Independent network Four Communications makes bold moves in the GCC
Present in Dubai since 2004, London-based integrated com firm Four Communications has faith in the GCC, where it has been enjoying steady growth. With offices also in Abu Dhabi and Muscat, Four has increased its portfolio of clients to include Etihad Airways, IATA, The British Council, and The Wave Muscat, among others. Chairman Chris O’Donoghue and managing director-international Ray Eglington, say they see great opportunities.
On expansion in the GCC
Chris O’Donoghue: Our expansion in the UK is organic and through acquisition; we’re trying to do the same thing in the Gulf. [Acquisitions] are possible because some agencies now realize that they will never continue to grow unless they’re part of a bigger organization. As more and more of the big American corporations come to the Gulf and compete very aggressively, smaller agencies are caught in a trap; they don’t have enough capital and broad-based skills to be able to win the larger clients. We’ve had discussions with a number of them to come and join us so we can be a strong, independent group for clients who are not willing to have corporate American groups imposed upon them.
[As for geographical expansion] we’ve seen [the GCC] growing and improving quite quickly the last part of this year. This is why we opened the office in Muscat [in Q4 2011] and why in Q1 2013 we will open in Qatar; this is why we are winning clients who want us to work not just in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but who have created budgets to expand into other GCC countries. You can work remotely, but if you’re going to show respect to the territory within which you are operating, particularly in the Arab world, you will open an office there and become part of the local culture and local business community.
Ray Eglington: [Our expansions] are often client-led. We put a team in place in Bahrain for two years, for a specific government-contracted project. We set up in Abu Dhabi because we would have never been able to work with Etihad if we weren’t there. In Muscat we were working on a few clients and projects, but we realized that it would only ever be small bits of work unless we’d be committed there, so we took the jump. Only Qatar is opportunity-led: we do not yet have an anchor client, but we have ranges of people we’re talking to, particularly in arts, culture and sports.
On being an independent network
C. O.: Clients’ managers are becoming far more sophisticated and are gaining confidence, particularly in the local companies; they are no longer seduced by a label on the door. They measure you on what you can do for them locally and on how good you are locally. Clients realize that this is not only a cost issue, but also a skills and experience one too. That can only be better for the independents. We’ve been able to draw people with experience in particular sectors and not be in rigid silos in departmental structures, because the company is owned by senior staff and doesn’t have a hierarchy dictated to us from New York or Chicago. [This also allows us to] work in a wide range of sectors as well as being a full-service agency: real estate, travel/tourism, arts and culture, sports, education, energy, sports, crisis management… These are specific skills that most of our local competitors never had to acquire and learn.
On better practice in the region
C. O.: A lot of the signs are pointing in the right direction, particularly on the client side. For example, we have approaches from people working for big corporations, here in Dubai, asking if they can talk to us because they want to change the way they work. They wouldn’t have done that two years ago, when it was “last man in, first man out”. It means that they don’t worry so much about the security of their job any longer, they see how things are improving and they want to improve too.