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Hill+Knowlton Strategies has nine offices across the Middle East and North Africa, with more than 250 people—led by CEO Bashar AlKadhi—and ranks among the top three in the region. With revenues up by 65% last year (after 58% the previous year), the firm has tripled in size over the past three years—making it the fastest-growing major firm in the Middle East. One reason for that exceptional performance is the expansion of The Studio—the firm’s creative center, which has its origins in London—into Dubai, bringing a range of capabilities including production, media planning and execution, brand and identity, film and television content, digital expertise, and data and analytics.
The region contributed many of the agency’s most significant new business wins in 2019, including ADNOC, Mubadala, Saudi Aramco, STC, Qatar Petroleum, Abu Dhabi Power, Emirates Global Aluminium, and a host of government agencies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including the Department of Finance, the Department of Culture & Tourism, and the Ministry of Sport, all while picking up international brands including the Mayo Clinic, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Schneider Electric, Procter & Gamble, Tencent, and Dyson.
The firm has invested heavily in its culture, with a robust professional development initiative (2200 hours of training last year), that helped the firm earn a top five position in the UAE’s Great Places to Work ranking last year. Highlights of the firm’s work include crafting a sustainability narrative for Saudi Aramco; working with the United Nations Refugee Agency on a television commercial to inspire donations during the holy month of Ramadan; helping to improve communications capabilities for ADNOC’s operating companies; and helping telecommunications company STC cement its position as the region’s leading digital brand.—PH
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 signing 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.
Work like that helped APCO achieve another year of healthy growth in the region. Since acquiring 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 and offers offers specialized services, customized for the Middle East, such as its Build-Operate-Transfer model for training in-house talent and its AI Comms Lab, a global innovation center based in the the Dubai office.
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; 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. New to the team in 2019 is Camilla D’Abo, who founded and built Dabo Communications before selling it to Edelman and who had most recently served as executive director for Sport In Life Distribution.—PH
Asda'a BCW (WPP)
Now in its 20th year, Asda’a BCW has always been a regional industry pioneer. Born in the UAE, with a distinct Arab identity, from day one it disrupted the industry model by targeting a market that had never used PR before: local governments, family businesses and emerging regional brands with global ambitions. The agency continues to be led by Sunil John, who founded the agency in 2000 before selling a majority stake to Burson-Marsteller in 2008, and is still rooted in and committed to the region, with eight wholly-owned offices in UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah), Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan; and nine affiliates in Oman, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt, and Palestinian Territories.
Asda’a BCW is the only Middle Eastern networked agency that reports directly to global headquarters rather than EMEA, with John as president taking a seat on the global BCW board. The regional team has embraced the network’s new brand promise, Moving People, and is on a cultural mission to keep everyone operating in positive emotional territory, with a new approach to staff wellbeing that is paying dividends in employee happiness, staff retention and productivity. In 2019, 90% of its 160 employees said they felt the agency delivered the highest level of client service.
The agency overcame geopolitical and economic issues in the region with its ‘Power of Three’ strategy, working alongside sister agencies Proof Digital and PSB Research to service a diverse client base. As a result, Asda’a BCW saw strong growth from the private sector, including Huawei and Novo Nordisk, as well as major tranches of governmental work for the likes of UAE’s energy and water authority and Abu Dhabi’s departments of energy and municipalities & transport. They joined a client roster that features Adnoc, Emirates, Ford, GE, Jumeirah Group, Nestlé and the Red Sea Development Company.
The firm’s Arab Youth Survey remains one of the most valuable pieces of research and thought leadership in the industry; its 11th annual edition, provocatively titled ‘A Call for Reform in 2019’, once again shaped debate about the region and Arab youth at the highest levels around the world. — MPS
Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)
Under the leadership of regional CEO Ziad Hasbani, Weber Shandwick has a smaller footprint than many of its rivals—offices in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai and Kuwait City, as well as an Istanbul office and a network of affiliates in eight markets—but an outsized reputation. In recent years, the firm won our Middle East Consultancy of the Year trophy in 2018 and has picked up a trio of Agency of the Year trophies at the Middle East Public Relations Awards.
Not surprisingly, given the region, financial services is a key strength, with a team of 45 across the region, and the sector saw double-digit growth in 2019 fueled by wins including APICORP, Marsh, and the Ministry of Finance of Saudi Arabia. But recent years have also seen a substantial investment in the creative, digital and production offer, which now boasts a 12-strong team across the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait offices—with many of the firm’s new business wins last year looking for integrated solutions beyond traditional PR.
Significant wins in 2019 included Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Qatar Petroleum, Mastercard, Netflix, Tik Tok, the Saudi Fund for Development and Uber, while highlights of the work included an award-winning campaign for McDonald’s in Kuwait, turning back the clock to celebrate the brand’s launch in the market in 1994.—PH
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