Ahmad – I’d like to thank you for being with us today in season 2 of Tawasal. Can you please tell us a bit more about your career and the birth of Garage366.
I have started my career in 2003 with various multinational agencies such as Starcom & MCN. Garage366 was founded in 2015 based on a vast experience and with strong relationships & network in the market.
Does ‘Garage 366’ mean that your agency serves its clients 366 days & not 365?
Today our concept is not to serve clients, but to build long-lasting partners. In the business world, we always use 365 days & 360° offering, so we took this step further whereby 366 days is a leap year, which is special and we want to ensure that any brief we receive will also be special for us and our partners.
You shed the light on Garage 366 strategy, but can you please tell us more about the “Why Not?” concept?
‘Why Not’ was a big challenge for us coming from family, friends, or business partners. There’s always this notion of “what are you doing?” & “Don’t do it!” or “Why are you doing it?”. So I took these statements & wanted to build on them. In our industry, it’s always been “Why?”, especially when meeting clients. “Why” has always been a limitation to opportunities & to our strengths & what we can offer. So, for us at Garage366, “Why Not?” is a philosophy on how we deliver our work thus resulting in great work, which is being translated to many awards.
What were the main challenges you faced when you first started Garage 366? It seems that you have strong relationships in the market; did this help you or let you down?
Yes, my relationships helped me for sure & that’s why we are still growing even after 5 years. It did let me down a bit in the beginning as I had lost some friends who had considered Garage366 as a direct competition.
You have moved from a Group Director in a multinational agency to the CEO of your own boutique agency. How did this differ from working with big clients to now working with smaller sizes?
We started the business with an international client – Under Armour. But for us, there’s nothing called a small or big client & it’s not based on their spend. But to answer your question, in addition to Under Armour, we also have clients such as GMG & Al Fahim Group whom everyone considers big.
What I meant is, how servicing clients with lower budget is compared to those with higher budgets?
Of course, dealing with clients with lower budgets is considered more difficult. For example, some clients don’t have an internal team to handle the different aspects of their business, & we are required to handle a lot from our side & with very minimal budget. So, it’s usually easier to service a client who has clear KPI’s with a decent budget, compared to a client with let’s say 10% of that budget and with much more difficult KPIs. But here’s where our difference lies; here’s where our creativity, optimization, & capabilities come to life to answer a brief and make a difference, using the limited budget we have.
I know that talking about financials might be a sensitive issue to agencies, but looking at ad expenditures & numbers collected from IPSOS for instance, we notice that Garage366’s numbers have sort of dropped in the past couple of years, but from the start of 2019 until now, we can notice a better shift, can you tell us why?
IPSOS has been an official partner since the inception of Garage366 & we have access to all their amazing tools. We trust IPSOS & all the numbers they have. In the past few years, there has been a strong shift on expenditure from offline to online, and monitoring this is considered difficult. Our gross year-on-year has been between 20% to 30%, so the drop that you saw is based on the offline business & doesn’t showcase the success of the online business.
The reason why 2019 has been better so far, than previous years, is because many clients have realized the effectiveness of offline media & have decided to shift back and use some of its channels for their communication.
When looking at offline spend Vs online spend, what are your ambitions in terms of budget percentage for each?
We can’t actually choose what percentage we’d like to achieve, because our main concern would be to rather achieve our partners’ objectives. However, if we look at 2018 the spend on digital was between 80% - 85%. When we first started, it was 90% offline & 10% digital. The crisis & the economy as a whole has affected the client & today, they want maximum reach & awareness, & this is what online can deliver. We still believe that online will always be much more effective through the existence of offline media as they compliment each other. Frankly speaking, our margins are much better on offline spend, but at the end of the day, our top priority if to reach the client’s objectives and if this means to spend more on digital then be it.
As you said, 2019 offline is reviving & I have notice that traditional spend on outdoor & print is high, however, it seems like spend on TV has become almost non-existence; why do you think this is the case?
I don’t believe that TV should be neglected because the content on TV happens to drive a lot of digital content. The main issue we face when it comes to TV spend is the matter of mass audience Vs selective audience. Most of the time, clients want to focus on a selective audience, which we can do, & that means to them more value on the budget spent.
My question now is on media planning, & when it comes to multinational agencies, unfortunately it seems that they always tend to include the biggest media & advertising channels & neglect the smaller ones; does Garage366 operate in the same way?
Very bold question & the answer will even be bolder. I want to give an example based on my past experience in a multinational agency, whereby a client told once us that he had received 4 different media plans with similar offerings, and he was wondering if now the fight will only be over who will submit the best price? At Garage366 we don’t offer media plans; we offer ideas & once the client likes it, we then support it with a media plan. We work with the smallest to the biggest media suppliers in the market. Our media plans differ from client to client; we treat each plan differently as the financial return is not the main objective for us, but the client’s business objectives are what matters & the partnership we are building.
Is there anything new happening that you’d like to share through Tawasal show?
We’d like to confirm that by the end of 2019 &/or first quarter of 2020, Garage366 will be expanding with 2 new offices in the region.
What is your biggest loss & learning?
Today, we have no losses; it’s always about learning! With time, you know who your friends are & who are not. We are a service industry, so good words & strong relationships would take us miles ahead and this is what we strive for.
We see a lot of awards around us, but which of them is the dearest to you?
Yes, we have over 37 awards locally & regionally, & although we achieved the digital Agency of the Year and have also been shortlisted in the Festival of Media in New York, competing against several multinational agencies, for me, the biggest award was when we received an email from our client Flash, for being recognized by the office of Sheik Mohammad Bin Zayed, for the performance on the AFC Asian Cup 2019. To be living in this country that opened its doors for us & receiving such an appreciation for the hard work we’ve put in is the greatest recognition of all times.
Finally, what message would you like to convey to everyone who works in the media & advertising industries?
The media & advertising industries are not your typical business industries, they are passion industries; people who work in it love it. With that type of passion, one can offer the highest level of creativity. Don’t work in it for the salary, but because you love it and have the passion for it.