Beirut-based its. Communications has launched into the experiential market with its. Events. Chief executive Waddah Sadek talks integration and specialisation
“Promoting brands nowadays is more consumer-oriented and social in nature, and we believe our main duty is to provide an engaging customer experience in order to create relationships,” says Waddah Sadek, chief executive of its. Communications. “[A] traditional mix and events aren’t enough anymore. This is the time for activations, stunts, flash mobs, roadshows. These are the essential ingredients of truly integrated campaigns.”
Sadek is discussing the reasoning behind the launch of its. Events, the Beirut-based agency’s latest initiative. Focussed on the experiential side of the marketing and communications business, the new unit already has seven full-time employees and a team of up to 25 freelancers, all of whom work under the leadership of managing partner Ezzat Kraytem.
The decision to open the department was taken as part of its. Communications’ strategy of rolling out several specialised departments – an initiative that began a couple of years ago with the successful launch of tbsp., a unit specialised in the hospitality business.
So far business has been good for the new unit. The agency organised two consecutive events for Beirut Cultural Festivals, revived Downtown Beirut for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party, was behind recent events in Nejmeh Square, and has organised numerous corporate events for its various partners.
And yet the launch of new units goes against the grain of current industry trends, with most agencies choosing to integrate all disciplines back into one single agency.
“Definitely, the trend today is to integrate everything into one agency, and this is exactly what we did in one operation when we integrated the creative, digital, PR and production and client servicing departments into one single kitchen,” says Sadek. “But we believe specialised departments to be a must, and this is shown with the feedback of the market on having expert people running these specialised departments.”
“Experiential marketing, especially in the events category, is becoming an integral part of the brand building process in developed countries. It is not a luxury. It’s obvious that it will develop more and more in our region, which is something we would like to see happening in a faster way.”
With a total of 65 employees, its. Communications has come a long way since it was first launched in January 2015 by Sadek and Daniel Georr, a former chief creative officer at FP7 and a partner in restaurant chain Shawarmanji.
“Since its inception, its. Communications was created and built based on a different approach and concept of communication,” says Sadek. “Among this differentiation were experimental events.”
Experiential, however, remains a tricky sell. As with elsewhere in the region, there is an over reliance on one-off events and little regard for sustainable brand experiences. What’s more, experiential is hardly ever viewed as a central component of any given campaign.
“Experiential is still in its beginning but it’s developing in an exponential way,” believes Sadek. “Marketing and advertising are aiming more on creating relationships with brands than anything else, hence the development of experiential marketing and events. The market is not and will never be saturated since it is based on creativity. The more creative we are, the more events we will have.”
Most of those events, however, are still classical in nature, although Sadek believes they are evolving with the help of digital and social media.
There are other factors at play, too, not least the fact that “some clients don’t like to take risks and prefer traditional activities”, says Sadek, while there are also budget limitations and a lack of experienced talent in the country. Lebanon’s volatility must also be added to the equation, with ups and downs a frequent trait of the market.
“We have to allow for some mistakes to be made to get better, but we’re getting there,” believes Sadek. “Events can become memorable, but we are always faced with economic turmoil and budget cuts, which makes this category difficult to sustain.”
The company is seeking to overcome these challenges by hiring the best people possible, increasing the learning curve of its team, acquiring help from foreign resources, and “creating great opportunities that clients can’t refuse”.
“Experiential marketing, especially in the events category, is becoming an integral part of the brand building process in developed countries,” says Sadek. “It is not a luxury. It’s obvious that it will develop more and more in our region, which is something we would like to see happening in a faster way.
“We believe that every brand/customer meeting should always be a positive one, because building a lifetime relationship with brands is the ultimate aim for both us and our clients."