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In the hot seat: Hubert Boulos, CEO DDB Middle East

Hubert Boulos on advertising, versatility and transforming an organisation

Hubert Boulos brings over 20 years of advertising experience to his role as CEO at DDB Middle East. After training in law in the US, he built his career in advertising in France before moving to the MENA region in 2005. Following the success of our Global Power Book #PRProSeries, we continue the series exploring the careers of the most powerful communications pros around the world today. Nikki Samson, Senior Consultant at Hanson Search MENA, sits down with Hubert to find out how he made it in the industry.

Why did you get into advertising?

Because it was all about passion. I am a lawyer by training and when I graduated I was qualified to work for a law firm in the US. However, I realised that I couldn’t because I had no passion for it. My passion was communications. So, I went into advertising which is something I’ve never regretted. It doesn’t feel like a job to me. I’ve never worked in my life, in my opinion. That’s what got me in and what keeps me in the industry.

What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?

Versatility. In French, versatility is negative but in English I think it’s OK. It’s about being able to adapt and change. I never wanted to be a specialist. I could have had a very linear career doing the same thing for life but this was never what I wanted. I wanted to understand many different categories. That’s what helped me the most, as I later moved to planning advertising, and there I got to touch every single category. That’s helped me a lot because in the end the biggest challenge is getting new business. The more categories you know, the easier it is to get new business. I think that being very determined has also helped. If you don’t know where you’re taking the brands you’re entrusted with, it’s unlikely you’ll be successful.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

I’ve faced many, but perhaps the biggest was joining DDB as when I arrived I had to turn around a very difficult situation. It was about transforming an organisation. DDB is one of the best names of the industry and making sure that we performed in Dubai was a big challenge, especially as the company was already in a challenging stage when I arrived. How do you fix that while staying loyal to the DDB brand and values? This was made even more difficult by the market conditions when I joined. Transforming an organisation is within your control. Transforming a market situation is not.

Who is the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?

I’ve never worked with him, but I’m very inspired by Jeff Goodby of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. He is the most inspiring person as he’s still in the business, and he reassures me, because I agree with 100% of the things he says including not buying all the hoopla around technology over ideas. Amongst the people with whom I have worked I would say that Renaud Degon whom I met while at McCann in Paris (he was the head of planning there back then) is my biggest inspiration. He is the best planner and best new business planner I have ever come across. He made me a planner and he showed me how to win big in new business

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t ever count on your global network. Your business is you; you have to fight and get your own business. If your agency simply relies on global accounts, it is very difficult to grow something sustainable.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be in the region in the next two years?

I think that there are way too many brands. The challenge now will be for the strongest ones to rise, and the weakest ones to fall – survival of the fittest. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a market with so many brands. In France, there’s room for only one or two fast food chains. Here, there is a smaller population and yet there are ten brands. How is that possible? All this will mean that the region will get more competitive and that is something that I Iook forward to.

What three words best describe you?

International. Passionate. Determined.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the advertising industry?

Be passionate about it. There is still decent money, but you need to be patient. People today expect amazing careers immediately, but it is still so important to be patient and follow your passion.

— Are you looking for your dream role?

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Author: Nikki Samson

Nikki has over twenty years of experience in 360 integrated marcoms, having worked in the corporate world both in-house and in agencies for international groups in Paris and Dubai.

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