Published in Business Today magazine, June 2012. Pages: 76 – 77.
Towards A creative revolution
Oman’s advertising industry, which is still at a nascent stage of growth, is combating stiff competition from its regional peers, with growth levels being almost stagnant. Almost 70 per cent of the advertising contracts generated in Oman are snapped up by agencies from neighbouring markets like Dubai and Saudi Arabia, who are perceived to be the more seasoned players in the field.
The ad sector is devoid of a trade association or a regulatory body that can foster local agencies to collectively discuss modern practices and resolve issues in advertising and marketing, resulting in a lack of comradeship in the market. In the absence of proper and stringent guidelines, the industry is still not crystallised. But all this could change in the coming days with the introduction of the Oman chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA), a global advertising trade organisation that is present in over 76 countries and six continents.
Louai Alasfahani, managing director of advertising agency, Paragon Marketing Communications that entered Oman last year, is the pioneer of this initiative who began the process of contacting industry executives and public authorities from November last year to set up the chapter. His idea to introduce this association to Oman stemmed from the eight-month delay he faced in setting up his business due to the hurdles and lengthy procedures prevalent in the industry.
Alasfahani says it was quite apparent that in the absence of a proper advertising association, the market suffered from a lack of information about the advertising companies. Such an apex body could have fostered mutual co-operation among agencies and helped them to establish their reputation in the marketplace. “Unless solidarity is established in the market, the entire advertising business will be lost to competition from neighbouring countries within the next five years,” says Alasfahani.
To initiate the Oman chapter of the IAA, Alasfahani has succeeded in convincing nine out of 25 executives who had shown interest from various spheres of communications in the local market to become members of the IAA. While regulations for the local chapter are being formulated after consulting with public authorities, he says the required approval from the New York head quarters of the IAA to start the 15-member body is already in place. The local membership for the chapter is RO200 per annum for each company. The target is to get the association operational before the end of this year.
Apart from bringing about more co-ordination among ad agencies in the sultanate, the chapter will introduce guest lectures and seminars on advertising and marketing in Oman featuring prominent executives in the field from around the world. “Clients will have a better idea on the parameters they need to look at before hiring an agency and grounds on which agencies can be dismissed. Students will be educated on issues that are not taught formally when it comes to advertising. It will increase their awareness on issues like licensing of artwork and copyright infringement and more people will trust local agencies, says Alasfahani.
According to the entrepreneur, the IAA Oman chapter will eventually result in a media audit bureau, such as the BPA, that will help gauge the effectiveness of print advertising. “If people are willing to see the big picture here, we are capable of capturing back ten per cent of all the ad budgets that have migrated to other countries within the first year of establishing the Oman chapter of the IAA.” An apt environment Oman’s advertising industry might be a lot smaller when compared to its neighbours, but the overall economy of the country has seen better growth rates than its peers, signifying that the best years for the sector still lie ahead – a factor which prompted Alasfahani to eye the sultanate in the first place a year ago.
The advertising industry in Oman does not face high levels of copyright infringement as seen in the other countries in the region and agencies are well informed about the IAA, he says. The creative talent in this market is also quite diverse with people coming in from Zanzibar (Africa), India and neighbouring Middle East countries. Such characteristics inherent with this market can prove to be conducive to the success of an Oman IAA chapter.
With over two decades of experience in the advertising industry and having pioneered the Kuwait chapter of the IAA, Alasfahani is confident that he is well prepared to deal with the hurdles of starting a new advertising board in a small market. He does not dispute the fact that challenges exist in getting everyone on the same page as far as issues facing the advertising industry is concerned.
The success of the chapter also depends on the ability of the organisation to bring in experienced professionals who can commit their time towards workshops and seminars. So far, Alasfahani says it is has not been difficult convincing his counterparts who visited Kuwait and Qatar to come to Oman when the chapter is operational. Through the chapter, working together with agencies will culminate in more defined rules in the industry and better creativity as the qualitative bar rises along with the increased competition.
While Alasfahani patiently awaits the approval of public authorities to establish this organisation, his focus for Paragon in Oman is in areas like corporate branding. His efforts continue in recruiting new members into the IAA in order to have more eligible firms joining the Oman chapter. For the time being, it is hard to estimate the near future growth in membership for this entity. But once operational, this body will pave the way for some revolutionary changes in Oman’s advertising sector that could see it rising up to competition and garnering the attention among international clients in the coming years.