Here comes a very PERSONAL INSIGHT in how TILL HOHMANN, Executive Creative Officer of Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, is BUILDING IDEAS FROM OIL, why CREATIVES IN ARABIA are the CHERRY ON THE CAKE and Dubai is a DIFFICULT HAVEN, how the ARABIAN CREATIVE SCENE feels like, why his European CREATIVE HEART is sometimes BLEEDING and why some of the biggest things in life are best decided by the GUTS.
If OSSAMA called you on a Saturday morning asking you to hop on a plane and meet him in a Londoner hotel lobby, what would you do? If your name is TILL HOHMANN, you hop on the plane, meet the guy and a month later you open the door to YOUR NEW OFFICE IN DUBAI.
View out of Till’s office
In 2007 Till Hohmann left behind good old Europe for an unusual task: he was asked TO TURN OIL INTO IDEA BUSINESS. Or formally said: bring the Arabic offices of Memac Ogilvy & Mather on an international level. Do it for the strategic as well as for the creative part. And DO IT QUICK.
Two years later, Till Hohmann has become what I would call an “EYE”. An eye with a European shaped pupil that is absorbing the creative potential in the Middle East and then reflecting it with an Arabian shaped pupil.
FROM HAMBURG TO DESERT – THE BEGINNING
TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE DAY WHEN OSSAMA INVITED YOU TO LONDON
It was in March 07, when a HEADHUNTER contacted me. At the time I was working at Jung von Matt Neckar in a very strong interactive unit and I loved the challenge to work with both, traditional and interactive teams on very interesting projects (Mercedes-Benz, EnBW interactive football platform, bigFM…). ALL WAS GOING WELL. So when the infamous call came my wife and me did not really make too much of it. We decided to fly over together – if the interview turned out to be the expected let down, we still would have had a NICE DAY IN LONDON.
We flew in early in the day. I remember us walking around Theater District on this cold, but beautiful sunny day. And then, after lunch, I MET OSSAMA. To this day I like to think that some other people were paying close attention to this meeting, as the name and the setup simply would get any SPY in the Western World alerted.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO LEAVE FOR DUBAI?
SOME OF THE BIGGEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE BEST DECIDED BY THE GUTS. From the first moment I met Ossama, I felt a great deal of real interest and WARMHEARTED OPENNESS. We had a very pleasant conversation about the great ambition of this regional network to change into a MODERN COMMUNICATION HOUSE. EDDIE MOUTRAN, the founder and CEO of Memac, had identified the need to strengthen the regional network on every level. Why? The market had seen dramatic changes. Especially the Gulfregion was seeing an unprecedented BOOM. Global capital was flowing in. The population was and is growing. Multinational companies needed modern communication solutions and a much STRONGER CREATIVE PRODUCT.
THUS MY INTEREST ROSE. And when I left, I left with a very confident feeling that this was a very serious offer. One that would be out in the open, international, multicultural, integrated and interesting. My wife later said that the look on my face upon my return already told her: WE ARE GOING TO DUBAI.
By the way: I keep saying WE – this is deliberate: it is not a decision that can only be based on my personal business interests, it is a MARRIED team effort.
LIFE IN DUBAI
WHAT DOES DUBAI TO AN EUROPEAN SOUL?
DUBAI IS A DIFFICULT HAVEN. A melting pot that is cold. It is a TRANSITORY place. Whilst it gives everyone who comes here a tremendous amount of freedom and opportunities, it certainly does not welcome expats forever. Residency is limited to people with working contracts, so there is no drive to “melt” into a new, shared society. But: the experience of living and working with PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE GLOBE still is an unique one – sometimes ENCHANTING, sometimes DEMANDING, sometimes PUZZLING.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL “AT HOME” IN DUBAI
OUR HOME. Meaning: the fact that we moved out here with all our belongings and did not opt for the very ROUGH EXPAT STYLE, leaving all things behind. In a place with a dramatic speed of change, a large amount of superficial encounters and many short-lived thrills, it is important to have a private place to ESCAPE to.
HOW DO YOUR DUBAI WEEKENDS LOOK LIKE?
First of all: THE WEEKEND IS FRIDAY AND SATURDAY – which on its own takes some getting used to. Friday is spent relaxing, as five days of intercultural creative management are quite a drain. We do not partake in the OBNOXIOUS EXPATS EVENTS such as Champagne brunches or drinking binges. We try and find places that give us new insights, a better understanding for the region and its people. We like to travel to see the “REAL” Middle East – something that Dubai can no longer provide for all its cosmopolitan BLING.
WHICH EXPERIENCE HAD THE STRONGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
Dubai forces you TO RETHINK your own OPENNESS TO CHANCE. The SHEER SPEED of development is something to be admired. Just think: any local person that is older then 50 grew up in a tent. It is stunning to see how people manage to adopt completely new behaviors, techniques and ways of doing business in such a short time.
VISIONARY LEADERSHIP – along with some very good consultants – have made this HOT, ARID, ANTI-HUMAN place become a modern metropolis.
AN EUROPEAN CREATIVE IN ARABIA
WORKING AS A GERMAN CREATIVE IN ARABIA – WHAT IS DIFFERENT?
MY DAILY WORK DIFFERS 100% and then again NOT AT ALL. We have the same hot topics as anywhere in the world. BUT: We have to BALANCE the very different approaches, working ethics, creative practices and tastes of a MULTINATIONAL team. We got the German view, the British view, The Lebanese view, the Brazilian view, the South African view, the Egyptian view…
This leads to an INTERESTING DYNAMIC: first we need to negotiate how to work together in general, then we need to negotiate how to work for the Arabic market.
IN TERMS OF CREATIVE OUTPUT – WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE?
One of some: the BIGGEST TALENTS STILL TEND TO LEAVE THE REGION. A constant CREATIVE BRAIN DRAIN sees great designers, photographers and filmmakers go to Europe or other places. If you flip through the wonderful book “Arabesque” by DIE GESTALTEN Verlag, you will notice that many of the artists are actually not based in the Middle East. It is a shame, because these brains, their CULTURALLY ROOTED ABILITIES are what we need most to improve our creative output.
IS DUABI AN INSPIRATIONAL CITY?
In a way it is DISILLUSIONED INSPIRATION.It inspires in the sense of “LOOK WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH MONEY”. But when it comes to the finer notions, to the deeply emotional or even artistic inspiration, I find Dubai to be RATHER FLAT.
For me Dubai is really more about giving you a generally different feeling about life, work, society and the surprisingly basic, raw and unforgiving HUNGER FOR PERSONAL WEALTH. It makes you realize that the finer, cultured and sophisticated approaches are not really needed to make a place work.
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THAT?
STEPPING OUT OF THIS CASH-DRIVEN ENVIRONMENT, is something needed to gain a different view. I literally mean: getting out of the city. Camping in the desert underneath the bright starry skies or on deserted beaches in Oman. Going to the old centers like Damascus, Beirut or Nizwa. This is where the POST-MODERN European is more likely to find inspiration.
WHAT KIND OF PERSONAL LEARNINGS WILL YOU TAKE HOME?
I’M NOT A BORN TRAVELLING EXPAT FOR LIFE. The need for cultural roots as a basis for my creativity is much bigger than I would have thought. Our modern environment demands that we are flexible. Communication tools make us believe that we can be anywhere in the world and still be close. But I do not really believe that such an UPROOTED, FLUID STATE OF LIFE AND MIND is actually what we are meant for.
Here is something that the Arabic world can actually teach us. Just because you are changing and you are adopting more modern ways doesn’t mean that you have to flush all your traditions, beliefs and grown values down the drain. Maybe this PARADOX OF PARALLELS is the biggest thing I have learned.
THE ARABIAN CREATIVE SCENE
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF CREATIVE PEOPLE IN ARABIA?
Having ideas and being a visionary leader is regarded as a very good trait. Yet: NONE OF THIS IS ABOUT A REVOLUTION of the idea of the family, the collective or the leadership. In the West, creativity is often seen as a more or less firm discontent for the existing social patterns which results in the development of an alternative model, style, trend. Creativity as an almost violent accelerator of change is not really understood or wanted in the Arab world. It is less about revolution. It is less about HEDONISM. It is less about being RADICAL.
WHICH LEADS TO A DIFFERENT VIEW OF THE “CREATIVE PERSON”…
The creative person still is mainly seen as a DECORATOR and ARTIST. Someone for the lighthearted areas of life. After the big deals are made and business has taken place, the creative is the ICING ON THE CAKE, the cherry on the top.
HOW DOES THE CREATIVE SCENE CONNECT?
In the most cities in the Middle East, there is a scene and the players are very well connected. However in Dubai we again see the effects of the “imported workforce”. Here, the creatives are not really well connected. BUT CHANCE IS HAPPENING. This month I became founding member of the DUBAI CREATIVE CLUB. A club for Creative Directors. It aims to give the creative community a voice and organizing the networking a lot more. We will see – maybe the DUBAI ADC IN THE MAKING …
THANK YOU TILL!
PIC’S SOURCE: all by Till Hohmann
RELATED ARTICLES: Till Hohmann at ADC Gipfel der Kreativität after the jump.