Spinning content from every virtual angle
JWT and Cleartag join hands for riding the digital wave
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-