Feer McQueen has set its sights on the European market. Founder and creative director Firas Mghames explains why
“We’re the agency under the mountain,” says Firas Mghames, the founder and creative director of Feer McQueen, with a smile. He is sitting in his office in Jeita enjoying his surroundings.
Feer McQueen is one of those agencies that has somehow managed to keep itself to itself, yet has quietly and diligently created an enviable reputation over the course of the past eight years. Not bad for an agency that many people in the region have probably never heard of.
Its isolation has helped. Tucked away in a villa to the west of Jeita Grotto, it has done little to no self promotion, only really posts on social media when it needs to, and has created what Mghames describes as an environment of hard work and contentment – a hard balancing act to master if ever there was one.
“We have our own villa, we have our garden, and that helps a lot in creating our own bubble,” he says. “We have two forces that are creating a kind of balance in the agency. It’s a happy place. It’s the Nutella of our minds, if you want. A lot of people in the agency feel that it’s an island inside this corrupt country and all the negativity that’s around us. However, there’s a lot of pressure too. It is a very hectic, productive, challenging environment that is balanced by this sense of a happy place. It’s our La La Land. A very liberal, but at the same time, very responsible environment.”
Feer McQueen – a combination of the founder’s childhood nickname and the surname of actor Steve McQueen – is what Mghames describes as a hybrid agency, one that works across multiple disciplines, doesn’t have a client servicing department, and has huge respect for AKQA. Thirty-five per cent of its clients are in Europe, including Swatch, for which it does a sizeable chunk of its global work, and it has most recently added business consultancy to its already lengthy list of service offerings. In Lebanon it counts Bank Audi, BBAC bank and Beirut Digital District amongst its clients.
“We’re a young agency, we’re an aggressive agency, and that creates a lot of curiosity,” says Mghames. “Because we wanted to be portfolio orientated (in terms of the work, not in terms of clients), we understood from the early days that if we went from Lebanon to the Gulf – which is what all Lebanese agencies do, that’s their natural expansion – we’d most probably make a lot of money but we wouldn’t be creating a name for ourselves. Plus we didn’t feel like we belonged there. So our attention was towards the outside.
“We’re going to get our asses kicked, but we work day and night, we go the extra mile, we have this positive mentality, this happy place.”
“We attended OFFF in Barcelona and other forums and that’s what shaped most of our decisions. In all these forums we discovered that there is a huge creative industry that has nothing to do with all the big agencies that we know. It’s a different pool of agencies, they’re super talented, and all of them are hybrid. And that was a surprise for us, because we always thought that you need to focus on one thing and to master it. But we discovered that you can be a designer and illustrator, a DJ, a VJ, you can learn 3D animation, you can direct your own videos. We thought, ‘this is nuts’. We saw a pool of talent and it was like, I don’t know, we got beaten up there.
“So we started changing our approach. We started following agencies we didn’t know about, we started pitching to global clients. With Swatch we started with simple web banners. Today we create campaigns from A to Z – TVCs, adaptations, all their screens around the world.”
And you’re doing it all from Lebanon?
“Everything from Lebanon. We don’t have another office.”
“We’re a young agency, we’re an aggressive agency, and that creates a lot of curiosity.”
Are you considering opening an operation in Europe?
“Definitely in Europe, yes. We’re working on it and we believe that could be our next destination.”
At the heart of Feer McQueen’s plans for the immediate future is the implementation of a fully-integrated ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. One that connects every single detail of the agency’s operations; from clients and timelines, to budgets and accounting. It’s not sexy, but it’s a potential game-changer.
“It’s a very, very important move for us because this will allow us to go and knock on the door of international brands in Europe,” says Mghames. “And that’s our plan. We’re working on it day and night. We’re coaching our team, investing a lot in them, doing all the training. All this eventually in order to access the European market.
“It’s going to be very challenging. We’re very modest in our expectation, even if we have big ambition, but we have one thing that will help us make it, and that’s resilience. I know that we have very talented people in the agency, some of the most talented in the region, but that doesn’t mean it will be an easy job in Europe. We’re going to get our asses kicked, but we work day and night, we go the extra mile, we have this positive mentality, this happy place.”
The ultimate goal?
“We want to create our own story. We want to create our own legacy,” replies Mghames. “And that legacy is of a Lebanese brand that went outside of Lebanon – to Europe, not to the Gulf – and showed what was possible.”