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FP7’s Marc Lawandos on a Changing Saudi Arabia, Getting His Break in the Industry, and Almost Becoming a Soldier


“You simply can’t go wrong when there is truth in what you do”, says the FP7 MD

FP7’s Marc Lawandos on a Changing Saudi Arabia, Getting His Break in the Industry, and Almost Becoming a Soldier

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 Marc Lawandos, MD of FP7 McCann, based in Riyadh. In this conversation, Marc reflects on the changes he’s witnessed over 23 years working in Saudi Arabia, both within the industry and the culture that surrounds it...

LBB> Growing up in Lebanon, you made the move to Saudi Arabia fairly early in your career. What was behind the move, and do you ever see yourself leaving the country?

Marc Lewandos> Yes, it was intended as an early career move with a focus to acquire a quick and enriching experience in a market that was evolving, yet politically stable. So, the move turned out pretty much as planned, with the exception of ‘quick stretching into 23 years and counting! 

I came to Saudi straight after my graduation and my advertising debut started with FP7/McCANN back in 2001. I knew I had joined the right place from the onset. I was surrounded by amazing & supportive colleagues and the client assigned to me was a real estate landmark. The client was the Kingdom Centre, one of the first two skyscrapers in Riyadh; an iconic and glamorous brand to be associated with very early in one’s advertising career.

I do see myself eventually going back home, but not before concluding what the management and I started a few years back in terms of transformation plans to the Saudi operation. I want to see these through before dropping the towel. Saudi is dear to my heart; this is where I made a career, a living and undoubtedly great friends & memories. This is a place that is undergoing a paradigm shift on so many levels; in both business and society; and I would want to play my complete part in all of that.

LBB> So in what ways have you seen the country change and evolve over your time there? Are the differences very obvious?

Marc> They are numerous, and often go beyond the obvious. I assure you that the world we know is changing, and more so Saudi Arabia than perhaps anywhere else. More has changed in the nation during the past four years than in the past four decades. Be it the infrastructural change, the digitization of products and services, the business scene, the market maturity, women driving, domestic tourism, sports activities, the arts and exhibitions, the concerts, the events, the entertainments, the list is virtually endless.

Today, we are seeing new energy in the country driven by the wise leadership of Crown Prince HRH Mohammed Bin Salman. The ambitious Vision 2030 plan was first perceived as a long shot, but quickly people have realized that this is for real and that transformation is inevitable. What’s so interesting about these changes is that people were longing for it, especially young people and women. Excitingly, I think this is only the beginning as I see that the speed of change is bound to accelerate.

LBB> You’re currently enjoying a long and successful career with FP7 McCann. What is it about the agency that makes you want to stick around?

Marc> We are simply an agency that despises stagnation. We are a vibrant community and a network that acts in the best interest of its clients and its people. Our culture is great, our global presence is on the rise, we’re currently on a new business winning streak, our creative output keeps on getting better, and we are constantly elevating our offering by integrating tech and data in what we do. 

We've also stood by our people and our clients throughout the years and more so during the unfortunate events of the 2020 pandemic. That’s what FP7 McCann is for me; it is the collective effort of our richest asset – our people. We are big, yet agile. We pride ourselves with the seamless coordination we have among one network and among the different brands that constitute the holding. With all that in mind, how could I not stick around?!

LBB> And what can you tell us about the team you guys have built at FP7 KSA? Are there any particular qualities that you’re looking for when it comes to new hires?

Marc> I can start by telling you that we are on the right path, but we’re still far from done. This is an endless journey and we will always be on the lookout for great talents and for new specialities - particularly when it comes to digital. Currently our team is a rich mix of genders, different nationalities and backgrounds, and a 50/50 ratio of Saudis and Expats. 

We knew that the integration of the local touch was essential to elevate the quality of our work, so we started the process very early on. Our culture of collaboration and brotherhood made the work environment attractive to many Saudi working women and intriguing enough for the Saudi youth to want to be part of. FP7 McCann made it within the top 10 & top 15 in the polling of ‘best places to work’ in the years of 2016 & 2018 respectively; and such recognition is a living proof that we work better when we work together.

LBB> I’ve always had the impression of Saudi Arabia as having a particularly distinct identity and culture. With that in mind, how helpful is it to be part of the wider McCann network - in what ways do you draw on their resources or insight?

Marc> Saudi Arabia is as big as a continent. It certainly has a distinct culture, and you can find distinctions within its different cities. Riyadh, the capital, is more conservative than the other cities, while Mekkah is considered the cradle of Islam. Jeddah, for instance, is likely to be more receptive and open due to its natural location on the Red Sea.

At McCann, we mine for meaning and for our work to be as relevant to the market we are operating in as possible. That’s how the story of McCann began with their famous slogan ‘truth well told’ launched with the company’s inception in the late 19th century. Interestingly enough this same slogan still applies today; it actually transcends time. You simply can’t go wrong when there is truth in what you do and in the narrative you are creating. This is what McCann’s ethos is founded upon.

LBB> What’s the most challenging aspect of your role, and how do you get around it?

Marc> While I can name plenty of challenges, the one that keeps me up at night is ‘consistency’. The creative industry is a volatile business and measured on the mantra of ‘you’re as good as your last piece of work’! This means that we need to deliver amazing work every day and against deadlines that are often set by the client as opposed to what they sensibly need in terms of process. 

We also shouldn’t discount the technology aspect and the pace in which this is advancing and impacting our business. Most creative agencies are trying their best in keeping up with this fast-changing world and those missing it are soon becoming obsolete. We’ve all seen the rise and fall of global brands due to their slow adoption of technology. When it comes to how we get around these issues, it’s simple. My own mantra in life is that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. My job is to inspire the team, to lift their morals when they’re down and to toast their success when at the top.

LBB> If you’d never gotten into marketing, what kind of work do you think you’d have been doing?

Marc> In truth, I wanted to become an army officer. I was very close to going down that path, but my parents made me change my mind. They pleaded with me not to! Back in those days, Lebanon’s political scene was very uncertain and unstable after going through 15 years of civil war. Lebanese from different walks of life were affected in one way or the other and my parents were like any parent, scared of losing me for some senseless cause.

LBB> Finally, it’s easy to feel quite negative when you look at the state of the world and news headlines today. How do you stay positive, and what’s been keeping you motivated throughout the past year?

Marc> The truth of the matter is that 2020 has been an unexpected year; one we could not have possibly imagined. Yet, each of us has found new ways to reflect, cooperate, and continue generating positive work. Our friends, colleagues and places of work have been a haven that has helped preserve our wellbeing, while overpowering this passing overcast. I always go back to the mantra of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ and refuse to give up.


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BIG KAHUNA FILMS Dubai, Wed, 03 Feb 2021 11:46:28 GMT