Sunday, January 28, 2024

About that IAA Lebanese Chapter Hall of Fame event...

So the time has come. Yesterday was the launch event of the IAA Lebanese Chapter Hall Of Fame. An event, literally, years in the making - between the malaise Lebanon has gone through, and then the pandemic, and whereas originally programmed to happen on November 25 2023, the events which unfolded in Gaza in Palestine, postponed it till Jan. 27, 2024.

To be clear, the induction is not a easy thing. As a matter of fact, rules stipulate that the "induction into the IAA Lebanon Hall of Fame is reserved for Lebanese men and women, either living or deceased, from the ranks of advertisers, agencies, media and communication organizations, and academic institutions. They should have distinguished themselves in the advertising industry, have had careers spanning at least 35 years, have contributed to the development of advertising and its reputation in Lebanon or the Middle East, have made significant volunteer efforts outside the workplace particularly within the IAA (International Advertising Association) or the AA (Advertising Association). To be eligible, individuals must be retired from their advertising careers."

Still, this year, due to the "backlog" 17 people made the cut. Something that will decrease substantially with the years to come - I heard the original number was 45 which was culled to the 17 in question. But truth be told, the ambiance of the evening was truly one of camaraderie and chumminess.

Note that the communication industry in Lebanon rarely meets en masse. And since the event was not one of "competitive nature" (i.e. an "awards show"), basically everyone was there to enjoy themselves and "let their hair down" (interestingly, some of the women had their hair up but I digress). So, seeing so many admen and adwomen in the same room, basically at their best behavior and enjoying themselves was in itself a lovely sight.

The IAA also had the kindness to invite me. Well, tickets would usually set you back 100 USD or 150 for the VIP seating and considering this was taking place at the Casino du Liban, the whole setting was synonymous of the price tag. IAA Lebanon president Naji Boulos and Joe Ayache (one of the former presidents of the chapter) both in their black tie attire really made everyone welcome all while attending to the nitty gritty details of such a well-orchestrated event.

The inductees this year were:  Mustapha Assad (founder of Publi-Graphics), Walid Azzi (Founder of ArabAd), Farid Chehab (founder of H&C Leo Burnett), Jean-Claude Boulos (Founder of Inter-Regies), Antoine Choueiri (Founder of Choueiri Group), Samir Fares (IAA Worldwide President Elect 1988), Bernard Fattal (CEO Fattal Group), Erwin Guerrovich (Founder of Intermarkets), Alain Khouri (Founder of Impact BBDO), Akram Miknas (Founder of Promoseven), Edmond Moutran (Founder of Memac Ogilvy), Ramsay G. Najjar (IAA Lebanon chapter president 1995-1997), Fouad Pharaon (First IAA member from Lebanon), Andre Rizk (Founder of Publirizk and Rizk Advertising and associates), Ibrahim Tabet (Founder of Strategies), Mounir Takchi (Founder of TAMAM), Ghassan Tueni (CEO AnNahar).

Actually, considering I am one of those who dig deep into advertising and has a substantial archive, the evening struck a major emotional chord. Ask anyone from the "new crop" about this and that name and you are met with a blank stare. Which is, of course, a pity, because the person in question was someone risking his (sorry to be chauvinistic) life and crossing from East to West Beirut to get the films for the AnNahar presses under the shelling, or such other person was kidnapped when going to the studio to record a radio jingle. So the ad industry does owe its own existence to many, many people who sadly are not top-of-mind in terms of awareness for a newer flock of people.

Now of course, how do you actually do an event when your audience plans events for a living? I am sure the IAA Lebanon Chapter must have thought long and hard to come up with the answer considering who was showing up to the event.

Long, long ago when the first "Phenix de la Pub" event was held in 1995 (the defunct event to elect the best ads of the Lebanese industry), Josiane Boulos (yes, sister of current IAA Lebanese Chapter president Naji!) who was co-organizing the event and presenting it said: "the best thing about this evening? It's that it is about to finish". So you can imagine the stress related when your audience works in the communication field.

So the answer the IAA Lebanon came up with was a set of mini-musical numbers which summed up the advertising spirit of the decades starting with the 70s. Lovely interludes between the short speeches (no, unlike the Academy Awards there were no orchestra to cut you short but still most attendees stuck by very very short formats). Sure, the event was not without its moments - Josiane Boulos barely holding herself together as she received her late father's trophy (Jean-Claude Boulos), one attendee sending a speech to introduce an inductee by video with a live horse neighing behind him (which left people at my table incredibly puzzled), one person introducing an inductee ended up praising himself rather than the inductee (turns out the measure of success of the inductee was that he worked with him, the presenter). 

But the evening was truly a suave, very tightly-run and well-oiled machine considering the enormity of the event. And in a moment of self-indulgence calling two inductees "friends" (the late Walid Azzi and the wonderful Farid Chehab) made me giddy with excitement. Of course, the traces the inductees have left in the advertising industry - in Lebanon and the Middle East - were enormous so having them in the hall of fame is truly where they belong.