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Now in its 23rd year, Asda’a BCW has always been a regional industry pioneer, and continues to change the way PR is seen in the Middle East. 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 is still led by Sunil John, who founded the agency in 2000 before selling a majority stake to Burson-Marsteller in 2008. With a strong presence in the corporate domain – including corporate reputation, consumer communications, public affairs, healthcare, finance, enterprise and technology, crisis management and employee relations – last year the agency further expanded its digital and data expertise. Asda’a BCW also continued to innovate in 2022 by becoming the first communications consultancy in MENA to launch a dedicated ESG advisory, OnePoint5, to meet the growing requirement for ESG services in the region.
Asda’a BCW has seven wholly-owned offices in UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah), Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan; and 11 affiliates in Oman, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel, Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Kuwait, Egypt and Palestine Territories.
The agency achieved record revenue growth of 14% – putting growth over the past two years at 25% – and won record levels of new business, as well as having near 100% client retention. Asda’a BCW also hired 50 consultants across its regional network, bringing total headcount to more than 200. A number of the agency’s business wins were worth more than $1 million; new work over the year came from the UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth and Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Food Programme, Dubai World Trade Centre, Bristol Myers Squibb, Nakheel (the UAE’s largest real estate developer by land bank holdings), and the developer of luxury Saudi Arabian Red Sea resort Amaala, as well as global work for Etisalat, the region’s largest telecoms company. The new accounts joined a client roster that includes Visa, MENA’s biggest music streaming platform Anghami, Emirates bank, GE, Jumeirah Hospitality Group, Abu Dhabi Tourism, aerospace manufacturer Raytheon and Nestlé.
In the latest WPP-wide survey of all employees, Asda’a BCW outperformed the overall group with a favourability score of 85% – 7% higher than the global average score – while 94% of its people said the team trusted and respected each other – 5% higher than the overall group. In addition, 90% of employees said they feel optimistic about the future of the company, 14% higher than the global score and a jump of 20 percentage points on 2021. The agency partnered with the global BCW network on initiatives that promote diversity, inclusion and wellness, including Destination Inclusion, BCW’s 21-day framework to encourage an inclusive culture; the Growing Leaders platform; the EDGE mentoring program; and Propel, which engages early-career, underrepresented talent. Diverse by nature, the agency has 30 nationalities represented across its offices, and continues to focus on nurturing Arab talent. The firm’s ongoing commitment to promote inclusion and staff advancement saw the launch of new employee resource groups, recognitions for individuals and teamwork, and a commitment to increase mid and senior level diversity by 10% this year.
The firm’s Arab Youth Survey remains one of the most valuable pieces of research and thought leadership in the industry; its 14th annual edition in 2022 canvassed the views of 3,400 young Arab men and women – the so-called Arab Spring Generation – once again stimulating lively debate around the world about the region, with a reach of 500 million. The agency also carried out research among 200 decision makers to support the launch of OnePoint5, which showed 60% of businesses in the UAE and Saudi Arabia still lack an ESG framework. The Arab Youth Survey was one of five SABRE shortlistings for the agency; it was also recognised for its ‘She’s Next’ campaign for Visa to shift the narrative for female entrepreneurs in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, as well as Anghami’s NASDAQ listing. Stand-out work over the year also included the agency’s global support of the UAE Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change, for the nation’s participation at COP27 in Egypt.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Washington, DC, headquartered APCO has been operating in Europe (London and Brussels) since 1995, and launched its Dubai office in 2006, acquiring regional network JiWin Public Relations in 2010 to establish a multi-market footprint in the region. Over the years, APCO has been recognized with our EMEA Corporate Consultancy of the Year and its Public Affairs counterpart, an indication of the progress it has made expanding beyond its heritage to become one of Europe’s best when it comes to corporate reputation, public policy, issues management, and social impact. Its ability to help clients solve their thorniest public policy and stakeholder relations challenges is one of the things that sets the firm apart from anyone else of its size and scale. And more recently, it has also been on the cutting edge of using digital and social media to achieve those goals.
APCO now has 236 employees across five office in the Middle East: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Manama in Bahrain, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and Amman in Jordan. And of course, the Italian offices have access to a European network that includes offices in London, Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, and Rome as well as the firm’s global network.
APCO’s EMEA operations were the top performing part of the global business last year, with revenues up by 9.9% to a little over $78 million (about half the global revenue total). And MENA outperformed the rest of the region, with 11.2% revenue growth in 2022 to —meaning the firm has double in size since 2016. Critical accounts include a host of regional powerhouse: Edge, a defense company based in Abu Dhabi, the Saudi Ministry of Economy & Planning, the Saudi Ministry of Culture, the UAE’s Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Industry of Industry & Advanced Technology, and Cruise Saudi.
APCO’s Middle Eastern operations are run by president Mamoon Sbeih, a 17-year veteran of the firm, ,with support from a stable leadership team that includes Elizabeth Sen, executive director of the region’s gender practice; chief operating office Samer El Hachem, a six-year veteran who brings experience in the management consulting sector to his role; and market leaders Imad Lahan (Dubai), Jolyon Kimble (Bahrein), Muhannad Al Badri (Abu Dhabi), and Faten AlMasri (the flourishing Saudi operation). New talent in 2022 included CNN veteran Mohammed Al Saiegh in the media practice and Tim Walmsley as head of a new change practice. The firm has launched a employee resource group for its female employees and plans another for LGBTQ+ employees, and the past year have seen a renewed emphasis on employee mental health, with sleep training a particular highlight.
The Middle East is the base for some of APCO’s specialist practices: last year saw the launch of a new change management practice, the launch of the APCO Institute, a new educational resource for training and development programs in the region. It also hosts .Pomelo, its full-service creative practice. The past year also saw the launch of a strategic partnership with the Middle East & Africa Compliance Association to help elevate the dialogue around ethics and compliance. As ever, the Middle East operation was behind a host of large-scale events in the region and beyond, managing the Saudi pavilion, one of the largest at the World Expo; opening the new Museum of the Future in Dubai; hosting the 22nd World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh. The firm also showcased its creativity in its work for Jordanian telecom company Umniah, for which APCO produced a song with a sustainability message—a hit across the region.
— Paul Holmes
Founded in 2015, Brazen managing partner Louise Jacobson led a management buyout of the firm in 2022, ushering in a new era at an agency that had already been making waves from its Dubai base. Brazen operates across B2B and B2C, supported by social media and events capabilities, along with a newer paid media offering. The firm’s ‘intelligent creativity’ formula includes a stringent measurement system, while Brazen also benefits from a strong employee culture and relationships with media and influencers.
Brazen’s 14 staffers are based in Dubai, but also operate across the GCC and Levant region.
Brazen targeted ‘unprecedented growth’ in 2022, and achieved that goal by mid-year, up 68% for the full 12 months, with profits also increasing by 42%. There was an organic increase in client business for such names as the Dubai Tourism, Bio-Oil, Sunset Hospitality, Madame Tussauds, Nobu, Crowne Plaza, RELX International and CARMA Global. And there was a stellar new business haul of 36 new clients, including Marriott International, The First Group, Hilton, Ishraq Hospitality, Daimler, Al Tamimi Investments, Emirates Catering, Chalhoub Group and returning clients Veuve Clicquot, Eyewa and Grand Millennium. All told, Brazen retained 82% of its key clients in 2022, and converted 78% of projects into further business, with long-standing clients accounting for 79% of revenue.
In addition to Jacobson, Brazen’s female led team features Alexia Lawrence-Jones, who was promoted to director last year, and key hire Lyan Halawani, who focuses on digital. Jacobson is a high-profile presence when it comes to industry issues, working with MEPRA, PRCA, Global Women in PR, the Dubai Business Women Council and Girls Out Loud, the latter of which involves mentorship to inspire the next generation of women. The firm appointed its first people and culture consultant last year, tackling the ‘Great Resignation’ by creating a freelancer pool to support existing staff. Training was elevated across the firm, while hybrid working saw increases in flexible time, particularly for parents. There is a strong focus on health, wellness and collaboration among Brazen staff — with employees empowered to not respond to out of hours requests from clients.
Brazen has invested in numerous systems to improve efficiency and results, while its partnership with CARMA Global gives it access to credible research from across the region. The firm joined AMEC to take further support its measurement capabilities, and it has also launched a paid offering for online and offline opportunities. Campaign highlights included the Art Maze for artist Sacha Jafri in partnership with UNESCO; the KSA perception report for CARMA Global; and launching 19 Crimes wine with Snoop Dogg in the UAE.
— Arun Sudhaman
In 2022, Four Communications came of age, celebrating 21 years since it was created by four founding partners – group CEO Nan Williams and group MDs Ray Eglington, Andrew Jack and Einir Williams – all of whom continue to lead the business across its MENA and UK hubs. Over two decades, the agency has quietly become one of the leading independent agencies in the Middle East, working with a range of public and private sector clients in sectors including health, corporate and financial, property and lifestyle, with creative, digital, media planning and buying, and social analytics capabilities. Never resting on its laurels, last year Four took major steps to stimulate growth and innovation, restructuring its teams into three new centres of excellence: earned (150 PR consultants with expertise in lifestyle, corporate and government communications), paid (75 experts in performance and media planning and buying, focused on property, health and lifestyle brands) and owned (50 creatives, digital and social media specialists).
Four’s MENA offices are in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, and it also has UK offices in London, Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Sheffield.
Four finished the year with total fee income of £31 million, representing growth of just over 12.5%, with MENA performing even more strongly with growth of 29.7%. Across the group, the agency has an EBITDA margin of 16%, and a team of 335. Major wins in 2022 included Reckitt Bensicker, Visit Tampa, Morocco Tourism Board, Masdar, Abu Dhabi Media Company and the Science Museum. These joined the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC, with which the team has worked for more than a decade), Dubai Tourism, the UK and Welsh governments, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Novo Nordisk, Grosvenor and Wizz Air on Four’s client roster.
Four’s culture is based on four strands: opportunity, engagement, diversity and ‘The Four Experience’, the latter of which includes socials, time off for volunteering, mental health support and true flexible working, with no set requirements beyond fortnightly team days (although many staff in Abu Dhabi choose to come in regularly because they love the office views over the Formula 1 racetrack). The agency’s graduate trainee scheme is in its 20th year – two of its executive committee members started with Four on the scheme – with three selection days held during 2022 for more than 75 candidates. The training and development programme included Insights Discovery profiling for all staff as well as technical and management skills, including new investment in LinkedIn Learning. Four, which is is diverse from the group board down, published its Race Equality Pledge in 2020, setting diversity and inclusion targets for all teams and putting mandatory D&I training in place. The agency has four staff groups focused on race equality, LGBT+, gender equality and Earth, and its 2022 survey again showed strong levels of satisfaction across all key measures. In 2022, the agency made four new promotions to chief executive roles: Samir Hammad for MENA, Kelly Smith (health), Luke Alexander (creative technology) and Sheridan Wall (creative and marketing), joining Tonia Savchenko (media), Meg Butler (strategy), Anne Clarke (government) and the founding partners on the executive committee.
Over recent years, Four has invested heavily in creating and developing its strategy and insights unit. In 2022, the team launched the 4D Consult product for clients looking for a rigorous approach to brand development and marketing strategy. It also bolstered its Mapper360 insights suite by including additional data sources and developing an Earned Media Impact Tracker which looks at how earned campaigns drive digital and social coverage and engagement, including on LinkedIn. Stand-out work in the Middle East included working with Wizz Air Abu Dhabi on the ‘Get Lost’ campaign, a mystery flight for 200 adventurous travellers. The team secured the participation of 70 travel and lifestyle influencers, and the unexpected trip to the city of Kutaisi in Georgia achieved global coverage and 46 million impressions. Get Lost was the #1 trending hashtag on Instagram in the UAE, leading to a 10% increase in the airline’s followers, and more than 8,000 passengers travelled to the city directly after the campaign.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
It was the fourth record year in a row for H+K in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with significant growth in revenues, margins, clients and headcount across all key markets, and its impactful, creative work recognised from Dubai to Cannes. The firm’s success in the region – where it is one of the top three players – is not least down to the seven-year tenure of its affable, savvy CEO Bashar AlKadhi, whose remit (which already included India and Africa as well as the Middle East and Turkey) expanded in 2020 to include Continental Europe and the Nordics. Under AlKadhi’s leadership, H+K has grown to a true integrated agency in the Middle East, with its work for clients regularly incorporating its specialisms such as behavioural science, paid media, training, data and analytics, investor relations, sponsorship and advertising creative. As well as its strengths in corporate, healthcare and brand communications, the firm’s Studio has grown rapidly and now has 35 young creators across the UAE, Riyadh and Cairo, with 30% of H+K clients in the region now using Studio resources and creative output, while its innovation and creative hub has grown to more than 100 consultants and 50 content and publishing specialists.
H+K has nine offices across MENAT, with a total headcount of 340. As well as its Dubai headquarters, it has a presence in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah), Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Turkey and Bahrain.
H+K MENA remains the fastest growing region of the global H+K network, accounting for 13% of global revenue, and has the highest growth in dollar terms of all WPP operating companies in the region. Income grew by almost 30% in 2022, with around a third of that coming from existing clients and its double-digit margins among the best in the region. The team also grew exponentially from 250 to 340 people. Around 45% of the firm’s business comes from Saudi Arabia, where it has a team of more than 70. Top performers included the corporate and brand practice, which grew 63% year-on-year, with significant new remits and a team doubling in size to 50 consultants. The health and wellness practice is now the largest dedicated healthcare practice in the region, with new clients including Bayer, GSK, AstraZeneca and Boehringer Ingelheim, while the sport and entertainment practice is delivering on marquee events across the region for clients such as the Saudi eSports Federation. New business came from a mix of government agencies and departments, major regional clients such as Aramco and Abu Dhabi Airports, and multinationals such as Ford, Walt Disney, Meta, Visa and Oracle.
Last year, H+K put culture at the heart of the agency by kicking off H+K Vibe – a long-term programme designed to strengthen connections between its people and give them the opportunity to have fun, celebrate and grow together – with a series of launch party events across regional offices. The network’s commitment to diversity looks different in different markets, but in the Middle East it takes the form of an international workforce (more than 40 nationalities), a commitment to advancing women (including local women) in senior management roles – including new hires Budoor Al Yousuf as director and group account director Bulqees Albastaki – local representation on the global DE&I council, and zero tolerance of against any type of discrimination, bullying or aggression. The firm embraces flexible working and remote work. Last year it invested more than US$300,000 in training for its talent, as well as running a week offsite Summer School for 35 young communicators, and offering a client leaders’ acceleration program with executive coaching and leadership analysis. The firm has been named as the 15th best place to work – and the 12th best place for women to work – in the UAE by Great Places to Work. New senior roles included the promotion of METIA managing director Lucy Harvey to chief growth officer for the region.
Last year H+K handled work as wide-ranging as being Egypt’s communications partner for the hosting of COP27, PR for the four-day Sandstorm music festival in Riyadh, and supporting Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Qatar World Cup. The agency was nominated for four SABRE awards in the Middle East, including work for NAFIS, the Emirati Talent Competitiveness Council, the Noor Riyadh Festival of Light, the launch of Arabian Leopard Day – an international campaign to raise awareness of the big cat’s plight in the UK, US and Saudi Arabia – for the Royal Commission for AlUla, and Bayer’s Bepanthen derma cream. H+K also continued its pro-bono support for Injaz Al Arab, a non-profit for education and training in workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship across the Arab World – as well as Emirates Youth Professional School and the Middle East Investor Relations Association.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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