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Fadi – And Us

The region’s most awarded creative has launched his own agency and explains what its hard-to-type name means. By Austyn Allison

Fadi Yaish has lots of different business cards. He shuffles through packs of them. “Coca-Cola and Us”,  “Majid Al Futtaim and Us”… He has other versions that he keeps out of sight, as they represent business he has not yet won. The ones he shows Campaign are all based on clients of his new venture.

The agency’s name is meant never to stand alone. It is always linked – with the typographic symbol called
an undertie – to the client’s, prospect’s or contact’s name or company.

Like the late musician Prince’s foray into being known not by a pronounceable name but as a symbol, this sort of creative conceit is likely to throw up all sorts of confusion. In Campaign’s Agency Guide 2019, we chose to call the agency simply ‘And Us’.

But the sentiment behind the name is clear: And Us partners with each client as a team. “I want the client to think of us as an extension of their marketing department,” says Yaish.

Yaish is one of the region’s – and the world’s – most highly awarded (and sometimes controversial) creative directors. Over the past decade he has led at FP7 and then Impact BBDO to win prizes at home and abroad, and improved the international rankings of both agencies.

After he left Impact BBDO in May 2018, Yaish says, he didn’t know what to do next.

“There are some creative people who from day one, from when they started in advertising, have had this dream that one day they will open an agency and have their own agency with their name on the door,” he says. “I never had this in mind. I’ve never thought I want to open an agency, so it took some time for this idea to grow on me.” He adds: “The only plan I had was I knew that most probably I would not want to go back to work for a network in our region.”

But by January, he had begun to realise launching his own venture was the only way he could keep doing what he loves. Yaish says it took him seven months after that to figure out the principles of advertising, on which he should found his new agency: “Solving problems and growing your clients’ bottom line and top line at the same time.”

Before realising this, he had been absorbed in the work aspect of agency purpose. “The first thing you think about is the work,” he says. “But then I realised that doing great work is what every agency should be doing anyway. Clients come and pay you to do great work for them, so just defining yourself by great work is not good enough.”

This is why And Us sees itself as an extension of the marketing department, and solves problems with creativity – rather than just producing work to a brief.

This requires a shift upstream, to get involved with clients’ problems and strategy higher in the decision-making process.

“First of all, you need to identify the problems, and identifying problems takes time and takes commitment and dedication,” says Yaish. “So to be able to do so you need to work with the client as a team more than anything else. It cannot be just a typical briefing session where the client comes to download on you their findings and the research findings and the marketing thinking, and then you just take that and you make up a brief of it and you start working on ideas.”

Sometimes, the initial ‘problem’ turns out not to be the issue at all.

“There is a problem behind it,” says Yaish. “And sometimes there is a problem behind the problem that you thought was the problem.”

He elaborates: “For marketing campaigns to be effective, they should be tackling a tension point or a problem or a challenge that the brand or the product has.” And Us’s determination to root out deeper issues can lead to some intense meetings.

“Whatever the client downloads on us, basically, we interrogate it,” says Yaish. “Our briefing session with the client can last three or four hours. And we make sure our client is aware our briefing is not going to be the typical half an hour briefing and that’s it. We put the client in the right mind frame before we actually go for a briefing. We take the session and we basically hammer it and interrogate about the brand, about the product. We keep asking questions, so it’s three or four hours of just questions, trying to get to the problem.”

The intensity of the initial meetings, and the lack of middle men, means that turnaround on ideas can be fast. “We believe defining the problem is 50 per cent of the solution,” says Yaish. And Us can come back to the client within two or three days. Ideas are still “a scribble” at this stage, and are discussed with the client, who plays a major part of the brainstorming.”

“Clients love to be part of the process,” says Yaish. “Clients hate to be just a touch point where you brief and then you just go dump on them what you think is good for them.” He continues: “A lot of time is lost in the process, and most of the time you’re not right the first time; things are not defined and 100 per cent clear.”

Transparency means fewer false starts, and the time from initial meeting to final execution can be as short as five days, says Yaish. By that stage, the final presentation has become a mere formality. Keeping the client involved from the start means her approval is implicit.

Yaish wants And Us’s remuneration to be tied to the results it generates for its clients. “If I’m doing my job properly, in an ideal world, my campaign should contribute at least 50 per cent into the results at the end of the day,” he says. “It is only fair that the agency always stands accountable for the results of the campaign. And this is when you have a true partnership between a client and an agency, when the agency is accountable for the performance of their work.”

Don’t fear, though: Fadi Yaish has not sold his soul to management consultancy. He says: “I personally believe 100 per cent in the correlation between creative work and business results.” We can still expect to see award-worthy work flowing from And Us’s offices in Dubai Design District.

The And Us team is about 10-strong now, including creative directors Jamie Kennaway and Steve de Lange, both of whom worked with Yaish at Impact BBDO.

Yaish expects the agency will grow more now it has officially launched, and it should reach 27 employees within a year. At that stage, Yaish will ask a couple of his colleagues to form a sister agency from the ground up.

“A lot of people say if you grow beyond 30 people that agency culture and the agency vibes and environment change because you start growing,” he says.

Although he admits to having done it himself, Yaish says that something he has found irritating throughout his whole career is managers or chief creatives talking about introducing culture into an agency. “It’s not something you can build later on,” he says. “Culture starts from Day One. Culture is a manifestation of the vision you have for the agency. You open the doors of the agency and it’s an empty canvas. Everything you do, everything you say, you add this to the agency to define its culture. So you cannot come after two years or five years or 10 years or 20 years and say, ‘I’m going to inject some culture here; I’m going to rebuild the culture.’”

Yaish says that And Us’s founding culture means: “When we wake up every day and go to the office it is to work idea-to-idea, not quarter-to-quarter.” He explains: “Our eyes are always on the product only, and we believe if we have the best product, then the money will come.”

While And Us is currently based around creative consultancy and execution, Yaish expects to add media into the mix. This will make the agency’s partnership with clients more efficient. It will also allow it to be more neutral, rather than having to twist creative solutions around media plans that have been purchased months in advance.

Being part of planning conversations at an early stage will mean And Us’s implementation can be faster and more cost-effective, but that is not the same as being cheap. And Us doesn’t charge less than its larger competitors, says Yaish. It is a misconception that clients go to boutique and independent agencies for cheap work; rather they go for specialist service, more personal attention and insight.

Partnership is at the root of Fadi Yaish’s new agency. Together he wants it – And Us – to succeed.