FEER McQUEEN cements presence in KSA ad industry with unique all-in hybrid approach
Posted on 2022 Dec,26

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Lebanese-born independent creative boutique Feer McQueen has been making strides in the industry with its unique all-in approach. Having recently expanded its footprint into Qatar and Saud Arabia, the agency is resolved to play a pivotal role in the growth of the KSA advertising sector by harnessing the savvy and expertise of Saudi talents. ArabAd talked to MD Firas Mghamess to learn more about the Saudi operations, the market and how a hybrid agency can succeed in a traditional communications landscape like the KSA.

A little over a year ago, you stepped into the KSA ad world and wondered, “Where is the love?” Now you’ve made a pretty big impact, taking on some major names in the country, and turning heads regionally. What can you say about that?

Well, when we first launched FEER McQUEEN in the KSA, we noticed some discord. We did our best to work around it and actually build a culture within our own agency that could transcend all of that. Being the new kids in town was both a blessing and a curse. We were relying on our experience as a hybrid agency in other localities, and merging our knowledge of the Saudi market in order to impress the local clients and make some wins. The blessing is that it worked!


So, FEER McQUEEN is doing well now. What did you do differently to stand out?

The industry is still rising in the KSA, and we’re one of the players. Although we can be considered “newbies” in the country, we have a lot to say and a lot to showcase. We are seriously invested in the KSA market. First and foremost, we’ve aligned ourselves with the KSA’s Vision 2030, and we’re growing our business by bringing something new to the playing field. This something new is the hybridness of our offerings, and clients have been so impressed by our unique, all-in approach. The hybrid model is much-needed in the country.


Did you sense any resistance from your clients in the KSA regarding your hybrid model? 

It is actually impressive that both big and small clients alike took to the hybrid model and our way of work pretty quickly – even quicker than our Lebanese clients back when we proposed the hybrid agency model in Lebanon. Clients in the KSA were more prepared to accept the hybrid model – it’s like they were just waiting for it. They were frustrated about the overselling of agencies and their failure to deliver. That’s where we came in and showed them that they could actually get all of that and some from us. Clients like Riyad Bank, Mehbaj, EL&N, Mode Mall, Siemens and Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB) are some names to mention – we loved introducing our hybrid model to them and we loved how positive and onboard they were from day one!


It seems you’re enjoying working in the KSA ad world. Did you have any pleasant surprises along the way?

Generally speaking, the “pleasant surprise” was dispelling the misconceptions about KSA clients. We constantly hear talk about clients in the KSA being demanding and wanting their work done with unrealistic deadlines. Rumor had it that clients don’t take “no” for an answer and that communication was non-existent. Well, we can see traces of this, but we have been building good collaborations with clients, working on sharing our process and explaining it all, down to the last detail. As FEER McQUEEN, we offer more honesty, transparency and practicality.


What if the client really has a tight deadline and won’t take “no” for an answer. What then? 

We’re realistic. If we tell the client we’ll deliver in 10 days, we explain why. In turn, once things make sense and this channel of communication has been open, clients are ready to compromise where needed.

We’re here to be more than just a “yes man” – we’re fighting this “yes man” score that has been around, and it is working. It just takes communication and a healthy relationship, explaining why – going deeper into the reasons and into understanding the context. They’ll listen and put themselves in your shoes and this will benefit both the agency and the client.

Along the same lines, another taboo we’re trying to cancel out is the paradigm of over-promising and under-delivering, which clients have said they’re pretty much fed up with. We’re really putting transparency to the test, and we’ve gotten our clients accustomed to our up-front attitude. We manage expectations in a world where it’s so easy to get caught up in it all.


Have you found it challenging to meet the clients’ requests and vision?

The Saudi market has become so well exposed that clients no longer go for “okay” ideas – they don’t settle for average. They are looking for the wow factor, greatness, because they have a lot to prove. When I say they have a lot to prove, I mean brands and KSA in general have a lot to prove. So, this should be reflected on agencies, which have to prove every single day why they’re the right partners for their client. 

With the recent launch of Mode Mall by Al Khozama, we were able to showcase some of our impressive talents through the branding and launch campaign. Mediocracy is no longer welcome because KSA is positioning itself in the international scene of marketing and advertising, always looking to stand out among great players like the UAE, Europe, and the U.S. This is why we feel we arrived just at the right time – it’s a challenge for all agencies, and we sure do love a challenge!


“The Saudi market has become so well exposed that clients no longer … settle for average.”


As KSA is a wealthy Gulf country, do you find that clients there are willing to put in more to get more?

Actually, the Saudi client is a creative’s dream! Clients have the budget, the will, the volume of audience and the product – all they’re looking for is the creative to make it happen. Typically, the creative team always has restrictions when it comes to budget, which makes it hard to bring certain ideas to life. There are always limitations, especially when it comes to how big to go.

Here in KSA, budget isn’t usually a problem, which is a great opportunity. But this also creates a big challenge: Now that we have the budget, we’re expected to deliver something over the top. The “low budget” excuse is out the window – things are real. This gives us the opportunity to test ideas and be innovative, and to actually see if the strategies we put into practice are reliable because budget isn’t an issue anymore. This means agencies must be more alert and responsible in the ideation stage to ensure solid results that reflect the big bucks being thrown at any given project.


Joining the Saudi market at this pivotal time, did you feel you fit in as Lebanese?

Every day you hear about the stigma of “local content” from the Lebanese who are dominant in the industry but don’t get the KSA context. They “Lebanize” everything – the stigma is that a lot of agencies, including regional and international ones, are trying to have this double personality with Saudi people in the forefront, without giving them actual leverage.

When we first started, this was a challenge. Clients thought we didn’t know the Saudi market or its context. Breaking it down though, why should we be afraid of the fact that we’re not Saudi Arabian? We could recruit great talents from the KSA to complete the team, giving them a decision, and not there just to fill a slot as a Saudi character. And that’s what we did. We’re proud of our achievements abroad, and we brought that pride and experience with us. But we’re also proud that we’re an agency welcoming Saudi talents, learning from their experience and giving them our experience to contribute to building the industry in the KSA.


“Building the industry” – Can you elaborate?

Older generations of ad people have been in the KSA for decades and have made no effort to build the industry; it has been a closed circle. Today, we consider that one of our missions is to contribute to the industry in the KSA by having experienced people partake, share and shape the sector. This is a responsibility we take on, and all agencies should as well. We’re here to make money, of course, but also to help build a healthy ecosystem. Just like Dubai, which is a melting pot where they all build the country up. 

On the long run the KSA is the same. Let’s be honest, we believe that regional and international agencies were coming to work and doing great work but their contribution to building and growing the industry was minimal. We should learn from this mistake – it’s not a competition between nationalities and cultures. Dubai is a great example of that.


“The industry is still rising in the KSA, and we’re one of the players.”


That’s so true and sustainable. Looks like the KSA is on its way to some big things. Well wrapping up, where do you see FEER McQUEEN within the Saudi market in the next decade?

As part of “building the industry,” we’re definitely thinking long term. All of our moves are aimed at sticking it out for the long run. We hope to keep pushing the envelope of marketing and advertising in the Arab world – the KSA included. At the end of the day, we’re just doing what we know how to do – with all honesty and full transparency. We’ll definitely continue building these open relationships and two-way streets with clients, showing them that as marketers and consultants, we’re the ones for them. It’s been only a few months and it already feels like home, so we’re hoping for great things!