Spin­ning con­tent from ev­ery vir­tual an­gle

JWT and Cleartag join hands for rid­ing the dig­i­tal wave

Executive Magazine - - Companies & Strategies - By Thomas Schellen

Noth­ing is es­sen­tially new, nei­ther un­der the sun nor in the vir­tual world of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and so­cial net­work­ing. The in­sight is not new ei­ther but — in the con­text of ex­am­in­ing a dig­i­tal ac­qui­si­tion in Le­banon — no­table for hav­ing been voiced in a re­cent it­er­a­tion by a key brain in the mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions em­pire of WPP, the world’s top-gross­ing con­glom­er­ate in the realm. “Our in­dus­try seems to move in cy­cles, with the same top­ics res­ur­rected and re­booted ev­ery few years. In fact, one could ar­gue that there is re­ally noth­ing new, just old ideas and is­sues recharged with new tech­nol­ogy, new names and new pas­sion,” wrote Norm John­ston, top global strate­gist and chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer of WPP unit Mind­share in an out­look on dig­i­tal for 2016.

The con­text that war­rants lo­cal at­ten­tion to this view on dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing is the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try news of the ac­qui­si­tion of Cleartag, a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency based in the Beirut Dig­i­tal District, by J. Wal­ter Thomp­son (JWT), a big brand agency in the WPP Group. While the as­sim­i­la­tion of Le­banese ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies into any of the four first-tier (WPP, Om­ni­com, Publi­cis and In­ter­pub­lic) and half a dozen se­cond-tier in­ter­na­tional mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­glom­er­ates is a long-stand­ing prac­tice, the pair­ing of JWT and Cleartag could be break­ing new ground for Le­banese ad­ver­tis­ing tal­ent from the per­spec­tive of the rise of dig­i­tal in this in­dus­try.

The strong­est af­fir­ma­tion on the fu­ture of Cleartag cov­ers its opera- tional con­ti­nu­ity. His com­pany will not be turned into an in­ter­nal sup­plier of dig­i­tal ser­vices for JWT in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), in­sists Tarek Da­jani, Cleartag’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “Cleartag is not be­ing ac­quired to be an­nexed as part of the dig­i­tal ca­pa­bil­ity of JWT. To the con­trary, JWT might and will prob­a­bly be con­tin­u­ing its nat­u­ral buildup, whereas we will find syn­er­gies where we find them and we will build on ca­pa­bil­i­ties where we have to, but there will be some or­ches­tra­tion,” he em­pha­sizes.

Da­jani will stay on as the com­pany’s CEO with no plans to step away from the en­ter­prise that he founded in 2000 to­gether with three team­mates. Ac­cord­ing to him, the JWT deal was met with hearty en­thu­si­asm by Cleartag em­ploy­ees to the point of the team be­ing “ec­static” about how he af­forded them the op­por­tu­nity to “make a dif­fer­ence in the world”. While he would not of­fer an out­look on how many new jobs the dig­i­tal agency might aim to cre­ate at its Beirut head of­fice in 2016 or in terms of other near-term ex­pan­sion op­tions, Da­jani af­firms that Cleartag will seek to branch out into ad­di­tional of­fices and grow its reach first within the MENA re­gion. He says, “We [have been op­er­at­ing] from Beirut and Dubai, serv­ing a big chunk of the re­gion; we def­i­nitely in­tend to con­tinue do­ing so and hope­fully have pres­ence be­yond Beirut and Dubai, to serve our clients lo­cally. The idea is that there is no limit [to where we can grow in­ter­na­tion­ally] but that there is plenty to do [within the re­gion].”

Roy Had­dad, chair­man of JWT in MENA, is equally adamant that Cleartag will not be as­sim­i­lated into the larger brand agency. The value which a com­pany like Cleartag adds to the group re­sides in the ar­eas of cre­ative tech­nol­ogy and anal­y­sis of cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tions for de­liv­er­ing new so­lu­tions to clients, he ex­plains. “To­day a so­lu­tion is not only a cre­ative so­lu­tion but it is more an endto-end so­lu­tion for how you en­gage the cus­tomer, build loy­alty with the cus­tomer and en­hance his ex­pe­ri­ences. This is where the forte of the dig­i­tal comes in. It is a com­ple­men­tary of­fer; they are not ei­ther-or kind of of­fers,” Had­dad tells Ex­ec­u­tive in an in­ter­view or­ga­nized jointly with Da­jani.

Even if the re­la­tion­ship was to see di­verg­ing opin­ions on the ecosys­tem and cre­ative dif­fer­ences, this would be in­te­gral to the deal, Da­jani chimes in. “If I give you an­other spin on the ra­tio­nale it is sim­ply be­cause the beauty of the step is that we will be able to at­tack a mar­ket from so many dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and facets. Un­like trends where agen­cies build ca­pa­bil­i­ties in-house or ac­quire them through an­nex­ing a depart­ment, a key part of this part­ner­ship is an un­der­stand­ing that we all have a role to play and the de­ci­sion is that the part­ner­ship is cre­at­ing com­ple­men­tar­ity, scale, speed and agility,” he says.

RISE OF THE DIG­I­TAL SOPHISTS

If what Had­dad and Da­jani say sounds like mar­ket­ing speak, one can safely as­sume that it comes nat­u­rally to them. The art of pro­duc­ing a ra­tio­nale for a trans­ac­tion and nar­rat­ing it con-

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