In an interview on the AME Awards blog, Alexander Schill and Alessandro Panella talk about creative and effective work at Serviceplan, finding innovative solutions, the importance of creative competitions and crazytivity.

2019 is already knocking on the door – new year, new trends. At the end of the year, we asked the Serviceplan Group experts about their personal trends for 2019. What’s coming next alongside influencer marketing, new work and sustainability? The communication professionals give their verdict here. Happy reading!

Of the verbal gems that turned up in the communication sector in 2018, ‘new work’ was one of the shiniest. No event and no convention passed by without evoking the concept of new work and its associated agile techniques. Across the country, countless self-proclaimed prophets and sometimes shamanic change consultants heralded the end of all work days. In the new year, it will be important to stop firing off new work as a buzzword and to use the momentum of its concept instead (because it is much more than just a word) to finally get its inherent horsepower on the road.

Anyone who only understands new work as desk sharing and the Vitralisation (with which Vitra has perfectly understood the new work concept) of office landscapes is falling short; indeed, people are underestimating new work as a profitability doctrine and should urgently read Fritjof Bergmann, whose concept actually dictates that without meaningful, collaborative and responsible work, we will be able to inspire fewer and fewer colleagues and customers in the future. The decentralisation and democratisation of the nature and structure of work is a necessary and consistent response to the increasing complexity and increasing pace of work processes due to rapid digitisation across all areas of society. New work is increasingly demanded by customers, guaranteeing faster decisions and results as well as increased processor proximity rather than silo thinking. New work increases innovation strength through interdisciplinary teams as well as participatory formats, thus becoming a true business asset. Only in this way can the competitive capacity of a company in the communications industry be secured in the long term.

The prerequisite is the recognition that the introduction of agile methods places considerable demands on colleagues and executives alike with regard to role and self-understanding, organisational processes, maintaining customer relationships, designing work environments, leadership behaviour and self-discipline. This includes changing the mindset of everyone involved – from juniors to managers. For colleagues, it is a question of a shift towards more self-initiative and personal responsibility. For the management, it means a new understanding of leadership that is defined in terms of enabling and supporting.

And when there is still the awareness that new work and agile methods cannot be top-downed by a company but instead that its establishment is an organic process based on prototyping and deep understanding of different business models – that there is not just one form of new work, but infinite facets of it – then you have left the buzzwording phase behind and the question can once again be asked: which verbal gem would we prefer to keep polishing?


This article is part of the Trends 2019 series of the Serviceplan Group.

2019 is already knocking on the door – new year, new trends. At the end of the year, we asked the Serviceplan Group experts about their personal trends for 2019. What’s coming next alongside influencer marketing, new work and sustainability? The communication professionals give their verdict here. Happy reading!

In 2019, everything is about lived flexibility. It’s about the willingness to adjust in terms of attitudes, life models, goals. Managers need to recognise that needs are becoming more fragmented, not just for customers, but for their own employees in particular. Different generations have different needs: performance-orientated remuneration or fixed salary? New work, home office or the good old assigned desk? Work-life separation and fixed structures or a preference for complete freedom?

If these questions can be answered individually, a culture of values that unites everyone can be consciously created – a culture that radiates from the inside out and creates an identification space. Only then do strong brands fulfil their main task – and bring everyone together under one roof.


This article is part of the Trends 2019 series of the Serviceplan Group.

At the “International Roadshow 2018: China Insights” in Munich Bernard Wong, Managing Director Serviceplan China Shanghai, and Marcus Ma, Managing Director Serviceplan China Beijing, talked about apps and what brands can learn from them. The article sums up some insights they gave.

You’re probably sick of hearing it again and again. This buzz word that’s always mentioned in the same breath as the digital transformation. Sometimes the disruption takes the form of a threatening scenario, sometimes as a utopia of unlimited possibilities – depending on who takes on the topic or for whom the message is intended. This is almost always accompanied by the urgent plea that we must step things up at the forefront of the digital transformation. The basic tenet is that we require more disruptive technologies. We require more disruptive business models. So let’s get on with it! Come on all you corporations, medium-sized businesses and startups!

But focussing on disruptive technologies can quickly lead to tunnel vision

There is no question that disruptive technologies and business models can be a powerful source of value creation. But what the current discussion fails to address is that, besides the phenomenon of disruptive technologies, there are two further starting points for disruption, which also carry a high value-added potential in themselves – and which are in the limelight much less frequently. Interestingly, these three disruption potentials are strongly interconnected, and so I have coined the term “Disruption Triad” – a triad of technology, organisation and people.

It is important to understand the mechanisms of this triad in order to fully exploit the wealth of value inherent in disruptive technologies. Because, at the end of the day, a new technology only reaches its full value creation potential if there are actors (the people) and areas of action (the organisation) that make it possible. As technology advocate and Harvard professor Vivek Wadhwa puts it so well: “Technologies like Blockchain, AI and peer-to-peer are just buzzwords. What counts is developing real solutions.”

As such, we need people who are able to anticipate the future and who have learned to practise disrupting their own thinking – without tumbling into a state of panic. True to Friedrich Hebbel’s assertion: “It often requires more courage to change your mind than to remain true to it.”

In order for these people to be effective in their role as value-creation catalysts, they need to operate under the right conditions. As such, organisations are also called upon to question their beliefs and decision criteria, which may have led to a silo mentality, long-winded decision processes and unproductive activity. Consequently, disruption of the classical organisational structure and culture is also a very important lever on the way to a digital future that safeguards value creation.

Beliefs really are very subtle

So far so good. Maybe you think you’re on the right track because new work is already on your agenda. Before you start patting yourself on the back, let’s delve a little deeper into the subject. The beliefs of individuals and organisations have a very subtle effect – an external observer is usually required in order to uncover them.

Take, for example, the question “How does an organisation assess good work and make this assessment visible?” In a Tayloristic system, the hierarchy and a portfolio of status symbols are used (the size of the individual’s office, which company car they have, who is invited to which internal events, etc.). In an agile, self-organised organisational unit you won’t find any of this – sometimes not even titles.

When an organisation now serves both worlds – often referred to as ambidexterity – it is exciting to see how the old Tayloristic approaches continue to work. An employee of a large traditional company recently formulated their observations as follows: “The realities surrounding self-organisation of large companies can sometimes be absurd. Particularly where non-hierarchical structures meet top management, the degradation game that takes place isn’t very subtle. The question arises as to whether employees in agile models – alongside female managers – represent a new minority in everyday corporate life with low acceptance.”

This simple example shows how powerful beliefs are. And how important it is to track them down and ‘reprogramme’ them in the sense of a cultural change. Even the best disruptive technology is useless if it is met with counter-productive attitudes and views.

But this is not only a task for the much-discussed cultural change in organisations. At the individual level, we are also challenged to deal with our own value and coordinate system and to critically question established opinions and points of view (our own and those of others). Collective cultural change is made up of a multitude of individual contributions.

The triad of disruptions broken down into a simple formula

When it comes to finding a common denominator for a holistic approach to disruption that best describes the innovation triad of technology, organisation and people, this proverb hits the nail on the head:

We sow a thought and harvest an action.
We sow an action and harvest a habit.
We sow a habit and harvest a character.
We sow a character and harvest a destiny.

Or to summarise it even further: “Matter follows mind” (Einstein).

So it is not superficially our actions, but our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that shape the future. Einstein’s maxim applies to individuals, organisations, and nations alike – and ultimately to all of humanity. Thus, our future is not left to fate, but can be consciously shaped by disruptive thinking.

Value creation is the foundation of our prosperity. It ensures the future viability of our society as well as the peaceful coexistence of humankind. For our own good, this resource should not be used lightly. So let’s cultivate disruptive thinking together – in ourselves and in our companies. For the common good!

P.S. If you still have doubts about the effect of thoughts and words, I recommend the three-minute film “Words can be weapons“. This should take care of any remaining doubts you may have. Promised.

Let yourself be enticed for just a moment. 

Perhaps you have made a comfortable life for yourself. Thinking about your pension. Your favourite TV show on Sundays. Parents’ evenings and taking your clothes to the charity shop. Perhaps earlier today you were in the doctor’s waiting room, mindlessly flipping through the pages of a magazine from last year. Perhaps you unexpectedly found yourself with some time. On the train home when you entered a network dead zone. Or when you were mowing the lawn or cleaning the stairs. When you missed out on rolls at the bakery around the corner or found that the supermarket had closed for the night. Perhaps you were even a bit annoyed. When your children’s teachers are always off sick. Or when the council shut down your local chip shop. Or when your neighbour had your car towed because they thought you had bumped into theirs.
When you were reading the cryptic statements from your tax consultant. Well, attempted to read. Or the development plan for your community. Or when you found out that your favourite hairdresser is fully booked for the next nine months.

But, if you also have a thirst for adventure: Get on board.

Rediscover your lust for life.
In a city that is breathtakingly different.
Where tedium is the exception, where life stories, origins and history don’t matter.
Except now you’re not just here for a few days, you’re not going to Broadway or to the Empire State Building. You’re here to work. You’re now one of the many choosing to start their life over.
You find inspiration in the optimism, the victories and the fighting spirit of those who have left their country to reinvent themselves here in New York. No more moaning, no more “I don’t feel like it today”, no more procrastination.

Instead, make a new start and discover high-level competition, but with a feeling of solidarity with your competitors. A bit like the Olympics when the athletes hug each other after a hard run. When your personal achievement benefits from its surroundings. When you broaden your horizons, expand your personal radar further than ever and shift your focus forwards instead of backwards. When you embrace new experiences and are stimulated by diversity.
Then you’ll know that you’ve arrived in New York.

Not that everything is better here.
But with each passing day, you will get better.

Things will get easier and you will go the extra mile.
Next time, between the monotony of tea and biscuits, politics and your cleaning routine, take the plunge instead: New York it!!!

Virtual is real

Mohamad Jawhar, Executive Creative Director of Serviceplan Group Middle East, shares his views on the application of Virtual Reality and how the technology can be positively harnessed by creative marketers for highly effective campaigns.

Virtual Reality is here to stay and is very quickly moving beyond a “cool technology” that an entire campaign rests on, to become a valuable component in integrated communications. The question is, how can we harness the full commercial potential of VR, so it’s not simply a gimmick, but an effective tool for engagement with consumers, resulting in stellar sales success? Read more

Sandra Loibl, Executive Creative Director at Serviceplan Campaign in Munich, talks about being on the Dubai Lynx Jury for Promo & Activation, Outdoor, Interactive and Mobile category. Serviceplan Group Middle East are an official sponsor of Dubai Lynx, the biggest festival in the Middle East and North Africa region for the creative communications industry. She also gives some interesting insights into the empowerment of women in the region.

Whoever’s been on a trip to the Middle East, instantly has a pretty solid idea in mind hearing these two words together. You too, right?

Anybody, who has the chance to visit Dubai and the other Emirates nowadays, can immediately kiss this antiquated notion goodbye. That’s because the model of femininity is subject to constant change in this region – which is certainly a good thing.

The same goes for camels. They represent – more by coincidence than by definition – the creative change. As a member of the jury, I couldn’t ignore the “camelpower” idea by Nissan. Pure genius. Just to give you a little heads up: Camelpower became the creative power of the Middle East. Nissan simply developed a new measuring unit or rather activity unit for off-road vehicles. Not outdated horse power but C-A-M-E-L-P-O-W-E-R. Who might have a use for horses in the desert anyway? Together with National Geographic, Nissan took a highly scientific approach to develop the “camel-power-unit”. An idea, which could have only originated in this region and yet is so simple, that one can understand it anywhere in the world.

Even I, being a woman who doesn’t have a clue about cars, gets it! Didn’t we say, we’d stop using prejudices? It seems a lot has changed in the Middle East. At the Dubai Lynx Festival, there were a lot of brilliant ideas concerning the empowerment of women in this region. And again, I have to mention Nissan. #shedrives is a wonderful idea, about the fact that “women are finally allowed to drive”. Emotional, relevant and really well executed. “Bridal uniform” is an idea devoted to the terrible topic of forced marriage among under aged girls in Pakistan – with a fashion show. A supermarket chain even changed its former male dominated branding into a female one. Ladies and gentlemen, raise your hats.

Making a long story short: the creative ideas from this region make a strong and believable statement for equality. Ideas not only for NGOs but for real brands. I think this is really great and mind changing. Even Coke celebrates the fact that women are allowed to go to concerts. with a brilliantly crafted print ad. All this using their very own brand claim “taste the feeling”. Feels fantastic!

Thanks, Dubai. Thanks, Middle East. For ideas, that can truly make a difference. And also, for a great jury with exceptionally gifted creatives from all around the world who communicate, discuss, convince and allow themselves to be convinced. I’m having tons of funs being part of this the creative process, which is also a process of awakening for us western thinkers – male and female.


This article was first published on

It can be daunting for a mid-sized company when entering a new international market. Especially so when entering a region as diverse and fragmented as the Middle East. However, no matter where you go around the world, you can’t just copy and paste a strategy that has worked well elsewhere and expect it to succeed in a different market. With digital channels becoming more and more essential in today’s business landscape, here are some key aspects to consider for your digital strategy when entering a new region.

1. Be aware of the competitive digital landscape! Consider having a local website.

You’d be surprised how many companies come to the Middle East and don’t create a region-specific website. Nothing will frustrate your customers more than not being able to find simple information about you when searching online like basic product details, your location and contact information, opening hours etc. According to a recent Gartner report, only 15% of businesses in the region have an online presence. This is quite low hanging fruit, so make creating a local mobile-responsive website your first port of call when entering a new market. Don’t forget to include an Arabic language option for the content on your site, too.

2. Understand your target group’s online search behaviour! Local Keyword Optimization is key.

Speaking of customers searching for you online, it’s important to realize how people’s search behaviour differs around the world. It is essential to treat each market separately when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Conducting simple localized keyword searches around topics related to your product or services is a must, as well as doing so for the Arabic language also as the most highly-searched keywords can differ across languages. Don’t forget to include the local country in the meta tags of each of the web pages in the process, and make sure to create business listing pages on Google for your head office and retail locations. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find out about you online.

3. Get ready for a pioneering social media ecosystem! Reach your target group on Social Media.

With almost 50% of the people living in the Middle East region being under the age of 30, it’s no surprise that social media is incredibly popular here as a form of expression and communication. In such a diverse region, visual channels such as Instagram and Snapchat have become especially popular in recent years as a way of propagating a common visual language. Similarly with video content. YouTube is the most used social platform for video consumption in the region. Saudi Arabia, with a staggering 90+ million active daily video views, has even surpassed the USA to become the #1 consumer of content on this platform!

The Middle East as a region is built on respect for people and culture. Whilst most markets in the region have been adopting a more relaxed approach to social content, countries like Saudi Arabia have far stricter rules regarding the type of messages and imagery that can be leveraged. Despite, or maybe because of that fact, User-Generated Content (UGC) is an extremely popular form of content that brands here try to encourage. The Middle East also has its own community of super-influencers who use Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube to collaborate with brands and communicate a more relatable, yet personal story. This could be a relevant approach to consider when entering a market in the region.

4. Learn how consumers shop online! eCommerce continues to grow.

While some markets around the world embraced online shopping more than 20 years ago, the Middle East has been somewhat slower to join in. Up until recently, most purchases made online would be paid for in cash on delivery as many customers remained sceptical of paying online. This has changed over the past 5 years, with more and more businesses accepting online payments and customers finally feeling comfortable with handing over their credit card information to companies online.

Amazon’s acquisition of Dubai-based in 2017 was a boon for the region and signals a validation of the concept of eCommerce here in general. According to the Middle East-based online payment platform PayFort, the eCommerce market here is set to double to more than $69 billion by 2020 with the UAE accounting for $27 billion of that and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia $22 billion, making them by far the two largest eCommerce markets in the Middle East. Food for thought when considering whether or not to facilitate online payments on your local website.

5. Be prepared for your market’s technological fluency! Don’t forget about tech adoption.

In case all of the above didn’t convince you of the importance of a localized digital strategy in the Middle East, maybe these statistics will! Even though many people around the world might consider the Middle East to be a region sticking to its traditions – the population is surprisingly tech-savvy.

Middle Easterners are a very well-connected bunch with more mobile connections here than there are people (128%), higher than in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Africa. Smartphone penetration is exceptionally high here. At 80.6%, the UAE has the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world according to Newzoo’s 2017 Global Mobile Market Report. Saudi Arabia is not far behind at 65.2%.

When it comes to internet penetration, UAE (99%), Qatar (99%) and Kuwait (98%) are the three highest ranked countries in the world according to the 2018 Hootsuite & We Are Social Global Digital Report. Mobile internet usage in particular is very high, with Saudi Arabia (64%) and UAE (61%) in the top 12 countries globally when it comes to using a smartphone as opposed to a computer to access the internet (StatCounter). Make sure your communication is mobile-friendly.

Last but not least:

While it might seem like a lot to take in, you should consider digital channels as an opportunity rather than a challenge to overcome when entering a new market such as the Middle East. Understanding the region with its 17 countries and how the consumers use digital technology in their day-to-day lives can help you build up a loyal customer base and create a solid foundation for future success.

The formulated essential pillars are representing our knowledge and digital communication experience for a successful market entry in terms of brand and product communication for SMEs.
We, the Serviceplan Group Middle East, are giving an overview of the region, it’s opportunities and challenges not only during insightful business events, but also to people and brands who would like to learn more about it. We summarized our findings in a booklet about the region, which we are more than happy to share with you! Please get in touch by sending an email to

Unfortunately, top men in advertising these days are a lot less chauvinistic and self-absorbed. Gone are the mad men days of pompous egos and flannel suits, of dry witticisms and cynical arrogance oozing from the Roger Sterlings and the Don Drapers of this world. Instead, we see ad men strutting around with undeniable charisma and sensible charms, making it all the more difficult for women to break the proverbial glass ceiling as men continue to dominate the industry’s ruling seats.

Indeed, there is much talk about gender diversity in advertising, about empowering women to take control of the helms; but truth is, there is hardly any effort and scarcely any evidence of progress in this topic. Women continue to be relegated to positions – albeit high enough in the corporate ladder – still subordinate to male leadership. It is as if women have the power to create, to curate, to cast visions and to launch the brightest of ideas, but men must have the final signature that seals the deal on the much-coveted dotted lines.

If anything, it’s a classic fairy tale retold in the language of today’s social world. The knights in shining armor go out to conquer the lands, while the all too capable damsels are left “protected” within the castle walls, abuzz with their crafts but far from the battles that make and break kings and fiefdoms.

Top roles in advertising are no different. You see a throng of men charging into client boardrooms, flanked by a handful of women who will eventually find themselves positioned a few seats down the round as the men embark on their pitch rhetoric. At the end of the session, you would have heard much from the men, but very little from the women who are merely there to hold the fort, to ensure that all of the client’s feedback and verbatim comments are taken into full account and addressed in painstaking detail back in the drawing boards.

Whether we like it or not, we must admit that such is the blatant and pathetic case still running the rounds in client and agency boardrooms these days. I should know; and I can definitely recount those pivotal instances when I would get quizzical stares from both men and women across the room as I would take control of a front seat, and later engage the audience with a piece of my mind.
While I would see my audience eventually warming up in the end, I would often leave such boardrooms with a desolate feeling inside.

For the rest of the crew, the battle is definitely centered on getting the agency’s product and ideas bought, but for a woman like me, the battle is to get heard and taken seriously in the first place. Again, it doesn’t help that the men in my team are sensible and charismatic in their own right, effortlessly winning clients with a genuine passion for their craft. My battle is psychological.

If we are to truly take women empowerment in advertising seriously, I say it should start with a change of perspective, both within agency flanks and within client circles. Ad agencies should start recognizing that the industry is now being shaped by the amount of relevant creative content our highly social, always-on audiences are clamoring for.

Women are the best creators of such content. They are insightful bloggers, they write a whole lot and articulate themselves well. They are a lot more engaged, creating and curating content, and interacting with other created and curated content. Advertising today is no longer about pushing out ads in Mad Men fashion, it is a lot more about how content is effortlessly crafted and where content is seamlessly served to which audiences.

Women are natural at these, so much so that agencies who recognize that advertising has shifted from ad views to content consumption are those who would eventually put women at the helm, knowing that women are at home in such a habitat.

Clients should look beyond Mad Men charms and start recognizing high-heeled substance. Women are creators in as much as they are orators. They too can brandish flags as they charge on to battle in the front lines. If at all, they are quick to make critical decisions on the fly.

In this region’s game of thrones, I believe women in advertising are being defined less and less by the titles they wield, but more and more by the weight of their more substantial words in a boardroom full of grey suits.


This article was first published in Campaign Magazine Middle East.