Remie Abdo, Director of Strategic Planning, TBWA\RAAD Group and the winner of the Grand Prix in the 2017 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is judging the 2018 Prize. She talks to Lucy Aitken about strategy, innovation and problem-solving.

There’s been a lot of discussion about short-term tactical versus long-term strategy in the MENA region. In your view, is strategy becoming more rigorous?

Definitely. It has to. The changing dynamics of the industry, the available data points, the resources, and the tools that we have at hand today, the micro-segmentation, the mass personalisation, the need for data proof, the need for brand transparency as well – all these are pushing us to become more rigorous.

What do you think that you will see in the papers that are submitted this year?

The world is changing fast and the advertising industry is changing as well. The lines are being blurred and competition is getting tougher by the day around us as agencies. So, honestly, what I would like to see in the papers this year is definitely more innovation. Strategies that inspire innovation and creative ideas rooted in innovation. And innovation that is more relevant to the brand. More relevant to today and that truly solves problems. Currently, in many award shows we're seeing innovation as a category. It's needed today to push the thinking and to push us to be more innovative but hopefully, soon, it won't be a category on its own. Soon, hopefully, it will be intrinsic to what we do.

What do you think has changed between this year and last year that we might see reflected in papers?

Most award shows reward creative ideas, but WARC’s awards are the most strategic-led in the world. The WARC Prize for MENA Strategy coming to the region last year was a wake-up call for strategists to know that their work is going to be more impactful from a sharing learnings perspective. In the papers themselves and in the MENA Strategy report and the MENA Strategy Works event last November, planners shared many learnings. I expect to see these learnings reflected in the strategies of papers that are entered this year. And I expect these learnings to elevate the level of competitiveness this year and to make an impact on every day work.

As last year’s Grand Prix winner, what advice do you have for this year's entrants?

Today’s planners are involved in more than just strategy per se. Today, planners are becoming part of the marketing team of the client and part of the creative team in the agency. So at this point, all planners have perfected the art of finding an insight and writing it beautifully. It's how they identify the problem behind the problem behind the client's problem and what they did with that insight, that mattered the most. So my advice is to see this strategy involvement reflected in every part of the paper and in every word of it from start to end.

When you say the problem behind the problem, do you think there's sometimes a tendency for people to go for the quick fix, easy solution rather than probe a little deep and get to something that might be more meaningful and long-term?

Maybe not a quick fix but sometimes we see the problem as it is and we solve it, while if we dig deeper, we find the problem behind the problem and solving that problem, the hidden problem, give a long-term solution.

What did it mean to you and your agency to win last year's Grand Prix for Ensa Joura?

As the disruption agency, strategy has always played a major yet backstage role in TBWA’s disruptive ideas. So being at the forefront and winning the biggest prize of the most strategic award last year was the proof that behind every creative and innovative work, there is a sound strategy. Now, on a personal level, with the winning case, Ensa Joura, we found a solution beyond communication. And this represented a green light for me to go beyond the expected.

What other papers impressed you from last year's winners?

Tropa for Life was a truly rigorous case. The storytelling was compelling and consistent and the strategy was there from start to end. And they came up with a personalised message for their [Filipino] microsegment at the right time, in the right way. Another was Dubai Cares’ I can teach you too. This case put a contemporary spin on charity. Today we live in a sharing economy, except that when it comes to charity, it's always one-way sharing. Creating that exchange between the donors and the receivers by Dubai Cares was a great innovative approach.

The deadline for entries for the 2018 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy is 5 April 2018. Entry is free. Find out more here