M.Cem Topcuoglu: President, TBWA\ CEE, Middle East and Africa

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Cem Topçuoğlu established a partnership with TBWA Worldwide, and went on to found TBWA\Istanbul, where he currently holds the position of Chief Executive Officer. Additional to his role as CEO, Cem oversee TBWA operations in CEE, Middle East and Africa as the President since 2015. Having played volleyball professionally for Istanbul’s top teams for ten years, Cem served on the Volleyball Federation’s Executive Board of Directors from 1997–2000. Now an avid skier, sailor and tennis player, Cem lives in Istanbul with his wife and has two children.

How did you get into the industry?

I was born in Istanbul and graduated from Marmara University where I completed a degree in Radio and Television, in 1993. I began my career in advertising as an Account Executive at Grey during my final year at university. In 1988, I worked in Grey’s New York office and gained experience on fast-moving consumer goods, working for clients such as Procter & Gamble and Bristol-Myers. I continued working for Grey in Istanbul, rising to the position of Executive Vice President.

In 1993, I founded Select Advertising with two partners, and in 1999, established a partnership with TBWA Worldwide, and went on to found TBWA\Istanbul, where I currently hold the position of Chief Executive Officer. Additional to my role as CEO, I oversee TBWA operations in CEE, Middle East and Africa as the President since 2015.

Any emerging industry trends?

We are in the business of storytelling. We have been telling stories to consumers about our brands for many years. With the rapid changes in the technology, the way we tell our stories changed as well. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence are going to be one of the few next big things. We are witnessing these new tools in CES, SXSW.  Also, developing technology is what shapes the culture. Rise of the mobile and social media gave birth the new brands such as Airbnb, Snapchat…etc.  It changed the way consumers behave dramatically. It is important to keep up with the speed of technology and understand the reflections on the culture.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

We are living in the age of speed. One thing can become a sensation all around the world in one day and fade away the next. The brands need to be very agile more than ever, thus, the agencies must be agile and flexible to meet the demands and respond. In the recent years, we established Disruption Live in TBWA. Briefly, we closely monitor what’s going on in the world and consumers’ preferences through various channels such as social media, news, trends….etc and we respond instantly. There’s no place for the slow and conventional agencies in the era which are living in.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

In TBWA, we have a methodology called Disruption and we have been implementing it for decades. We call ourselves The Disruption Company. Disruption runs through our veins. We set visions for our brands and to get to this vision, we try to find ways to break the conventions in the market. Our inspiration comes from Disruption. As the technology develops and culture changes, our very own Disruption adapts as well. As I mentioned before, we have Disruption Live to keep up with the speed of culture. We also have Disruption Innovation that we try to find innovative ways to create stronger bonds with our consumers. Sometimes the innovation comes in the form a product, service or a communication platform.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Digital will keep going stronger and expand its share in the pie. There are traditional and digital agencies. In the near future, the difference between these two should vanish. The client comes with a problem to be solved, the agency should come up with the best solution whether it’s digital or not. We hire only digital-savvy people for the agency and people who are T-shaped. We are transforming our agency into a digitally integrated agency. The agencies that completed this transformation sooner than the others will have a competitive advantage over the others.  

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

As I mentioned, implementing Disruption Live in the way we work gives us an upper hand in the competition. We can come with proactive solutions and create communication ideas that resonates with our consumers.  Besides Disruption Live, we have another initiative called ‘For Good’. Brands want to be a part of the projects or campaigns that do good to the world because the consumers are more likely to choose brands that our good over the ones that are not. These are two examples of how we create value to our clients and differentiate our agency from the competition.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

We live in a constantly changing world. We have to keep up with everything. The fundamental challenge of agencies is to deal with the constant change and dynamism of the world. The most difficult part is to create and maintain a culture, which is able to create the necessary change when it is needed.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

We manage our clients’ budgets. Each cent should be spent wisely and create ROI.  Each campaign we create should serve to the brand and make the bond with its consumers stronger. We need to build brands with disruptive and meaningful essences and character that are recognized and embraced by the consumers, so that they remain in the competition for a long time.

How do you motivate others?

I see my team as professional amateurs. Whatever we do, we have to do it with passion and just enjoy it. I am always hungry to learn and patient to conduct my learnings to my team, in order to create a living energy. It is important to know your people that constitute the team, their superior qualities, their reach points and their peculiarities. You can’t build a mutually efficient structure and you can’t motivate/inspire your team unless you know their world views, their families & living situations and their own needs & expectations. 

Career advice to those in your industry?

-Work with diverse people.

-Create a culture that is open to change.

-A healthy dose of paranoia is good.

-Listen to your inner voice.