I believe absolutely that the digital landscape in MENA needs to be repaired. The below is not a rant. It is not made up or embellished. It is an account of what happened and what I (and a few others) am trying to achieve in MENA. Several digital people in MENA are working hard to try to develop an industry that is being sabotaged by mis-information
About 12 weeks ago I posted a tweet telling my friends and followers to expect much more content to published in the coming weeks. That didn’t happen and I’ll explain why
I spent 1 year and 4 months at UM MENA (part of MCN) where I earnestly tried to improve not just the performance product but the management and business lead’s understanding of digital. I was unsuccessful so, eventually I resigned. I can truly say that I did everything in my power to help the agency and their clients to improve their digital footprint but while you can take the camel to water, you can’t make it drink.
So roughly 4 months ago I joined a start-up called RBBI. They were (and still are) the first and only accredited usability agency in MENA, an accreditation bestowed upon them by the UPA (Usability Professionals Association). I joined RBBI to create and lead RBBI Performance and had anticipated a slow start (hence promising to create more content) but I was mistaken.
There is a huge appetite in the region for specialist agencies. Given the poor work that is consistently trawled out by the big 5 agencies in MENA, I can’t say I am surprised. It does seem to be a new and acquired taste but then the product and services we offer are pretty much new to the region:
- Data led insight from the beginning (media) to the end (UX/UI)
- Informed decision-making based on trends not conjecture
- proper website analytics that provides actionable insight leading to changes in business performance
the list continues but I digress. If you would like to learn more please get in touch through our site but this isn’t about selling RBBI. This post is about making a difference with digital in MENA and the journey we have experienced so far.
In the first 2 weeks at RBBI Performance I was able to provide work that I had been unable to do for the previous 16 months at UM. The quality of product being provided improved by removing the bureaucracy and politics of a big agency (and belive me the politics were unbearable). Looking back, it seemed like I was spending 70% of my time battling with the account directors and senior management about unimportant things. Freeing up this time opened the opportunity to unleash some great work, excellent insight and valuable changes for new clients. I discovered lots of interesting nuances about language in the region, how users interact with content, how buying patterns are being influenced, what turns different cultures on and off and all because I finally had time to look at all the data.
Then I started being threatened by my old company, UM MENA. I received various phone calls explaining that they were going to take me to court, from various sources both inside and outside the agency. It was a stressful time but we looked at it as a positive thing. After all if they were investing that much time, energy and resource in to us then we must be doing something right. Needless to say, nothing happened. All a lot of hot air. Until they lost one of their largest digital clients.
I received a phone call on my mobile from a gentleman from the UAE police force explaining that someone had made a complaint against me. The charge: that i had stolen their client…
I was told that I could give a statement over the phone. so when asked if i was “stealing” clients I responded with a simple “no” and that was the end of the call.
and that was the end of it…until I received another phone call. This time from an old colleague. My colleague was very concerned about my well-being and informed me of a conversation that had taken place between the MD and them during which my ex colleague was informed I was in jail! At first I had to hang up because I couldn’t believe how ridiculous that comment was, especially coming from somebody so senior in the organisation. Then after a while the severity of the accusation set in. These guys are actively going out there telling the industry that they have had me sent to jail!
We then did some digging and found that in roughly 6 weeks roughly 6 clients had left. It seemed that rather developing their product they were more interested in blaming people.
This experience has taught me some valuable truths:
- A good product doesn’t directly lead to a succesful agency in MENA.
- Existing agencies are struggling with digital because senior bodies have become institutionalised and lethargic.
- Trying to change the landscape in a market dictated by a handful of players will result in those players making trouble for you.
- The way in which agencies treat their people is identical to the way they treat their clients: when you go you are a scape goat and the group left holding the empty bucket will never take responsibility.
- Changing the digital landscape in MENA is more about educating clients to make good decisions than chasing clients for their business.
- There are lots of advertisers in MENA who have had enough of the status quo and RBBI (plus a couple of others) want to help