The Network Communication Group (TNCG) houses four agencies under it: AGA-ADK that is probably best described as a creative agency, Pencell PR & Events, digital agency Wetpaint and media agency Equation Media.
The Network Communication Group (TNCG) houses four agencies under it: AGA-ADK that is probably best described as a creative agency, Pencell PR & Events, digital agency Wetpaint and media agency Equation Media. Yet, it seems that the group and its agencies are rather quiet, whether that’s on the awards front or hosting and participating in conferences as most agencies in the region do. Saad El Zein, CEO of TNCG, tells us that there’s a good reason why we haven’t heard much from the network in the last few years.
Why haven’t we seen much participation from TNCG in regional awards and conferences?
Since 2013, we have been undergoing a lot of changes and we are moving from being an agency to a network to a holding group. Roger Sahyoun, owner and chairman of TNCG had this vision to turn departments into companies and it materialized in 2013 when we created The Network Communication Group as a holding company. However, we are very much involved in the industry through the International Advertising Association (IAA) even though we don’t have our own programs yet. We do have some things in the pipeline but since we’ve been busy [with internal changes] in the last two to three years, we are waiting till we’re ready and stable before we can think of doing programs that will add value.
Tell us about the internal changes that have been keeping you busy…
We rebranded AGA-ADK in October 2014. Sahyoun launched it as Arabian Gulf Advertising (AGA) in 1997. ADK, which is the third-largest Japanese advertising network, was in talks with AGA from 2004 and the collaboration was solidified in 2007. Over the years, there have been several rebrandings, but this time, we wanted to have a clear philosophy; just like every other agency claims to have its own way of thinking whether you call that “disruption” or “getting it right”. So we wanted to have something that is exclusive and unique to AGA. We worked with the creative and planning teams and came up mwith the philosophy of “novel thinking”. Novel has a dual meaning. Marketing is a story to tell and that’s what we do for our clients; we tell a story. But we added a twist. So when we say “novel”, it means a story as well as a novel – innovative – way of thinking. It’s a story to tell but in an innovative way and it’s always good to bring that twist of innovation and creativity into the story that you’re telling because that’s what differentiates your brand from the rest.
What was ADK’s role in the rebranding?
We had started working on our own rebranding and coincidentally, at the same time, ADK was also going into a phase of changing their look and feel. While our branding changed from the philosophy point of view, our look and feel followed what ADK had done with its logo. And, in fact, when ADK explained that innovation was the driving factor of its rebranding, it was almost like a kind of telepathy.
That’s why it was the perfect time to blend and launch our rebranding.
How does this rebranding reflect itself on a day-to-day basis?
It’s a mode of thinking for our employees when they want to give solutions to their clients. I see our agency as a solution provider rather than a service provider. Many organizations don’t abide by their values and just put them up on the wall and leave them there. Values are not a poster to adorn the wall. They should be in the DNA of the organiza- tion and every employee should know, understand, perform and believe in them. So this is how our new branding is reflected: in our people.
Would you say AGA-ADK is a purely creative agency?
Whatever solution you provide [to your clients], it has to be an integrated communication solution. However, every agency has its own essence. Even if I am providing solutions as a creative agency, I will tap into all resources. For instance, if a client starts with Wetpaint [TNCG’s digital agency] and the base is digital, we still work together to see if we can take it offline.
At a time when agencies and networks are converging different specialties under one roof, you are diverging your specialties into different agencies. Why?
It is with full confidence that I can say we are much better than other multinationals because they are fighting among each other, within their brands. If there is a media agency under a multinational, it is still giving you a full service. We don’t have this attitude at all and work as one entity and even
approach clients together. I have been in this industry for more than 20 years and this is how it was back then: we were doing everything. It was around the ’90s that the de-centralization or specialization of agencies took place and it didn’t work. I believe people are going back to that old model. That’s why, even though we have individual agencies, our culture is different. We have combined the old model of integration through our culture with the new model of specialization. While the form has changed, our culture remains the same.
How are you performing in other markets?
Saudi is a major market for us and we have two offices there in Jeddah and Riyadh. Earlier, they were functioning as satellite offices as we were supporting a client there but now AGA-ADK and Equation Media are fully operational in KSA while we finalize the opening of Pencell and Wetpaint.
Is this the best time to be investing in Saudi Arabia considering the political and economic environment at the moment?
The market seems promising and there is a lot of potential. We all know the situation isn’t very lucrative; not just in KSA, but because of what’s going on in the Arab world at large. However, it is in such situations that you need to increase your exposure, marketing and prosperity.
Is Saudization posing a problem?
It is a challenge. However, I was surprised last year. Being the area director of MEA for the IAA, we run a program called IAA Apprentice, which is for students who are about to or have just graduated from university. Last year, we had more than 30 people from KSA universities who came here [to Dubai] and we were really astonished by the level of their competence. There were 20 women alone who joined the program and who came to Dubai for a tour of the agency.
How is the rebranding and expansion of operations affecting – if at all – your recruiting strategy?
We have hired some new talent but it’s not easy hiring talent. There’s no loyalty today. When we used to work with a company, we used to belong to the company. Today, you feel people only belong to their pockets. One of the major reasons is the economy but it’s also the fact that when we came here [to Dubai] way back when, we wanted to build a career. That’s not the case today; people are here to enjoy life, not build their career. No one would want to go to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait for work; they want to stay in Dubai. Why? Because they just want the lifestyle.
Let’s say for instance they are working on a FMCG brand. They would never go to a supermarket in Satwa to really see how their consumer is behaving. In the old days, we used to have these products in our offices. We worked in the era of bromides when we used to make presentations on carousels. People are all talk today, no action. As the saying goes: you hire skills, you fire personalities. And it seems that people are just taking things lightly now.