Crisis brings halt to ad industry

Lebanon's marketing and communications industry has been brought to a standstill as a result of Israel's attacks on the country, with many agency bosses making the safety of staff and their families a top priority.

Those able to move staff to operations in neighbouring countries have done so, including Beirut-based outdoor firm Pikasso and PR agency Promax.

Antonio Vincenti, CEO of Pikasso, which has operations in Jordan and Algeria, said the company had implemented an emergency plan to dispatch its staff to Amman and Algiers. He also said the company was doing what it could for staff displaced by the bombardment of southern Beirut.

"We are doing what we can to help the people who are living in the suburbs of Beirut and who were obliged to leave their homes," said Vincenti.

"We are putting together a fund, a small internal thing, to help each of them and we are putting in place our emergency plan so we can keep on working. Our operations abroad should keep on working and that is it."

Cem Arikoler, regional director of Promax, said the agency had temporarily shut its Beirut operation and moved its staff to Amman, but the majority of agencies have little choice but to stay put.

Joseph Ghossoub, CEO of The Holding Group of companies, which includes Team Y&R, Asda'a PR, and Mediaedge:cia, has 130 staff in Beirut. He said: "Where can you move? It's a complete blockade on sea, land and air so the best thing to do is to find a way to be safe and then look for alternative measures.

"I am in contact hourly with the office in Beirut. No one is homeless but some parents, or some families or relatives of the staff are in dangerous places and we're trying to help with whatever we can by moving those families to places that are safer. We are doing our best to make sure that everybody is safe, that's the most important thing that is taking most of our time."

Campaign's interview with Eddie Moutran, CEO and chairman of Memac Ogilvy, was cut short by an explosion near the agency's offices in the Sin El Fil area of Beirut. He said: "As a company we've told our staff that the offices will be open from 9am until 2pm in case they feel safe enough to come to work," he said. "It's up to them."

Some agencies are waiting to see how the crisis unfolds before making decisions on whether to implement further evacuation measures.

Dani Richa, chief creative officer MENA at Impact BBDO and managing director of the company's Lebanon operation, said: "If this continues we'll probably have plans to pull people out.

"We've had situations like this in the past. It reminds me of when Kuwait was attacked and we had to move the operation to Cyprus. So we'll be waiting a few more days to see whether that will be necessary. But for the time being we will stay where we are."

Tarek Daouk, managing director of Starcom Dubai was in Beirut on holiday when the Israeli attack started. He eventually managed to return to Dubai via Aleppo in Syria; while Elie Haber, MENA director and head of buying at MindShare, was also caught up in the crisis before escaping through Syria.

Agencies that Campaign spoke to said they were reviewing the situation on an hourly basis.

Georges Slim, COO of Lowe Pimo, said: "We have to find a solution. From now on we're living day by day to be honest with you. If this is going to drag on then we have to find a solution, and a quick solution, to be able to survive in terms of staff salaries, offices, everything. It's very bad."

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