Youssef Chahine: 'The momentum in Saudi Arabia is impressive and so is the ambition'
Posted on 2024 Jan,11

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In the ever-evolving landscape of Saudi Arabia's advertising industry, Youssef Chahine, the General Manager at PHD KSA, shares his insights in an exclusive interview with ArabAd. Against the backdrop of an extraordinary economic boom, Chahine paints a picture of unparalleled excitement and optimism permeating the ad business. With agencies expanding and competition on the rise, he explores the unique opportunities and challenges that define the Saudi market.

How would you describe the current general ad business mood in Saudi Arabia with so many agencies expanding their footprint to the kingdom, ready and hungry to seize every opportunity presented by Saudi Arabia’s booming economy? 

The level of excitement and optimism is phenomenal in every aspect, especially in the context of the economic crisis affecting many countries around the globe. Today, all eyes are on Saudi and this appetite is pushing companies to reinvent themselves to prosper and thrive in this rapidly growing market, both in terms of demand and supply. Yes, competition is growing in many aspects but there is plenty of room. The momentum is impressive and so is the ambition. Our industry is lucky and privileged to play a part in this unprecedented transformation, which we may never see again anywhere.


Any fears/apprehensions with regard to the Saudi increasingly crowded agency landscape? 

Saudi is far from being a crowded place yet; the Saudi market is much bigger than any current supply. Looking at our pace of growth, competition is not going to be a threat. The opportunities are ample enough for everyone to claim a fair share of the future. In fact, competition forces everyone to raise their game, leaving no room for mediocrity. It makes the whole marketing ecosystem better. We’re already seeing the impact of this change in the truly exceptional work being done for our clients. The IAB MENA Spend report on Digital showed that Saudi is the fastest growing digital ad market in the world. As they say, rising tides raise all ships. Our role is to make sure we rise the highest.


“The mega-projects inspired by the country’s Vision 2030 show that Saudi is no longer a market that imports ideas.”


Where do you see the biggest opportunities for agencies?

Saudi is a unique business environment and if we try to replicate the same methodologies and strategic approaches that we follow elsewhere, we will fail to realise the opportunities that the market offers. The mega-projects inspired by the country’s Vision 2030 show that Saudi is no longer a market that imports ideas. Today, the transformation is visible everywhere, in all aspects of life, presenting countless opportunities to participate. I believe that there is an incredible chance for companies of all types to present market-first creativity that will propel them to other markets and help them export their success globally.

But most importantly, what sits at the core of every successful business model, is a workforce seeded with Saudi talent that provides local knowledge, insights and inspiration, injecting relevance and authenticity in Saudi content. Omnicom is participating in the Saudi Ministry of Communications & Information Technology’s Ignite program. It has 36 initiatives to boost the digital content market, enhance its contribution to the economy, provide quality jobs and create a comprehensive digital content ecosystem. The ambition is to transform Saudi Arabia into a leader in the digital content sector by 2030. Our involvement is to advise and support on several of its initiatives, particularly in building a pipeline of digital talent. Even for ourselves, we keep investing in Saudi talent as part of a diverse workforce, regardless of gender, age or ethnicity, and stimulating their progress in their career in marketing, media, and advertising.


What specific struggles or challenges are unique to KSA ad market?

Saudi’s national culture is not carved in stone and is evolving in front of us. This can make it difficult to grasp for the untrained eye and mind. Decoding it and working with it requires a specific mindset, skills and approach that can only be achieved by choosing the right talent, be it employee or business partner. International strategies and concepts don’t always apply because Saudi flavour and relevance is an essential ingredient, so strong is the national pride. The country has evolved, first in relative isolation, and is now opening up more. We’re now able to see its full glory and let go of pre-conceptions and prejudice. We’re finding new ways to work with local creators and artists to produce the kind of content Saudis need but also with procurement and public bodies. The skill we require is being able to understand what is the same and what is different.


“Our industry is lucky and privileged to play a part in this unprecedented transformation, which we may never see again anywhere.”


What do you think agencies need the most to succeed in a market like Saudi Arabia?

Agencies that will succeed are the ones that best recognise what to learn and unlearn at each step of the process - how to communicate, how deals are done, what clients want, what audiences need and how procurement works.


How would you picture the kingdom in 10 years from now?

Every stage deserves its own show. In the last decade, we have witnessed an inspiring evolution of the GCC countries each presenting a rich array of opportunities.

Vision 2030 gives us a vivid picture of the Kingdom 10 years from now. A vibrant, diverse, and modern nation that challenges the world imagination.


What role do you see your agency playing in the overall Saudi Vision 2030?

As for our role, besides helping build this talent pipeline, we will continue to be the catalyst for our clients’ growth, to help Saudi thrive in the region and on the international stage. We understand the transformational mindset that we need to apply daily to inspire a new generation of Saudi marketers.