Hussein Fakhri, CEO of Doha-based Agency 222, explains how Qatar’s advertising industry is slowly coming out on top
How has the advertising industry in Qatar developed in the past four years?
Change is the only constant in any industry and that is highly applicable to advertising. We live in an age where the audience is no longer just an audience. Consumers control the conversation and they get to choose what type of advertisers speak to them, when, where and how.
This means that advertising spend has increased and, here in the region, we are constantly seeing more international agencies setting up. However, there remains plenty of scope for improvement. Access to data is limited and a “one-solution-fits-all approach” doesn’t work. Maintaining a competitive advantage requires an evidence-based understanding of the market and a client’s business imperatives.
We are actively pushing to raise the standards through offering insights, expertise and impact, and the advertising industry needs more agencies and clients to follow in the same direction.
The digital sector is taking the lead in some MENA markets. Is this the case in Qatar?
The digital sector is one of the more interesting communication themes to emerge from the Middle East region in the past few years. In Qatar, digital is growing, but not at the same pace, when compared with other markets where the usage and penetration of digital is equally high.
A recent survey by Northwestern University reveals that online penetration is at 86 percent in Qatar (the second highest after TV, which is at 90 percent). If we look at audiences under the age of 45 years, we see that digital is the most popular media among that group. This means that there is a huge disparity between what audiences are doing and where marketers are trying to reach them.
Digital doesn’t necessarily always take the lead, but in situations where it is suitable – because of its accountability, immediateness, ability to engage and create a dialogue with the target audience – it becomes the linchpin of an overall effective communications strategy.
What are the main challenges facing the industry in Qatar today?
Qatar is growing fast and there is a pressing need for agencies to keep up with the fast pace of clients’ requirements without jeopardizing quality.
The fact that many agencies serve Qatar through satellite offices or transient consultants is proving costly and ineffective. The real opportunity for agencies lies in their ability to offer solutions from the heart of Doha. Solutions that are home-grown, yet world class in reach and impact.
The country won the rights to host the World Cup back in December 2010 and work is underway – especially infrastructure projects to deliver the tournament. This, of course, has a positive impact on the advertising industry and will continue to do so.
As far as we are concerned, World Cup 2022 will take place and Qatar is heavily investing in infrastructure, tourism, culture, education and many other pillars, all of which are in line with Vision 2030. This ensures that the economy will continue to grow and so will many industries, including advertising and communications.
If you look at Brazil, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup, you will see that the advertis-ing industry is thriving there in anticipation, so if we take this as a model, we have a lot to look forward to.
Do you see the Publicis Omnicom merger affecting the market for small agencies?
The real question is: Will this merger truly help the company get a better handle on Big Data and what will the impact be on clients? Only time will tell.
Smaller agencies should see this as an opportunity, especially as they focus on better un-derstanding their clients, being closer to them, while delivering quality work. Ultimately, this is what clients want.
With blurred lines between the media and advertising agencies today, what is the agency of the future?
The agency of the future is already here. It is called Agency 222 and is based in Doha. We have all of our disciplines under one roof. We do our own research, planning, media buying, production, PR and digital work in house. This model is working extremely well and the testimony to that is the clients we have won based on merit and the robust campaigns we constantly deliver.
How do you see the Middle East region faring in the advertising industry today?
It is definitely the most exciting region for our industry. The populations are growing, the demographic breakdown is perfect for continued growth (with 70 percent under the age of 30 years) and advertising spend is increasing. We are now becoming a force to be reckoned with on the international stage and there is absolutely no reason why we cannot start leading the industry out of this region. This is certainly our ambition, so watch this space.