani> In the business of ideas, the best businessmen are the ones who provide creative solutions to business problems. Today, this landscape makes it imperative to have a balance of both, to innovate and achieve the best results for us and our clients.
LBB> Am I correct in saying that you’ve been BBDO MEA’s Chairman and CEO for 33 years? Can you paint me a picture of the industry landscape when you started in the role?
Dani> At twenty-two, I joined BBDO as a creative and became Regional ECD by the age of 25. I only took over the MEA leadership in 2010. Over the course of three decades and a little more, there has been a tremendous change. Back in the day, we used to edit our work-frame by frame on a Steenbeck table. We used to present our commercials on a cinema screen. It was theatrical. Now, we sometimes shoot, edit and present it on a smartphone.
A while ago, a film, along with a couple of key visuals, used to run for months on end. We now have to run twice that on any given day. The pace has changed, the needs have changed, but so have the tools.
LBB> And do you think the industry has evolved for the better?
Dani> Let me start by quoting Lord Leverhulme: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don't know which half.".
Today, ROI can accurately be measured and magnified in real-time. Brands need to be relevant now more than ever. Mass advertising once used to talk at people. As it evolved, direct marketing used the methods of talking to people. Today, in the age of digital advertising, people are talking to one another. Brands are lucky to be invited to join the conversation, but only if they relevantly speak for these people and the topics that interest them. In the past, we used to build brands, build awareness, now we go way further. We are part of the sell, of the end transaction.
Creatives now work in a more exciting landscape. They have to build brands in a more broad sense and contribute to the actual amplification of brand performance and presence in real-time, depending on the needs of the audience. It truly is exciting to speak to people in the correct context, during the right time, at the right place. For this reason, access to data, technology, and innovation helps develop brands that are near to their audience, that speak with actual relatable purposes.
LBB> You’ve said that young creatives coming through today have a focus on what good they can do for the world and society. Do you think that mindset is reflective of the tumultuous social and political period in which they’re learning their craft?
Dani> Young talented creatives have broad and flexible options for work in our industry. Couple that with the ability to champion truly brilliant and courageous causes touching upon social justice issues, and other pressing matters. In job interviews many candidates reference some of the work we have done that inspired them to join us. Creatives are very eager to speak for what they believe in as well and integrate that into their craft, and frequently the results are exceptional, especially when the work moves people and creates positive change.
LBB> At BBDO, how do you guys grapple with the incredibly diverse and distinct cultures in the MEA region?
Dani> We are fortunate enough to have offices in many diverse places, Egypt, Pakistan, KSA, Nigeria, Beirut, South Africa to name a few. A factor that has allowed us to develop an incredible pool of local talent. The work these teams do resonates with their cultures. In turn, creating the wealth of talent we now are fortunate to have.
In cosmopolitan cities such as Dubai in the UAE, we have individuals from 60 different nationalities in one melting pot. We thrive on mirroring that wealth in diversity through the work that we do.
In an industry like ours, talent attracts more talent.
LBB> What are some examples of recent work you guys have done of which you’re particularly proud?
Dani> I am extremely proud of the work we have done for AnNahar. It is great to work with a client like Nayla Tueini, the newspaper’s editor in chief, a person committed to driving change in a country where barely anything is functional. In a place like Lebanon, the silent majority is in dire need of a voice that resonates with the international community. The work done with AnNahar was a catalyst for true change. Working on The Blank Edition last year paved the way to an equally brilliant project this year. AnNahar recognized the amazing Lebanese women in a remastered and gender-inclusive version of the national anthem, published on the front page of the paper as part of a 360 campaign.
Above: The New National Anthem from IMPACT BBDO picked up a coveted Immortal Award at 2020’s show.
LBB> Finally, this has been a deeply challenging year and I understand you were affected personally by the Beirut explosion in August. How do you keep yourself inspired and motivated throughout such difficult times?
Dani> This year has been a challenging one in different aspects. I was on holiday for the summer with my family in Beirut. Our home sustained serious damage, and some family members suffered some mild injuries. We are thankful to have survived such a devastatingly catastrophic event.
We have no choice but to dust off the debris and move on. After thirty-three years in a very turbulent region; resilience becomes second nature. After all, we lead by example. We had to do what had to be done. That is, to continue, to persist, and to overcome all challenges. We are grateful and blessed to have surmounted this. Motivation is contagious, and I owe that positivity to the wonderful friends and colleagues around me. BBDOers are radiators, and not drains.
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