Ahmad Sabra: ‘We are looking for partners, not clients’
Posted on 2017 May,19  | By Iain Akerman

With media buying and planning as its backbone, Garage 366 is a rarity in a media scene dominated by behemoths

Ahmad Sabra talks 19 to the dozen. He sometimes speaks so fast it is hard to keep up.

“Tell me if you want me to stop. I know I talk a lot,” he says before lighting a cigarette. We are in his office in Dubai’s Tecom overlooking the entrance to The Greens. 

There is a meaning behind everything in the office of Garage 366, which was launched by Sabra exactly two years ago. The word ‘garage’ defines quality solutions, he says, while 366 represents the number of days in a leap year. The latter supersedes “the conventional 365 day ‘promise’, which many agencies fail to deliver”. The gears within the agency’s logo reveal “a succinct work culture, one that drives our ambitions and delivery to new heights of excellence”.

The cynical will dismiss much of the above as meaningless marketing mumbo jumbo, but for Sabra it is fundamentally important. A point of differentiation. A promise of commitment, service and quality.

Whichever way you look at it, Garage 366 is a rarity. An independent agency that, although offering integrated solutions across digital, creative, production and activation, has media buying and planning as its backbone. Indeed, you can count the number of boutique media agencies on one hand. His competitors are therefore huge by comparison. But it doesn't worry him. Far from it.

Sabra’s confidence is intriguing. He says he didn’t lose a single account in nine years while at UM, where he was a group media director before setting up Garage 366, does not pitch for new business and rejects certain proposals.

“When I started my business I posted something online,” he says. “The second you begin to succeed, you need to respect your competitors. I know my level and I know their level. They are the sharks and if they are the sharks we have to be in the ocean with them. If I’m in the ocean I need to know where to play.

“If I’m able to win in terms of creativity, if I’m able to win in terms of rates, if I’m able to win in terms of billing, if I’m able to win in terms of everything, the passion is what made me win. Nothing else. Nothing is impossible in life. We are passionate to win and we are not pitching for business by the way. We are being approached.”

Is this confidence misplaced? Arguably not. The agency won four awards at the recent Festival of Media MENA – two gold and two bronze – and was placed second in the agency of the year category at the MENA Digital Awards in March.

“We are looking for partners, we don’t look for clients,” says Sabra. “We have rejected business because they wanted something within 48 hours. We are not slaves. We are a business that is looking for partners who believe in us and who believe that we can do it together; who want to shake hands with us, who don’t want to compete in the market saying ‘who will give me a better rate, and who can be a slave for me within 48 hours to give me a media plan’. I am not this. I am looking for a partner who can stand behind me and I can stand behind them. That’s what differentiates us from others in the market.”