In an exclusive interview with Communicate, Youssef Chahine (left), General Manager of 180 MENA, and Sander Volten (right), Amsterdam-based Global CEO of 180, explain what the agency's launch in the region means to achieve.
What drove such a large expansion at this specific point in time?
Sander Volten: The past year has proven that the world has never been more connected. It has also revealed the relevance and efficiency of collaborative work, encouraged by technology and all the tools it made available. By opening more hubs across key areas around the world, we’re building and strengthening 180’s ecosystem of global creativity and bringing different cultural perspectives to clients.
We have been covering the MENA market for quite some time, particularly Qatar. The Middle East is evolving and innovating at a remarkable pace, with advancements in technology, healthcare, education, in the environment, and even in science and space. It is only logical for us to be there and take part in this culture of evolution.
How will 180 MENA position itself within the larger TBWA network vis-a-vis other agencies? Vis-a-vis its competition?
S.V.: 180 is a stand-alone agency ecosystem. 180 MENA will be an access point for ambitious clients in the region to access the global award-winning talent of the 180 ecosystem, whether it's the highly revered FMCG and partnership experience from Amsterdam, the social and tech expertise of the NY hub, or the award-winning entertainment experience of our LA team.
Our difference will come down to three simple things: We work fast, flat, and connected. We promise a fresh perspective. Our work will be famous, human, and seamless - created to work in a world where ideas need to live in and at the speed of culture.
How does this expansion illustrate a renewed focus on the MENA region? What are the potentials that you have identified that led to it?
Youssef Chahine: The MENA region, and particularly the Middle East, has risen to the spotlight over the past few years, placing cities that had been long-isolated entities on the global scene. This evolution has blurred the boundaries between different parts of the world and was caused, in particular, by the advances some cities in MENA made through innovation across different sectors.
The UAE is one of those regions that have managed, in a very short time, to become part of the world, a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, launching global initiatives such as the Expo 2021, the Hope Probe Mission to Mars, the Museum of the Future, amongst many others. KSA has also joined the global scene when it opened up to become a tourism destination and embraced innovation at an unprecedented pace. The same applies to Qatar, which has been holding events such as the Qatar Innovation Week, launching the Qatar Science & Technology Park, and preparing to host The FIFA World Cup in 2022, as the first-ever Muslim and Arab country to host the Cup.
The region has embraced evolution and modernity at an unprecedented pace. Countries that were once unknown to many parts of the world are now on everyone’s list of places to visit. The potential here is enormous as the growth phase in MENA has only just begun, and many more cities are set to join the race. This exposure to the world only reinforces and justifies the need for a connected ecosystem that understands different cultures and creates the global brands of tomorrow.
What challenges are you expecting to face and how will you address them?
S.V.: We’re excited about the challenge of setting up the offering. Much of it is already in place as we can build around existing Omnicom structures that we’re connected to. We are meeting with clients already – meeting and sharing our vision. It’s clear that they are excited about having access to our global talent, but having a team available on the ground also means they have extra reassurance of an understanding of local sensibilities and that we can provide the day-to-day service we know clients demand. If they share our ambition to see the world as it could be – creating brands that are famous, human, and seamless – then we can do business.
What can you tell us about the operations in MENA?
Y.C.: I will be leading the operations in MENA, with an initial team of around 25 that will be available to clients on a daily basis to ensure a seamless partnership and collaboration across strategy, creative, production, and client/project management. Our team on the ground will also provide our clients with access to the global ecosystem of 180 advisory and expertise, from brand building and design to brand strategy, digital, and partnership experience.
Why did you choose to launch a Qatar operation on top of the Dubai one?
S.V.: In light of our longstanding success in the market, having a team on the ground will allow us to build relationships with new clients and grow new brands. Our presence will also allow us to be aligned with the culture and ambition of the market.