Headquartered out of Colorado in the US, ICOM Network refers to itself as the “world’s largest network of independent advertising and marketing communications agencies spanning more than 65 countries”. The brand recognition of ICOM Network in the MENA region is quite slim. This could be due in part to the fact that ICOM is only affiliated with seven companies regionally. Of these seven, two are from the UAE: GMASCO and IKON Advertising and Marketing Services, making UAE one of the few countries outside the US to have more than one agency membership. Other agency memberships in MENA come from 3Points in KSA, Gulf Marcom in Bahrain, Advantage Marketing and Advertising in Egypt, Altair in Morocco and Web 2 Com in Tunisia.
Communicate caught up with Emma Keenan, who was appointed as the network’s newest executive director in early May, during a visit to Dubai for ICOM’s annual conference. Wearing the network’s relative ambiguity on her sleeve, Keenan explains that ICOM’s biggest weakness is “the lack of general market awareness,” which she goes on to note “is something we must improve”. Keenan suggests that while the network has “grown considerably on a worldwide level through industry word-of-mouth”, the promotion of ICOM as an actual brand has “taken something of a backseat”, because the network has been focused on advocating for its members’ businesses. Keenan is most inspired by how closely knit the members have become over the years. She says that when agencies within the ICOM community get together, people seem happy to see one another and have genuinely worked at building their internal relationships. Perhaps this internal bond is so strong that the network has been remiss to recruit outsiders. Although, Keenan admits, “I’d like people outside of ICOM to see that the network isn’t just a group of people getting together once a year to chat about business. It’s an active, business-savvy group of successful entrepreneurs who share ideas, experiences, clients, prospects, tools, best practices and even mistakes.”
As the new leader of the ICOM network, Keenan says that her primary focus is getting an audit that features each member agency to learn about the companies and people who actually make up the ICOM network. Her next agenda for change will be to work on the branding of the ICOM name. On another level, Keenan wants to encourage a personal connection between the members and the brand. “To begin with, I’d like us to create more of an emotional connection with ICOM. The network turned 65 years old this year and it started out in the 1950s as a multi-local, regional network to serve McDonald’s in the USA,” she says. Once the McDonald’s collaboration came to a close, the network members that had been working together for the brand became such good friends and colleagues, they decided to continue their relationship and expand upon it. Keenan’s aim to further internal brand awareness seems justified as she adds that not a lot of members are even aware of this unique piece of ICOM’s history, and it’s a shame, because, as she puts it, it’s “the network’s DNA”.
Keenan also discusses the progress she would like to make in areas such as digital, social media and general web development. ICOM did start 65 years ago, but without moving into digital more quickly, obsolescence is almost inevitable. Furthermore, Keenan adds that recruiting is an initiative that ICOM’s members intend to take seriously going forward, especially in the area of Public Relations.
Speaking of what could be done to increase the regional and global awareness of the ICOM network, Keenan says, “ICOM needs to work more closely with local press, to build up our e-reputation by revising our social media tools, actively participating as speakers at conferences and workshops and encouraging our members to take more of an active role as ICOM ambassadors.” That’s precisely where we come in.
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