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Responding to an uncertain economic climate across the Middle East over the past couple of years, Weber Shandwick launched what it called its “client unity programme,” an initiative that involved agency executives taking up residence with their clients, living the issues and challenges that those clients were facing, developing a deeper, more personal understanding of the businesses they served. It was an approach that paid off, with tangible benefits in terms of revenue growth (up 15% in 2017) and staff retention (a 10% improvement in a region where turnover can be a significant problem for agencies).
Weber Shandwick has five branded (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Cairo, Kuwait City and Doha) and seven affiliate offices in the Middle East and North Africa, home to a diverse team (23 nationalities) of more than 160. The past year saw the continued evolution of both the specialist design and creative team and the dedicated strategic planning function, both of which set Weber Shandwick apart from many of its peers. The firm does a great job of nurturing and building its existing client relationships—average client tenure is five years—but 2017 was also a great new business year, with new assignments from First Abu Dhabi Bank, Netflix, Chevrolet, Microsoft, Dyson, Coty, Nespresso, Conoco Philips, Kuwait-based Touristic Enterprises Company, and Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Zakat & Tax.
Weber Shandwick has been Agency of the Year in the Middle East Public Relations Awards three out of the past four years, and has also gained recognition for its creative work: the “Day One Launch and Brand Unveil” for First Abu Dhabi Bank; the “Very Special Place” CSR campaign for Children’s National; the “Beef Nation” campaign for McDonald’s Kuwait; promoting the “Exchange with the Midas Touch” for DGCX in Dubai; and “Our Hands Tell a Story” digital outreach initiative for US Aid in the Middle East. — PH
APCO’s EMEA operation grew by a very healthy 12% last year, but even that strong performance was eclipsed by the firm’s Middle Eastern operation, which was up by 21% in 2017. The former JiWin had a total of 35 people when it was acquired by APCO in 2010; now with 170 people in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the Middle Eastern business is a major player in the region and a significant contributor to the public affairs firm’s global revenues.
A strong leadership team—helmed by regional president Mamoon Sbeih, managing director of Abu Dhabi Muhannad Al Badri, and deputy managing director Elizabeth Sen—was supplemented in 2017 with the addition of head of media relations Haitham Haddadin; political analyst Maher Abu Thair; senior directors Priya Munro and Kelly Kolker; and director Samer Al Hachem, who joined from management consultancy Booz Allen—a reflection of the changing competitive landscape for high-end public relations in the region, and the need to strengthen the firm’s consulting capabilities.
There was plenty of new business too, with new or supplemental assignments coming from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Performance Measurement, Adaa (one of several assignments expanding APCO’s presence in Saudi Arabia); the World Government Summit (one of the most important events in the UAE last year); the Emirates Diplomatic Academy; the Qudwa global teachers’ forum; and corporate clients such as Dubai Holdings, Lockheed Martin, Cigna, and Tecom Group. — PH
ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller (WPP)
It has been a decade since Sunil John sold the firm he launched in 2000 to Burson-Marsteller, and the merger has provided benefits to both sides. In Asda’a, Burson acquired a market leader in the Middle East, a firm with unparalleled local expertise thanks to its 10 offices (spanning the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt) and its annual Arab Youth Survey, one of the most valuable pieces of thought leadership in the industry. Asda’a, meanwhile, gained access to some of BM’s most valuable strategic resources, with the parent company’s Penn Schoen Berland (research) and Proof (digital, social and creative) units both operating now under the Asda’a Burson-Marsteller brand.
That integrated offer has help Asda’a build a business that is perhaps best known for its ability to handle regional projects for government agencies, NGOs and corporations, and for its high-end corporate capabilities. But the firm also has strength in brand marketing, public affairs and tech. Clients include Emaar, the largest developer in the region, and GE—both of which have been with Asda’a for 17 years, Ford (15 years), and GEMS Education, the largest private education provider in the world (13).
Major wins in 2017 included the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s largest oil companies; the Saudi-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, uniting the anti-terror strategies of 41 Muslim and ally countries; Dussur (formerly Saudi Arabian Industrial Investments Company); Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund funding megaprojects across the region; the UAE National Media Council; regional low cost airline Air Arabia; retail and hospitality giant Landmark Group; Thyssenkrupp; and the UAE Federal Tax Authority. Highlights of the work include the launch of a new brand manifesto—“We see the genius in every child”—for GEMS, the “Women in the Driver’s Seat” campaign for Ford Saudi Arabia; and social media projects for Noor Bank’s 10th anniversary. — PH
Hill+Knowlton Strategies (WPP)
With more than 30 years of heritage in the Middle East, Hill+Knowlton Strategies is the longest established of all the global firms with a presence in the region, and while the untimely death in 2012 of its longtime regional president Dave Robinson dealt an undoubted blow, the last couple of years have seen an impressive recovery and a return to both prominence and profitability under the leadership of Bashar Al Kadhi, who joined from WPP sibling Asda'a Burson-Marsteller in August of 2016.
Following very healthy 15% growth in 2017, Al Kadhi now supervises a team of close to 140 consultants across Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, the Middle East provided some of the EMEA region’s most significant new business in 2017, including Saudi Aramco, the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia, Saudi industrial investment company Dussur, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation, while H+K also grew its business with Emirates Global Aluminum significantly. The firm’s work, meanwhile, included award-winning campaigns such as Arla’s UAE brand launch; the #MyPorscheDXB influencer campaign; an event that brought DJs to the fairways at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championships; as well as efforts to drive the Vision 2030 and NTP 2020 (National Transformation Programme) agendas in Saudi Arabia, and taking the FIFA World Cup on a tour that included Jordan and Dubai for Coca-Cola.
The real story of 2017, however, was transformation, as H+K added a new public affairs practice and dramatically expanded its digital capabilities—a team of 12 in the firm’s creative studio. An impressive regional team includes Lisa Welsh, returning to the firm as regional managing director; Christopher Sorek and Abdulaziz Albaqous as senior consultants in the fast-growing Saudi business; Felita Figuerado as digital strategist in Dubai; Stephen Reid as director of sports marketing; and Andrew Bone, senior VP in Riyadh.—PH
Memac Ogilvy (WPP)
Memac Ogilvy has been a fixture on this list largely as a reflection of its flair for creativity, demonstrated by a string of SABRE Award winning campaigns— for the likes of Grohe, the King Khalid Foundation, Coca-Cola, and most recently Huawei, which picked up one of last year’s coveted Global SABREs for its “One Ramadan” initiative.
At the same time, the firm’s regional footprint and overall business growth probably deserves just as much recognition: it has more than 130 people across 14 offices across MENA, generating an estimated $10m in revenue after another year of solid growth. Indeed growth over the past five years as seen the firm more than double in size. Memac’s PR head Saada Hammad now oversees leadership team that also includes genuine strength in public affairs and technology as well as consumer and corporate, with a client list that strikes a good balance between global and local, corporate and government work (the latter area strengthened this year with the appointment of Instinctif Partners and DAMAC veteran Tim Fallon as head of government and international affairs).
As ever, Memac Ogilvy’s work was creative and difference-making: it worked with the Queen Rania Foundation wanted to help children in Jordan become school-ready, with a fun, character-based mobile application, generating 50,000 downloads via an integrated PR and influencer marketing campaign; and it helped UNICEF launch a campaign to ensure that the children of roughly 1.75 million Syrians who had fled to Lebanon since the civil war in March 2011 could receive a proper education through the body’s “School Heroes” campaign.—PH
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