Gambit Communications, a local independent agency, has announced its launch late July in the Middle East market. Gambit Communications is named after the opening move of the game of chess. “The name is also a double-entendre because the phrase ‘make an opening gambit’ also means ‘to start a conversation with someone’, and in our field the objective is always to help brands start conversations with their consumers,” said founder Jamal Al Mawed, a regional communications specialist.
We spoke to Al Mawed to understand what Gambit brings to the industry.
What does Gambit focus on?
In one word: value. Not just value for money but value in terms of substance. We want to do results-oriented, intelligent work that has value and provides value for brands. For that you need intelligent, driven people, and that’s what we are focused on.
From a technical standpoint, we are focused on three areas: Public Relations (full services – everything from media relations and crisis comms to CSR and content development), Social Media (full management of brands’ social media channels) and Influencer Engagement (everything from choosing the right influencers both paid and unpaid down to measurement and evaluation).
Is that what we need in the current market?
To answer that question I think we first have to recognize that the Human Resources function has failed in the regional communications industry. There seems to be a very weak understanding of what skills you should be hiring for – PR and Social Media practitioners are not the same as doctors, engineers or programmers and cannot be evaluated the same way. As a result we are continuously seeing the wrong people being hired for client side and agency roles which results in a high turnover of staff on both sides and a vicious circle of bad recruitment when under qualified hires become decision makers.
We need agencies that know how to hire and develop the right people for your specific brand, and who can be long-term members of your extended team, not stop-gap solutions to ensure the retainer money keeps coming in. That’s what the market needs and that’s what we can provide better than anyone.
How does Gambit’s technique fill the gap within the ongoing talent gaps?
I think it was Simon Sinek who said “Good companies find skillful people and motivate them; great companies find motivated people and inspire them”. That really sums up how we approach the talent gap. You can teach skills to people but you can’t teach motivation and drive so we look for driven people and we aim to pay them well.
More importantly, our business model allows us to retain them for the client so that they aren’t constantly on-boarding new team members. As a locally owned, DED-licensed, independent agency, we don’t have overheads like franchise fees, holding group fees, expensive Free Zone rates, multiple partners and/or sponsors, shareholder profits, regional offices and multi-layered management structures crippling our overheads and eating away at our bottom line. As a result we can pass on a much higher percentage of revenue to the staff in the form of salaries, and that improves retention rates and staff performance. I’ve seen agencies lose valued team members over an AED 1,000 salary raise – how can they not understand the amplified ‘opportunity cost’ of not making that AED 1,000 investment?
What sort of challenges do your clients face that you want to close?
I think all brands would agree that they want more time from their agency team members, more flexibility, and more focus on their brands. You can’t realistically achieve that with team members working on six or seven clients each, so we have a maximum cap of three brands per staff member.
Clients also want people who are all-rounders to give them an extra dimension, so we try to look for bilingual, creative, multicultural team members who are excited about what they do. We are in a digital age so everyone has to be equally competent with social or traditional platforms.
In what way are you bringing in a new element within the market?
I remember in one of my client-side roles where I had a big-name agency, and a $25,000 monthly retainer was only enough to get me 20 percent each of an Account Manager and an Account Executive’s time. In another role my agency was lying to me about the individual time-dedication of each team member and loading them up with other clients behind my back because they couldn’t balance the books. This shows that there is something very wrong with the ‘big-agency’ mentality at the moment, and brands are starting to look for versatile, nimble, fresh agencies to fill that gap.
The second thing we are bringing is to completely abolish the whole concept of ‘hours’ and ‘hourly rates’. Unfortunately, even agencies that say they work on ‘deliverables’ instead of hours are actually linking those deliverables to ‘estimated hours’. I have never believed in a system where the brand has to worry about how long it takes their agency to do something in case they get charged for ‘over-servicing’.
Our business model is based on deliverables versus an agreed fee. How long it takes us to complete those deliverables is our problem, not the client’s. We are here to give peace of mind, and to do that we need to eliminate business systems that create stress and conflict.