Grey’s CEO and Hug’s founders tell Austyn Allison the plans for their new union, in­clud­ing re­gional ex­pan­sion, pool­ing re­sources, win­ning awards and mov­ing in to­gether

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

Grey’s re­gional CEO, on the agency’s mar­riage to Hug Dig­i­tal.

“We are chang­ing each other for the bet­ter. Hug is set to be­come more cre­ative, and if it leads to awards, so be it.”

“T here is no rea­son why Cairo should not be the back end of lots of parts of Grey,” says Nirvik Singh, chair­man and CEO of Grey Group Asia Pa­cific, Mid­dle East and Africa. He is in Dubai at the tail end of a re­gional road show where he and his new col­leagues at Hug Dig­i­tal has been show­cas­ing the com­bined ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Hug and Grey to their of­fices and clients around the re­gion. In Dubai, Hug was host­ing “Crunch”, a cre­ative brunch for peers to hear speak­ers from across the in­dus­try, net­work and talk shop.

Af­ter pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, WPP-owned Grey Group bought Dubai-based dig­i­tal shop Hug in Au­gust of this year, and now Singh, along with Hug’s co-founders – chair­man Ous­sama Ja­mal and CEO Tim Baker – is look­ing at how the two agen­cies can make the most of their new mar­riage.

One way might be to take ad­van­tage of the 90-per­son of­fice Hug opened two years ago in Egypt and use it to ser­vice more of the Grey net­work.

Ja­mal says Hug and Grey have been “ag­gres­sively pitch­ing” in the past three months, and two weeks ago Hug won UAE dairy gi­ant Lac­nor.

“That’s big busi­ness,” says Baker, who adds that Hug and Grey are col­lab­o­rat­ing on the plan­ning process of other pitches.

Hug launched in the UAE seven years ago, ex­panded into Egypt two years ago and then opened a sup­port of­fice in India. This year it has be­gun ex­pand­ing into Saudi Ara­bia, where it has a gen­eral man­ager and a so­cial me­dia lead sit­ting in Grey’s of­fice. Six peo­ple in Cairo sup­port the king­dom ex­clu­sively, and Ja­mal says the agency now ser­vices “four or five busi­nesses” there.

“In the Mid­dle East, it’s fair to say that Grey has been an un­der­rep­re­sented agency given its rep­u­ta­tion,” says Singh. “It should have been much larger and it should have been fu­ture-fac­ing. We were a tra­di­tional com­pany, and in today’s world, where dig­i­tal is the heart of ev­ery­thing we do, not to have that sort of cut­ting-edge dig­i­tal will never make us fu­ture-fac­ing.”

Grey lacked a strong dig­i­tal pres­ence in MENA, he says, “Now we’ve gone from a Mid­dle East net­work with 150 peo­ple to a fu­ture-fac­ing, fu­ture-ready net­work of 300 peo­ple.”

There are no plans to merge the Hug name into Grey. “Why would I take the strong­est name in the Mid­dle East and dis­solve it?” he asks. “That would be re­ally stupid. We brought the brand­ing be­cause it’s so strong.”

How­ever, he says that Hug is now “cen­tral to us”. Grey are “sto­ry­tellers” and Hug “can am­plify that in the dig­i­tal space”.

In Dubai, Grey is now in the process of mov­ing its of­fice to a floor be­low Hug’s Me­dia City head­quar­ters. Hug’s team is al­ready en­sconsed in Grey’s Saudi of­fice, and when Hug ex­pands re­gion­ally it will co­habit with its new part­ner as well.

Singh, Ja­mal and Baker say there has been no fric­tion so far in bring­ing the agen­cies to­gether. “I think we are both lis­ten­ing to what each other wants,” says Baker. “It took us a while to fin­ish this deal be­cause we all wanted to get com­fort­able.”

Ja­mal adds: “At the end of the day we don’t com­pete, we com­ple­ment each other. As long as you com­ple­ment some­one there are no is­sues, at least as long as there are no egos.”

There may be some ad­just­ments, though. Hug has been meet­ing Grey’s Beirut-based dig­i­tal team, and Singh says that in 2018 the man­age­ment will need to look at how to tran­si­tion them from be­ing “some­where in be­tween” Grey and Hug today. He adds: “We are very clear they are not go­ing to be siloed,” and em­pha­sises that he has made 10-15 ac­qui­si­tions across his wider re­gion and “we have made prob­a­bly most of them work”.

So might Grey be look­ing at fur­ther ac­qui­si­tions in MENA? “We look at some­thing if it comes along,” says Singh. “I speak to any­one that comes my way.”

If he was look­ing to buy, he says, he would be ex­am­in­ing ar­eas in­clud­ing event man­age­ment and shop­per mar­ket­ing. Those are of­fer­ings that Grey doesn’t have in the Mid­dle East.

Im­me­di­ately, though, Baker says Grey and Hug “have a big bet on re­search and data man­age­ment”. He says: “We are look­ing at how we man­age data and how we take the right de­ci­sions with that data. We are look­ing at cre­at­ing prod­ucts.” Singh praises Hug’s so­cial lis­ten­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Hug may even get some sil­ver­ware out of the mar­riage. “We are chang­ing each other for the bet­ter,” says Singh. “Our cre­ative part is im­prov­ing. Grey won at Cannes Lions, we won a Grand Prix at the Lynx. I think there will be amaz­ing prod­uct in­no­va­tions that will come from the Hug part­ner­ship.” Hug us set to be­come more cre­ative, and “if it leads to awards, so be it”.

He con­cludes: “We are gen­uinely ex­cited. We’re go­ing to have fun.”

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