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MCH Global’s Ties Hendriks explains the new wave of experiential

Experiential agency MCH Global taking the ME market by storm. Campaign talks to Ties Hendriks, the global managing director.

What has MCH Global’s transformation entailed?

The journey has been nothing short of a steep mountain climb – from being an unknown agency with a three-letter abbreviation that did not ring a bell for anyone, to becoming a challenger brand in the region, to becoming one of the fastest growing agencies in the Middle East. We were able to get attention, pitches, talent and big-wins all within a matter of four years. Our transformation was not by chance; it was strategic. We knew we had to grow in our original expertise area, automotive, but also diversify into tech, and we did so with clients such as Twitter, Google, Godaddy and Cisco. We were scaling up in the middle of the pandemic, to work closely with the Expo 2020 team and deliver amazing customer journeys and pavilions.

How is an exhibition or digital company different from an experience agency?

The main difference is an exhibition design company or a digital agency focuses on one part of the marketing mix, while experiential as a discipline is naturally encompassing in its thought and its execution. Our teams need to have a generalist’s view of a lot of elements of marketing, but must keep a red thread alive as they strategise, create, design and deliver an experience for the brand and its customers.

Is your model of agency a way to move from project to retainer?

There is a natural pivot from leading with the campaign to putting the customer experience front and centre. We are now working closely with our clients to identify first, broad objectives (market share, business or brand-based) and arrive at moments in the year that need to be activated ahead of time. This in turn creates a retainer-style approach, where the brand doesn’t have to necessarily keep pitching and instead can have a preferred strategic marketing partner at the decision-making table. This year we have seen a huge change and we have signed several retainers (for instance with Enoc and Cisco), but also we see that our clients value our deep understanding of their brands, which has led to ongoing engagement. In the first half of the year we have already done multiple major projects with BMW, AGMC and Twitter.

Ad agencies have traditionally led brand and marketing strategy. Is that model evolving?

Personally I would rather experience a brand than be sold it or even told about it. I think the question isn’t about ad vs. experiential; it has to be about storytelling vs. storydoing. We have all witnessed the power of great content, and the power of advertising has stayed undisputed for years, but are we finally entering an era when brand promises are better experienced than narrated. Isn’t the brand experience an equally compelling driver as the brand campaign, or even more so?

We are not here to debate whether advertising agencies should be in the driver’s seat of a brand’s budgets; rather, we are here to build a case that an experience-first approach can prove to be as rewarding, if done right. While engagement metrics and ROI measurement may still need greater tools, we are already exploring possible outcomes around awareness, adore scores, shareability, likeability, brand perception shifts and cognitive purchase decision making, and how they can all be affected by well thought-out brand experiences.

What have you learned from your work with Expo?

One of our key takeaways from the experience was that we were able to juxtapose many different aspects. It became a truly multi-discplinary project and we built a multi-faceted, cross-functional team for it. We experienced the true power of compelling stories that can be consumed and understood by audiences with varying levels of interest and comprehension. To achieve that, it takes in-depth strategic thinking, specific visitor foresight and creative effectiveness that we were able to build into our teams.

What is next for MCH Global?

We have entered into the next phase of growth with two key focus areas: innovation and expansion. We’re pushing to expand our expertise and capabilities into new formats such as the metaverse, web3 and other innovative territories.The metaverse presents a huge opportunity for brands and agencies and we will focus on bringing the same quality of experience and results there as we do in our real-world projects.

We will continue to grow our teams and market share in Dubai, retaining our quality and creative edge with a clear focus on the regional momentum across KSA and Qatar. On the global front, we are building stronger capacity for creative and execution in Europe, foraying into opportunistic segments like banking and also re-activating the pedigree business of art, luxury and timepieces from the MCH Group. We are looking to take on global accounts and projects with an EMEA focus. We have just brought on a head of Europe, who brings immense experience and expertise from having been in roles both on the brand and the agency networks side, and we are gearing up for a busy two quarters ahead of us. We are taking time to train our teams, grow our services and anticipate and plan for the next leap ahead.

Ties, what is your personal key to this rapid success?

The secret sauce – that isn’t so secret anymore – that I’m trying to instill into my team leads and emerging leaders is to start and end with empathy. Instead of starting with where we want to go, let’s start with who we are sitting across from and how can we inspire them to take on the company’s collective goals and make them their own. It all boils down to keeping the culture alive, and ours is one that is open, ambitious, honest and caring. We are in the business of creating experiences, and I want to make sure that among our teams and clients we can deliver an experience that is hard to forget and hard to find elsewhere.