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It has been more than 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 nine wholly-owned 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 BCW brand.
Following the merger of WPP siblings Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe, John now reports directly to BCW global CEO Donna Imperato, a reflection perhaps of the region’s importance and growth prospects. Asda’s maturity is reflected by an integrated offer 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.
That helped Asda’a snap up $5.8m in new business in 2018, with full year revenues achieving high single digit growth against 2017. New clients included the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy, Abu Dhabi Power Corporation, Dubai Expo 2020, Government of Ras Al Khaimah Media Office, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, Starz Play Arabia, the Red Sea Development Company, Vision 2030, Zain Group and Sanofi. They join a client roster that features Adnoc, Emaar, Ford, GE, GEMS Education, Jumeirah Group, Nestle, the UAE Federal Tax Authority, UAE’s Prime Minister’s Office and Visa.
Asda'a’s geographic footprint — in particular Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi — have also helped the firm mitigate mixed regional economic performance. And the firm’s campaign work remains in fine fettle, demonstrated by its efforts to launch the Zakat platform for the UNHCR; its ‘Welcome to the Driver’s Seat’ campaign for Ford to support the lifting of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia; and the launch of the world’s longest zipline on Jebel Jais for Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Authority. . — AS
APCO Worldwide (Independent)
When Pope Francis became the first pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church to visit the Arabian Peninsula last year, joining the inaugural Human Fraternity Conference in the United Arab Emirates and signed a historic declaration of fraternity with the grand imam of al-Azhar, APCO was handling the public relations and digital communications, generating close to 400 news stories, producing video content that secured nearly 7 million views, and engaging with 30,000 social media followers. It was one of the largest projects the agency has even handled, but also the exact kind of complex, momentous assignment APCO is built for.
And it was only the most prominent example of the firm’s work in the Middle East last year. APCO was also the agency for the Ministry of Climate Change & Environment, which hosted the World Government Summit in Dubai, focusing on climate change (promoting a message from Harrison Ford, for example). The firm also helped Kuwait’s Public Authority for the Disabled challenge perceptions about people with disabilities using a digital storytelling campaign.
That work helped APCO achieve another year of record results in the region. Since acquisition local consulting firm JiWin in 2010, the global agency has grown its presence in the region from 35 people to more than 200, spread across offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and—new in 2018—Riyadh and Manama, Bahrain. The firm’s expertise in serving government and public service clients has clearly been a competitive advantage, and the core of its business is still corporate and public affairs work. But APCO is also a powerhouse in the digital realm, with about 60 people in its regional digital practice.
MENA president Mamoon Sbieh continues to lead, supported by chief client officer Elizabeth Sen, and more recent additions such as Liam Leduc Clarke, who has taken on the role of managing director in Saudi Arabia, building the office there to 50 people in short order; Muhammed Al Badri, managing director in Abu Dhabi, who joined from H+K; and Jolyon Kimble, general manager in Manama, who relocated from the agency’s UK office.—PH
Four Communications Group (Independent)
Four Communications, founded in 2001, quickly established itself as a leader in the UK market, a full-service independent capable of competing with larger firms for consumer and corporate assignments, and more recently for a broad range of sponsorship, content creation, digital and social media work. It ranks among the top UK PR firms overall, with fee income last year of nearing £32 million and a headcount up to 285. Four Communications, however, also operates a robust Middle East operation, using its offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, along with its two UK offices, as global hubs for campaigns. Last year, the firm earned £4.1m of its total intake in the Middle East.
In addition to core offerings — PR, public affairs and steering behavioural change among them — Four Communications also attracts business with its customized products and services. The agency’s Elements suite assists clients with podcasting, from creating content to selecting sponsors, as well as training in media relations and crisis management. New clients include GSK, Singapore Tourism, Merck, The Wordsworth Trust, Sainsbury's Bank, Folkestone Waterfront, Welsh Beef and Lamb and the British Science Association. They join existing clients including Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, TSB, The Grosvenor Estate, The Man Booker Prizes, Estee Lauder, Novo Nordisk, Etihad Airways, The Oman Tourist Board, Infiniti and The UK and Welsh governments. — DM
H+K Strategies (WPP)
Hill+Knowlton Strategies has nine offices across the Middle East and North Africa, and with more than 180 people ranks among the top three in the region. With revenues up by 58% last year (Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia were among the strongest performers), it’s also among the fastest-growing firms in the Middle East, and with profit margins up too, there’s no wonder that the global leadership team at H+K considers the region to be one of the firm’s strongest.
One reason for the firm’s exceptional performance is the expansion of The Studio—the firm’s creative center, which has its origins in London—into Dubai. The Studio’s capabilities include production, media planning and execution, brand and identity, film and television content, digital expertise, and data and analytics, and the operations now account for an impressive 25% of H+K’s revenues in the region, with new work in 2018 for the Executive Council of Dubai, Lincoln, and Schneider Electric. The firm has also been adding talent in key verticals including financial services (regional director Timothy Hurst), health and wellness (Ellis Nicholls), financial services (senior consultant Ajith Henry), and sports and entertainment (Maan Dalghan).
A bumper new business years saw big wins in corporate (Emirates Post, Visa); energy (ADNOC, Masdar); technology (Cisco, Huawei, Oracle); sports and entertainment (the Asian Cup, Reebok, Spotify); health and wellness (GSK and Great Ormond Street Hospital); and financial services (Abu Dhabi Global Market), as well as in growing markets such as Saudi (Saudi Arabian Airlines and the Transport Ministry) and Egypt (the British Council, CEMEX).
Highlights—with a heavy emphasis on some major regional events—include work for adidas (creating the Tango League for urban football); Spotify (launching the music service across 13 markets in the MENA region); the AFC Asian Cup (the biggest sporting event ever to come to the Middle East); the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia (the first Formula E race in the region); and Novartis (the “Keep it Pumping” heart health education initiative).—PH
Memac Ogilvy (WPP)
Memac Ogilvy has been a fixture on the Middle East agency shortlist for some years, reflecting its consistent creativity, demonstrated by recent SABRE nominated and award-winning campaigns for clients including Burger King Kuwait (for which it boosted sales by 12% and brand awareness by 17% with its influencer-and media-friendly Sun Flame Grilled Whopper campaign).
It also worked with Johnson’s Baby, supporting its The Right Start campaign with Save The Children to get more children registered at birth, since a lack of birth certificate can deprive children of healthcare and education, and increase risk of trafficking.
The firm’s regional footprint and business growth deserves just as much recognition as its often life-changing creative work: it has 110 people in 11 offices across MENA, and achieved fee income growth of 12% on 2018.
Memac Ogilvy added PR to its services in 2001, and PR head Saada Hammad now oversees a leadership team that is as strong in public affairs and technology as consumer and corporate, and can offer clients a truly integrated approach thanks to its position in the Ogilvy ecosystem. The agency’s client list also strikes a good balance between global and local, corporate and government work, including Qatar National Tourism Council, Egypt Ministry of Finance, Johnson & Johnson, American Express, Google and Virgin Mobile. — MPS
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