Agency opts for media zone benefits

The Middle Eastern arm of Omnicom's TBWA advertising agency is planning to open by March a regional creative hub in Abu Dhabi's media zone.

Dubai - January 21, 2010 - Ramzi Raad, founder and chairman of TBWA/RAAD Advertising Agency in his office in Dubai, January 21, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National) *** Local Caption ***  JT005-0121-TBWA_MG_0505.jpg

The Middle Eastern arm of Omnicom's TBWA advertising agency is planning to open by March a regional creative hub in Abu Dhabi's media zone. The move will include relocating its downtown offices in the capital to the media zone, which is known as twofour54.

The company will also increase the number of staff in Abu Dhabi from 50 to about 70, including a "swat team" of creative strategic planners who can support important pitches to clients throughout the company's 14 regional offices. "Abu Dhabi is emerging as the most important national client space in the UAE and across the GCC," said Ramzi Raad, the chairman and chief executive of TBWARAAD. "With major advertisers such as twofour54, The National, Etihad, TDIC [Tourism Development and Investment Company], Sorouh, Yahsat, ADMM [Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management], the UAE capital certainly could make use of a creative hub based in its media free zone."

TBWARAAD is the only major advertising agency in the country with a local partner and does not require free-zone status. However, its decision to enter twofour54 reinforces some of the additional benefits that a media zone can offer, such as proximity to production companies and studios for filming commercials. "It's the environment that we would like to be in," Mr Raad said. "It's an environment of communication and of creativity, and being there will stimulate our creativity because they are all the time interacting with people who think the same way."

Twofour54 was founded in October 2008 with partners such as the BBC, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Thomson Foundation, CNN, HarperCollins and the Financial Times, and has since grown to include about 60 businesses. Several of the newcomers are public relations and marketing companies, but TBWARAAD is the first major advertising agency. Tony Orsten, chief executive of twofour54, said the zone would accept only partners that would contribute to a "content creation ecosystem", including a mandate to help foster local Arab talent. TBWARAAD was allowed in part because of its commitment to produce creative work on site with talent from the region.

Mr Raad said twofour54 was not the cheapest option, but the benefits outweighed the costs as it strived to develop its Abu Dhabi business. Abu Dhabi clients contributed to a remarkably good year for the agency last year in which it saw double-digit growth on 2008. Last year, the agency landed contracts with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management for its Formula One advertising, CNN for the launch of its new Abu Dhabi hub, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and Ferrari World, as well as continuing work with Etihad Airways.

The Etihad contract will be a focal point for the new Abu Dhabi office, which will share space with its sister Omnicom companies, OMD and PHD, Mr Raad said. The office will also focus on digital work. "TBWARAAD here, in its head operation in the UAE, is developing its digital expertise, and digital for us involves strategic thinking," he said. "At the same time, it will involve developing the material for mobile phones, or whatever else."

The company's regional headquarters will remain in its 160-person Dubai office in Emaar Square. It will also continue to have creative teams in regional offices from Algeria to Lebanon, but Abu Dhabi will add a new level of expertise to support the whole network, Mr Raad said. The Dubai Lynx Awards named Mr Raad the Advertising Person of the Year on Wednesday, in recognition of his contribution to the region's advertising industry.

"Our markets for the past 10 years have been growing at a rate of 10 to 15 per cent, up to 20 per cent year-on-year," Mr Raad said. "And so there was a huge amount of momentum created, because at the base of it we were underspent and we were playing catch-up with the rest of the world. So with that momentum, despite the economic crisis, you chose not to accept that you go into a negative situation."

As president of the local chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA) in the 1980s, Mr Raad helped create the first IAA-sponsored advertising awards in the region.