What's behind the Creative 9?
Posted on May 22, 2017 | By Ghada Azzi

Nabil Sargi, the former MD of Drive Dentsu Beirut, has joined The Creative 9 as partner and CEO. ArabAd sat down with him and founder Rola Ghotmeh to find out how they intend to make a difference in a market where boutique agencies abound.

“The industry has been in a state of constant change over the past few years, leading to a very simple premise: any agency, big or small, multinational or local, new or old has a fair opportunity to win business and/or leave a mark on the creative map,” says Nabil Sargi, the newly-appointed chief executive and partner at The Creative 9. “Indeed, clients and brands are today much more aware and extremely demanding and are thus making it a point to associate themselves with agencies that can truly make a difference in their business and marketplace performances.”

For most within Lebanon’s advertising community, Sargi needs little introduction. Previously managing director of Drive Dentsu Beirut, he is also a vinyl connoisseur and lover of funk, soul and blues. You used to be able to find him spinning records at Radio Beirut with Caesar K and at the now defunct vinyl bar Flipside in Mar Mikhael. You probably still can every now and then.

Now, however, he has decided to enter the world of boutique agencies, partnering with Rola Ghotmeh, who founded The Creative 9 back in 2014 as an “innovative and multicultural advertising agency that burns with curiosity”. He brings with him clients such as Harley-Davidson MENA, adding to a client base at The Creative 9 that includes Bacardi International, BMW Bassoul-Heneine, Google Dubai and Nestlé Dubai.

“I’ve always toyed with the idea of eventually starting my own firm as a natural extension of my career path,” admits Sargi. “However, two key aspects kept delaying the actual decision. The first is the comfort zone driven by a fixed and somewhat guaranteed position and revenue. The second is the difficulty associated with establishing a genuine partnership environment where mutual trust, constructive reliance on each other’s strength and enjoyment in the workplace remain at the core – which is now the case through my partnership with Rola and The Creative 9.”

Ghotmeh, who is the agency’s chairman, founder and chief creative officer all rolled into one, is the spark behind The Creative 9. She also comes from a big agency background, having worked as a senior art director at both J.Walter Thompson and M&C Saatchi, but it is with her own agency that she has found her perfect flow and passion. 

“The Creative 9 name is a conversation starter,” she says. “It refers to the nine creative services that we offer under our roof. We are a versatile team of skilled people where every single member brings something to the mix. We aim to be a natural extension of our clients’ marketing structures by being deeply immersed and involved in the brands’ performances – whether in terms of business results, awareness building or equity development. With this in mind, our recruitment process is extremely detailed and significant investment is made on the people who make the agency what it is today. Indeed, our account handlers are groomed as brand consultants and our creatives as brand visionaries.” 

For Ghotmeh, The Creative 9’s edge lies in its potential to generate meaningful and effective experiences, leading to long-lasting relationships between brands and people, whether through the content that it creates for social media or its approach to through-the-line advertising and corporate branding.

Is The Creative 9, however, not being lost in an ever-expanding sea of independent agencies? Is there really room for more boutique creative shops in Lebanon?

“It’s not about filling a room, it’s about what we fill the room with,” replies Ghotmeh. “In simpler terms, if an agency brings value and quality to the industry then there is definitely room for more. In my opinion some boutique agencies show a lot of promise and are already leaving a mark on the industry. These are the agencies that have what it takes to challenge the status quo, especially today when pro-activeness, reactiveness and fresh thinking are required to sustain brands’ presence and growth. When the founders or management are armed with the know-how and the experience needed to lead a team and an agency, the results will be reflected in the work.”

“The challenge is, and remains, what can such agencies bring to the table and what kind of transformative power would they have on their clients’ business?” adds Sargi. “More agencies does not necessarily mean piling up on top of the existing ones, but rather evolving and streamlining the industry to include entities that can genuinely act as indispensable partners to the brands they manage.”

He adds: “Today – and less than six months after making my move – I am proud of the meaningful relationships I’ve established with my existing clients, but mostly excited about the interesting possibilities and prospects that will result from my collaboration with Rola.”