At Serviceplan Middle East, we’ve always counted on clients to recognize the fine line between defragmented and consolidated services as we stood our ground pro-integration. Here we share our successes and some hard lessons learned along the way.
A decade and a half ago, network agencies initiated the epic move towards specialization, marking the exodus of in-house media departments into global media houses. By the time we set up shop in Dubai in 2009, the argument has evolved into full service vs. specialist shops. Full service agencies were valued for their one-stop-shop solution, but were heavily critiqued for going broad but not necessarily going deep. On the other hand, specialist shops were esteemed for perfecting their individual crafts, but were deemed hugely lacking in macro perspectives.
Specialist agencies have become the norm as digitalization started to hound traditional full service agencies. Today, the territories are all but blurred. The demarcation line between creative and media houses have seemingly vanished – with media agencies becoming content creators, and creative agencies becoming learned consultants of content platforms. Specialist agencies started offering integrated and consolidated services, while big network agencies began shape-shifting again. Take the decision of one French powerhouse in late 2015 when it announced that it was restructuring its ranks into four consolidated hubs, putting client services at the heart of its mission. Transformation, it claimed, will be driven by the fusion of technology and creativity, with focused divisions in creatives, media, and technology among its four hubs.
Sticking to our “I” Guns
As believers of Integration, the plan was crystal clear from the onset. While we started the traditional route delivering only offline services in 2009, we stuck to our long-term vision of building a “Haus Der Kommunikation” in Dubai to offer specialized services under one roof. We knew there was no room for alternatives since we belong to an independent, family-owned agency group, headquartered in Munich, whose “Haus der Kommunikation” concept has weathered the industry’s shifting tides across 45 years of operations. 7 years into our own experience, we came to realize that boundaries aren’t limitations but opportunities to reinvent oneself, if only to stay profitable and above water in a region that has yet to see its full potential but is already besought with fierce competition from all angles.
When we started, well-meaning industry advisers were saying you either go big or you go boutique. Boutique was the preferred route to gain a good share off the pies of big-name regional clients who remained stable or were recovering fast post 2008. Niche offerings, they said, would help one zero-in on specific gaps that big networks may not be quick or flexible enough to fill in. Niche, they argued, would guarantee a steady flow of income for boutiques for as long as niche is delivered with measurable efficiencies.
The problem? We were neither big nor boutique. We were, in reality, gap-fillers in our own industry, occupying a niche somewhere between a big network agency and a specialized boutique shop. We were extremely careful not to get across as another “indie” house wanting to capitalize on Dubai’s diversity and central location as we highlighted the hybrid nature of our concept. “A subsidiary of Europe’s largest and most successful independent agency group poised to offer innovative communications, innovative digital solutions, brand-individual media, and strategic market research under one roof,” we soon realized, is a concept unheard of in the region. Worst, it is one that often leaves most clients baffled, and at times doubtful.
But their doubts weren’t unfounded. On lots of occasions, we were too adamant to prove our case that we barged into pitches for specific requirements with a full portfolio of consolidated ideas that span offline, online, even experiential. Most times we would leave presentations patting our backs, elated over pleasantly surprised and extremely impressed prospective clients, only to rub ourselves sore come decision time when we are finally told that while our concept was by all means strategic and commendable, budgets could only accommodate specified requirements. Yes, those heartbreaks came in a handful, alongside our more substantial wins.
But with almost 8 years worth of learnings, we’ve come to reinvent ourselves. Not only are we the first agency established outside of Europe that ultimately catapulted the group’s internationalization, we are also the first to introduce a fifth communication pillar – Serviceplan Experience, which offers brand storytelling in a physical space. Today, Serviceplan Middle East continues to stand its ground, advancing the group’s three invincible “I’s” of Integration, Internalization, and Innovation.