Natasha Maasri on Making a Difference in a Time of Crisis
Posted on 2021 May,17  | By Iain Akerman

Returning to Lebanon has been a baptism of fire for Leo Burnett Beirut’s executive creative director, Natasha Romariz Maasri, but she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Natasha Romariz Maasri is laughing on the other end of a Zoom call, amusingly trying to answer why she returned to Lebanon. I often ask myself the same question,” she says, another laugh escaping. “But its been a blessing in disguise because being away from my family at such a time would have been very difficult.”

    Maasri, the executive creative director of Leo Burnett Beirut, couldn’t have asked for a more challenging environment in which to begin her first creative leadership role. She arrived in the midst of a revolution, only for the country’s economic, social and political reality to spiral rapidly out of control.

“It’s made everything a million times harder,” she admits. “But at the same time – and I was actually thinking about this recently – it’s been like a management boot camp, you know? I really needed to take care of the people, I needed to make things work, I needed to keep the balance between people’s sanity and getting the work done, so it was like being thrown in at the deep end. I kind of feel like I can do anything now after I survived this year.”

   Initially the plan had been for Maasri to be given the freedom to reconfigure the creative department in whatever way she saw fit. That became obsolete almost immediately, with the country’s economic crisis, the global pandemic, and then the port explosion throwing everything into disarray. Instead, she has had to reorganise, inspire, grow the team from within, and try to install a renewed sense of passion and purpose in her team.

“What I’m trying to do is get people excited again, passionate again,” she says. “Honestly, there’s something about the type of ideas that come out of Lebanon – there’s so much heart to them. I just want to reconnect people with that whole ‘you know guys, we can actually create a great amount of difference with communication’.”

   Half Lebanese, half Brazilian, Maasri had been away from her family for the best part of eight years, working in Rio de Janeiro and New York, before returning to Lebanon in November 2019. By chance she had bumped into Bechara Mouzannar, the former chief creative officer at Publicis Communications MEA, at Cannes in the summer of the same year. He asked her to return to Beirut and she accepted, not only because it gave her the opportunity to lead a creative department for the first time, but because “I felt deep down inside that I just wanted to be closer to my family”.

   It’s been a strange and perhaps unsettling baptism of fire for a woman who began her advertising career at Leo Burnett Beirut back in 2005. After the explosion she had to write one of the hardest and weirdest emails of her career, telling her team that each and every one of them, herself included, was going to deal with the repercussions of the blast in different ways. “Some people needed more responsibility, other people needed to be pulled back a bit, others needed to change accounts or be given a little more time,” she says. “I was trying to treat every single person in my team as an individual and to find whatever it was that was going to inspire them. I’m just trying to build and inspire and really make it fun again.

“And it’s been working, you know. We’ve been able to do a couple of very interesting campaigns and some of the team tell me this is a place where they can come and forget everything that’s happening outside, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. Focus on the work, focus on trying to do great stuff. I’m starting to see that little glimmer of flames coming back, which actually makes me super happy.”


Honestly, there’s something about the type of ideas that come out of Lebanon – there’s so much heart to them.


One of those glimmering flames was undoubtedly Abaad’s collaboration with Remi Akl – Baklava Got Legs – which won the grand prix for good at the Dubai Lynx in April. Developed as part of the agencys Safety For Safekeeperscampaign for Abaad, it also picked up two golds and a string of other awards.

   So, no regrets?

“No actually,” replies Maasri. “I mean, I have to remind myself sometimes because it does get very difficult, even from a psychological kind of headspace situation. Living in Lebanon has really not been easy and it’s been harder than all the other times, but it’s not only difficult for me, it’s difficult for everybody that lives here. Everybody wants to leave but I still feel like I can do things here. I feel like its a place that I can actually make a difference.

“I want to create more global work and bring visibility back to the country because I also feel like it’s my civic duty, you know. This is what I can do to help with my profession – shine a spotlight back on the country. We have great people and advertising is not only a window for advertising talent, it’s also for directors, musicians, DOPs, for the whole entertainment industry. I know it’s a huge ambition, but you gotta dream, right?”