26 Questions with Dentsu Aegis MENA’s CEO Tarek Daouk

The digital and content marketing pioneer takes our questions on building a next generation agency – and more

September 20, 2018

26 Questions with Dentsu Aegis MENA’s CEO Tarek Daouk

For almost two decades, Tarek Daouk has been at the centre of innovation in media, content, and digital media in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). He built Starcom Mediavest Group into an early leader in the space, launched innovative new business models such as the content agency LiquidThread and landed Cannes Lions and other awards. Now, as the CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network for MENA, he’s committed to creating a true next generation agency, where experience design draws together creative, media, data and content to engage audiences like never before.

Tarek took time out from that mission to tackle LinkedIn’s 26 Questions – our unique quick-fire interview that puts agency leaders on the spot about everything from media transparency, social media and big data to irrational hatreds and zombie apocalypses. Here’s his expert take on the state of media and marketing today:

1.    What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I had lemon water and a banana at 5:30 before working out. Then, I had eggs and a bowl of fruit after.

2.    What’s the last great thing you binge-watched and why?
Money Heist on Netflix. My first Spanish TV series. It has a great cast and a captivating storyline.

3.    What’s the industry buzzword that annoys you the most these days?
Machine learning. It is improving the quality of our decision making and will do so more in the future. However, it is being misused by some people, either to sell something or to hide something.  

4.    Where do you stand on the media agency transparency debate at the moment
The transparency part is about contractually agreed terms. The important debate is about a fair compensation model that allows an agency to continue doing its best work and adding value to its clients’ businesses.

5.    What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?
The American Quarter by Jabbour Douaihy. He’s one of Lebanon’s greatest modern writers. 

6.    What’s your favourite vacation spot?
Anywhere in Africa. It’s my favourite continent. Mozambique is a hidden gem. 

7.    What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?
The pace of work is much faster and decision-making is much more complex. There are so many more touchpoints, creating a data overload, and it’s an ongoing challenge to adapt the creative work to people’s attention span and varying interests.   

8.    How have you (and your agency) adapted?
We have simplified the process for our clients, giving them a single point of contact to a team of specialists in the areas that matter to them. Also, we’re focusing more on advanced analytics capabilities. Investing in the right tools and data means our specialists can recommend the right actions at the right times.

9.    What’s your proudest moment in business?
The one that stands out is when I joined the Leo Burnett media team in Beirut in 1999. I didn’t know much about advertising back then. It started my journey in this fascinating world of creativity and reason.

10.  In life?
There are many. It happens every day as my wife and I watch our kids grow into ambitious, kind, and tolerant people

11.  What’s the most important way that social media have changed how companies reach their audiences?
Targeting is definitely better. However, I think the biggest impact (yet to happen) will be on the creative process. Social media platforms need to open their data walls to creative teams to inspire brilliant ideas.

12.  Digital ad spending is poised to surpass TV ad spending. Is this a problem for agencies or an opportunity?
What do you consider services like Netflix, Shahid, and WAVO? Digital or TV? The line is blurred between the internet and linear TV. This is a fantastic opportunity for all the creators in the Middle East to reach their fans. However, the challenge remains monetization.  

13.  What is attractive to you about living in Dubai?
Dubai is the city of hope. I go around every day, meet people, and feel hopeful, despite everything that is happening in the world around us.

14.  How has the availability of data changed marketing (or not)?
We always had some data available to inform our decisions. Now, it’s a continuous flow. This has enabled us to predict success, assess results, and change our course much faster if needed. We no longer have to wait until events are over, in order to optimize our actions.

15.  How do you use LinkedIn?
I use it as one of my main content aggregators. I access it daily to find meaningful articles I’m interested in.

16.  How do you use LinkedIn advertising for your clients, and what’s working well for them?
We find it particularly interesting from a targeting point of view. We can assess people’s life stages through LinkedIn; when they have a new job, a promotion or have moved to a new city, for example. We can then connect them with relevant services and products from our clients.

17.  What is your top-secret superpower?
I like to think I am good at reading people, but I wish I could more literally read their minds.

18.  Who should play you in the movie version of your life?
I don’t think Hollywood will rush into it.

19.   If you weren't at Dentsu Aegis Network what would you be doing?
I would have loved to organize scuba diving expeditions.

20.  What do you have an irrational hatred for?
Arrogance. As Tyrion Lannister says, “every fool loves to hear that he’s important”.

21.  Best movies ever?
Pulp Fiction

22.  What did you want to be when you grew up?
Typically, a doctor

23.  What's your most annoying habit?
I might have many. My attention span is not my best quality.

24.  How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?
I met many zombies in my life. Usually, normal and sane people prevail.

25.  What jobs did you have at school and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?
I did many jobs when I was young: I waitered, I ushered, and I gave private lessons at school. I learned to have dignity and pride in everything I do.

26.  What are you most looking forward to this year?
Keep smiling.