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A day in the life of Ali Rez

Ali Rez, BBDO's Regional Creative Director - Middle East and Pakistan, has been ranked amongst the top 15 Creative Directors in the world, winning more than 350 awards – including multiple Golds at Cannes Lions and Grand Prix at Dubai Lynx, in addition to Agency of the Year, several times.
Ali Rez

We recently got in touch with the Cannes Lions jurors who represented the MENA region at the 2018 Festival to get their thoughts on creative transformation. In the second in our series of features, we talk to BBDO’S Ali Rez about his creative routine, the trends and challenges he sees for the year ahead and his perspective on creativity in the region.

Hi Ali, thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us and the rest of the industry in the MENA region. We wanted to know what a typical day looks like for you, as a Creative Director.

Let’s start. What time do you wake up?  What does your morning routine look like?

Luckily, I don’t have a morning routine. Sometimes I’ll wake up on a plane above the Arctic, sometimes at an overnight shoot on a sound-stage in Bangkok, sometimes on the couch at work after a night of brainstorming, empty pizza boxes all around. Sometimes I’ll wake up by getting hit on the head with a metal toy train-engine courtesy of my two-year old boy which needless to say is my favourite way.

What is a typical day for you?  How do you balance your responsibilities and manage your time?

Having a regional role means a lot of time spent on the road, so a large part of managing my time is making sure I have a kickass team to delegate tasks to. I can’t emphasize enough the necessity of a written to-do list: mine looks like something out of a biographical film about a serial killer. When I have mornings to work, I try to get as much done early enough so I can spend the rest of the day having meetings about how to have meetings. And I make sure to make time for family and friends, as tough as it might get.

Tell us something that not many people know about you?

My first real design job while still in college was working for the band INXS. At one concert, I ended up backstage chewing on ice with Michael Hutchence because somebody had moved all the drinks and he said “Well, there’s always the ice”. I still love the poetry in that. Also, I’ve once written an ad while sitting inside the wheel well of a Boeing 747 as it was parked at LAX, although this would have made for a decidedly more interesting story were it flying at the time.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I travel a lot, and it’s an incredibly inspiring exercise to be exposed to different cultures. Humans are very complex creatures, and to learn how all of us function differently and yet the same is mentally very stimulating. I observe my two-year-old train-engine-throwing boy: the way a toddler experiments fearlessly with everything they get their hands on is very inspiring and makes me aware of how much we hold ourselves back. Surrounding yourself with smart people and award shows where you hate yourself are also excellent fire starters.

How do you get your team inspired?

I’ve tried to learn from the best bosses I’ve had, and there are three very important things one can do to inspire a team: empower, appreciate, and provide. The first is key in terms of giving people the courage and freedom to make mistakes while trying new ideas; this I learnt while blowing up things in my college Physics lab. The second point is key in keeping morale high: self-belief is a very powerful weapon. The third is to make sure that your team has access to the most inspiring work out there, be it film, literature or general pop culture; to become sponges that absorb quality.

Tell us the name of a person in the creative industry that you admire?

I’m still a massive fan of the old-school legends: Krone, Bernbach, Mary Lawrence, Arden, and was very influenced early on with the audacious writing of Neil French. Regionally I admire Piyush Pandey immensely for the sheer force with which he changed an entire industry’s mindset. I once found myself sitting next to Lee Clow at an Adweek seminar dinner, and almost drowned myself in my soup out of excitement.

What did you learn from Cannes Lions this year? Did you see any trends in the work?

Jury time at Cannes Lions is like no other: what an incredibly immersive experience, spending five days looking at the best work from around the world with some of the smartest creatives. Delighted to see lots of work supporting gender equality and care for the environment. Scale was something key to note in a number of campaigns: simple idea; big execution. Collaboration was another. And wow, I made it through an entire paragraph about Cannes Lions without a rosé joke.

What is the most fascinating thing about the MENA region?

This is a culturally rich region – a lot of importance is given to local insights and nuances. There is so much vibrant tradition, heritage and custom to learn from and to build upon. It’s also a fascinating place to be in the world right now in terms of growth.

What does Dubai Lynx mean to you?

Dubai Lynx is the one night of the year I don’t feel crappy about wearing my black tie. It’s a fantastic catalyst for inspiration in MENA, in particular for younger talent. The show is something I really look forward to every year, not only to learn from the excellent, fresh regional work on display and the fantastic talks, but also to network. And then of course there are the awards: the Lynx trophy is the ultimate creative regional prize.

How are you preparing for 2019? What do you see as the creative challenges and opportunities that we’re facing?

As with every year in advertising, I’m preparing by stocking up on painkillers. The challenges at a macro level are the same level of terrifying: stay original, stay relevant, stay insane. The opportunities in the ever-expanding head-spin world of digital are something I plan to keep abreast of, especially in terms of how to reach your audience without being intrusive AF. I’m also looking up courses on how to disguise oneself convincingly as an A.I. Creative Director.

And finally, could you give us a piece of advice for ambitious people looking to thrive and become more creative? 

The best advice anybody ever gave me was to spend at least four hours a week learning something new. Learn how to play the ukelele, evacuate a plane in under 90 seconds, stitch clown pants, talk in dog, wax on wax off, whatever it is, as long as it’s something new that your brain learns. When I teach advertising, I constantly remind students to look at all kinds of art that isn’t advertising — that’s the best way to thrive in this industry. And forget about having a morning routine.