The World: Drilling for potential in the Middle East

By Clare Billings, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 14 November 2008 12:00AM

No longer is Dubai the sole Middle-Eastern destination for Western companies.

Given the rapid growth of Dubai into a luxury tourist destination, thriving business centre and home to the world's tallest freestanding hotel, the Burj Al Arab, it is no surprise that the city has built a reputation as the land of opportunity in the Middle East.

The major networks have Dubai offices, with Interpublic this year taking control of the region's biggest advertising network, Middle East Communication Holdings. Smaller groups, such as the Creston-owned Tullo Marshall Warren and Smarter Communications (which launched as Truly Dubai), opened Dubai agencies as recently as October, sending a signal that, while many of the world's financial markets are struggling, there is potential for growth.

But while the spotlight has been shining on Dubai, opportunities in other countries such as Abu Dhabi and Qatar have started appearing. Both have begun developing sustainable economies that are independent of oil and natural gas, although it is income from these industries that is funding them.

Jonathan Adler, the managing partner of VCCP International, says: "Both Abu Dhabi and Qatar's approaches ensure they build the kind of infrastructure that will support their local people in lots of different industries - service, banking, health, sport and education -that will live beyond their oil and gas reserves."

Adler believe the agency can capitalise on the demand for campaigns that raise awareness of what Qatar and Abu Dhabi are trying to achieve to its domestic audience and on the global stage. The aim, he says, is to attract businesses as well as the world's best talent.

Adrian Coleman, a partner at VCCP, explains: "You've got to build a lifestyle that attracts the right kind of people. A good chief executive thinks, 'I want my children to be educated, my health to be looked after and a good airline so I can get there quickly.' And that's where investment in hospitals, schools, education and transport comes in."

Coleman believes that VCCP's style of advertising, which makes heavy use of visual images, can run effectively across different media and markets.

And there's a big demand for integrated campaigns across all disciplines, from direct and marketing collateral to PR. VCCP often pitches with its fellow Chime-owned PR agency Bell Pottinger, which is well-established in the Middle East.

"The briefs and pitch tenders are quite specific and bureaucratic and often require integrated thinking," Adler says. "And if you can't deliver that then there's not much point entering the tendering process."

While VCCP concentrates on the newer economies, Richard Marshall, TMW's business development director, believes opportunities are still plentiful for agencies in Dubai.

"There are some good agencies out there, but in certain areas of expertise, they are not as sophisticated as UK agencies. They might be sophisticated in conventional website work, but they are not as strategically focused and direct and relationship marketing is relatively in its infancy," he says.

TMW works with Jumeirah, the owner of the Burj Al Arab, and Dubai Holding, an organisation that not only owns Jumeirah, but also manages activities from real estate and construction to tourism in Dubai. The agency also works with some of its international clients such as the Financial Times and Nissan Europe.

William Eccleshare, the chairman and chief executive of BBDO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, agrees there is still room for growth. "There are some significant companies based in that part of the world that are growing up and becoming world-class players wanting to increase their profile.

"But the growth is not just driven by tourists visiting the giant shopping malls, but also by the indigenous population who are increasingly recognising the value and importance of brands in the market."

Emirates and Etihad Airlines are prime examples of Middle Eastern brands that have built global reputations, according to Mounir Harfouche, the managing director and regional creative director of Lowe Middle East and North Africa. And, he says, investment is also being ploughed into telecoms, banking and real estate.

One of the issues that all agencies working in the Middle East face are the cultural restrictions that differ significantly from country to country. Saudi Arabia has particularly stringent legislation with only veiled women allowed in advertising and controversy is a no-go area.

The networks overcome the differences by partnering local agencies so that they can tap into their regional expertise. For the smaller groups, such as TMW and VCCP, setting up a small hub employing a mixture of UK staff and local talent is the preferred model.

TMW also has a client services team in Dubai with the bulk of the strategic and creative work handled in the UK.

"They perceive the UK as a sophisticated market and particularly as a lot of the work is digital, you can client manage it from Dubai and develop a lot of the work from London and our clients are very happy with that balance," Marshall explains.

There are clearly opportunities in the Middle East for agencies with Western expertise as long as they remember to adhere to the cultural sensitivities.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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