Saatchi & Saatchi plans major expansion in region


By Vigyan Arya 

Saatchi & Saatchi is on the threshold of a major expansion in the Middle East and plans to start a fully-owned agency in Beirut for the Levant region in early 2010, Elias Ashkar, CEO for Middle East and North Africa, told Emirates Business.

Dubai Metro is one of the clients Saatchi & Saatchi is serving at present in the region. (EB FILE)
Dubai Metro is one of the clients Saatchi & Saatchi is serving at present in the region. (EB FILE)

The global advertising network also plans to open offices in Damascus, Amman and Baghdad and is looking for opportunities to enter new markets such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain, he said in an interview.

Following its exit from a network membership agreement with two of its long- term partners in Amman and Beirut, the agency is embarking on a region-wide expansion plan under the leadership of its year-old CEO for the Mena region.

Outlining his vision for the continued growth of the network in the region, Ashkar confirmed recent restructuring in the company and said it was part of an overall move towards full ownership of agencies in every market, with the intention of each agency being recognised as the best in its market.

“Even though we have had a very long relationship with our partners in the two countries, parting from them is a positive step forward for the agency,” Ashkar described the 18-year-long business relationship between Saatchi & Saatchi global and its regional partners that gets dissolved on December 24.

Brimming with confidence, Ashkar said Saachi & Saachi has a work culture, and its own work environment that it intends to propagate and develop so as to service its clients who are used to the its way of operations, creativity and delivery.

“There can be few regions in the world as dynamic, uncertain, and yet totally inspiring as the Middle East and North Africa,” said Ashkar. “At Saatchi & Saatchi, our dream is to be revered as the hothouse for world-changing ideas that create sustainable profitable growth for our clients. This is a dream that shares its vision with the future of the Middle East as a whole. We want to be at the forefront of a cultural refocus that celebrates the values, energy, business aptitude and creativity that have thus far made our region a success, and will continue to sustain us long into the future.”

“To do this, our agency needs to be in control of our own destiny. Immediately, this means that we will be opening a fully owned office in Beirut to be called Saatchi & Saatchi Levant, to be operational by the end of the first quarter of 2010. At the initial stage, Beirut will service the entire Levant/Near East region, with offices in Damascus, Amman and Baghdad planned for a subsequent stage of development,” added Ashkar. “Similarly, we are looking at opportunities to enter other new markets in the region such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain.”

Commenting on the potential of advertising industry in Lebanon, Ashkar conveyed his faith in the creative talent in the country and hopes to hone them for their regional contribution. “Lebanon will be like our pool of talent and creativity, and we intend to use these resources across the region, beyond the boundaries of the country.

“The network of fully-owned Saachi & Saachi offices in the region, will maintain their operational independence, while at the same time, complementing each other as a vast set-up of one agency that has a unified mode of operation and levels of creativity, capped with Saatchi & Saatchi stamp,” explained Ashkar.

In the UAE, the agency has had a very long presence and is intending to stretch it to the capital with plans to open a fully operational office in Abu Dhabi soon.

The agency pitched and won the Metro account – the largest media campaign in the region this year, as some media professionals categorise it.

“While the complete extent of the campaign is not disclosed,” said a senior media professional from a leading media buying unit based in the Dubai Media City, “the only figure available as public knowledge is the RTA signing a Dh30 million deal with Arab Media Group for a-year-long media plan in all their media platforms. This is a clear yardstick of the magnitude of the campaign.”

Ashkar described the Dubai Metro campaigns as one of the most coveted deals. “Understanding the complexities of the concept like the Metro that didn’t exist in the country was quite a challenge for our local creative team.

“And in a very fitting way, they came up with a winning concept,” said Ashkar. “Of course our London office along with various other segments of Saatchi & Saatchi elsewhere were involved in the execution of this project, but our creatives for the campaign are fully home-grown and we are very proud of it,” he added.

Extending his views on the Middle East, Ashkar said the entire region is on the brink of a commercial boom and identifies Iraq and Syria as two fastest growing economies in the near future and feels Lebanon will lead by example for the region.

“The recent elections and stable governments in the region and redevelopment of Iraq makes this a very fertile ground for economic activities worth trillions of dollars, and we have to be there at the right time to service our clients.

“We will initiate these regional offices with servicing our existing global clients, but considering the economic boom witnessed by these countries, we have a many more of our local clients, who have already set up their businesses in these countries or in the process of doing it – and of course we want to be there to service them.”

He weighs the issue of fully owned Saachi & Saachi office in Beirut in commercial viability and hints that the agency could move its regional office there.

“It is a possibility and we are weighing the options and benefits of Beirut as the regional office, but it’s nothing beyond that at this stage,” Ashkar confided and stayed tight-lipped beyond that.

Ashkar joined the agency as their regional head in November 2008 and since then has been overseeing the restructure of Saatchi & Saatchi Middle East and North Africa. His tenure has seen notable wins for Saatchi & Saatchi across the region, including the marquee Dubai RTA Metro contract.

Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Europe, Middle East and Africa, Simon Francis has given his stamp of approval to the plans, saying “fully owned Saatchi & Saatchi offices across the region will maximise our network resources and creative energy for clients with interests in multiple countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

“They will also provide a strong offering to specifically local interests, consolidating our continuing drive to create compelling content solutions that build Loyalty Beyond Reason.”

Saatchi & Saatchi clients in Mena include Dubai Metro, Procter & Gamble (Pampers, Ariel, Crest, Head & Shoulders, and Olay), Red Bull, Novartis, Samba, Federal Foods, Mall of the Emirates, Atlantis and Cadbury. The company has 74 offices in 56 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.