MENA Media Network of the Year 2015: PHD

Phenomenal growth, expansion and a commitment to talent and culture ensured PHD’s spirit of ‘finding a better way’ came of age in the Middle East and North Africa during 2015

There could be only one winner. PHD’s performance this year has been unprecedented. It set the benchmark for growth in a challenging market, continuously innovated, made tangible and long-term business results the focus of its work and substantially upped its headcount.

The figures speak for themselves. With 94 per cent business growth and a 100 per cent pitch conversion rate (17 wins from 17 pitches), PHD was head, shoulders and torso above any other regional media agency this year. It added $350 million in new billings and a further 30 per cent via organic growth, all of which was attained with 100 per cent client retention. What’s more, the 94 per cent growth rate does not include billings of the agency’s two most recent account wins – Dubai Parks and Resorts and the Al Futtaim Group. These accounts will be active in 2016.

The agency also witnessed 71 per cent year-on-year growth in digital billings and 83 per cent year-on-year growth in content marketing, while investing heavily in its data and ana- lytics capabilities. This investment quadrupled in comparison with the previous year, a quarter of the agency’s new business billings being directly attributed to its investment in data and analytics.

All of which means the agency increased its headcount by 56 per cent across multiple disciplines in 2015 including new senior hires across digi- tal, data and marketing technology. It has also invested heavily in its talent and culture, providing 150 hours of learning and development for each employee, amounting to an investment of 5 per cent of its annual revenue. Meanwhile, its staff retention rate for the year stood at 92 per cent.

At the forefront of all this has been Elda Choucair, PHD’s managing director. Such success from an already significant base has been hugely satisfying for Choucair, who has put digital at the forefront of the agency’s agenda from the very beginning. In essence, PHD’s pioneering spirit of ‘finding a better way’ has come of age with its success even more spectacular given that it comes in the context of a shrinking market. It has also been a key contributor to international business wins.

The agency’s work has been focussed on tangible and long-term business results, although the weakest link in the agency’s year has been its awards tally. It won a single gold at the inau- gural Festival of Media MENA and two bronzes. Further bronze awards arrived via the Effies MENA and the MENA Digital Awards.

Yet PHD’s commitment to media innovation, its contribution to the wider industry and its corporate social responsibility initiatives ensured its position as the region’s media agency of the year. This year saw the roll out of a state- of-the-art real time ‘command centre’ where data can be collected, cleaned and analysed within seconds. It also utilised the ‘digital index’, a 360- degree competitor and brand analysis platform that identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with 1,100-plus data outputs. It was also the first agency to address the impact of artificial intelligence on marketing with the launch of its fifth book Sentience. It debuted in the Middle East at the PHD-curated event BrainScape.

To cap it all off, PHD UAE ranked as the most charitable PHD office in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region and the third most charitable office globally. And all in its 10th year of operation, having opened its first regional office in Dubai in 2005.



It may not have been the kindest of years for OMD globally but here in the Middle East and North Africa, the agency proved once again why it is a force to be reckoned with. Its revenue grew by 17 per cent and billings by 13.7 per cent during a year where it focussed on consistency, agility and performance. It won or retained 24 pieces of business, losing only du locally (it withdrew from the pitch) and moved further from media to consultancy, with its social offering growing by 220 per cent performance by 180 per cent, and creative by 125 per cent.

The network rolled out innovative work, produced creative for key clients such as Persil and Pepsi and won 38 awards this year compared with 26 in 2014. Among them was the most effective media agency of the year title for OMD Dubai at The Effies and a bronze at the Dubai Lynx.

What set the agency further apart, however, was its commitment to talent and culture, while it also integrated all disciplines across Omnicom Media Group into a singular agency offering. Its headcount grew by 23 per cent with a 96 per cent retention rate, while a cohesive culture drove both internal and external success.


For the first time since the launch of The Annual, third place is a tie between Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) and UM. Both had good years with SMG growing its billings by 13 per cent and winning or retaining 26 pieces of business. On paper, it had as good a year as OMD winning 22 awards including media agency of the year at the Dubai Lynx and both agency and network of the year at the MENA Cristals. However, it missed out on second posi- tion due to its lower non-media growth rates, a lesser commitment to talent and culture, and its limited industry contribution and CSR initiatives.

Meanwhile, UM had its best year ever, recording 17.5 per cent growth. This was driven by new business wins and the rapid rise of other services. Most notably social, digital, data and content. It won more than 45 new pieces of business; saw its social media department, UM Society, grow by 500 per cent; launched branded content division UM Studios; and launched its technology and innovation depart- ment, UM Labs. It reported strong talent and culture initiatives but was marked down for media innovation and its limited industry contribution and CSR initiatives. However, it won two silvers and three bronzes at the Dubai Lynx, placing it second behind SMG in the media agency of the year running.