The rise of Reprise

MCN’s digital transformation agency has grown in leaps and bounds since it was founded three years ago. Managing director Stuart Mackay speaks to Austyn Allison

Reprise Stuart Mckay

Digital marketing transformation agency Reprise Digital MENA is three years old. In July 2019 it emerged from the ashes of regional holding group MCN’s Platform5 digital support agency and was launched officially in January 2020.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, it has seen 80 per cent year-on-year growth in 2021, and its management say they are projecting 190 per cent growth in 2022.

Reprise is the regional branch of an agency sitting under the US-based Interpublic Group of Agencies (IPG). In the region it is part of the Middle East Communications Network (MCN). As part of the group, it shares space and facilities with – among others – media agencies UM, Magna and Initiative, creative shops FP7 McCann and Mullen Lowe, and the Weber Shandwick PR agency.

“Some of our growth can be attributed to the MCN group’s integrated way of working,”  says Stuart Mackay, managing director of Reprise Digital MENA. “What I mean is that a fair amount of work that comes into Reprise is in support of UM, Initiative and Magna.”

Locally, Reprise operates differently from other markets, in that it has IPG’s global Kinesso and Acxiom data and technology services built into it. The Dubai branch of Reprise is structured to tackle clients’ challenges that are under-addressed by other MCN services. Mackay lists: “gaps in data experience optimisation, technology, martech analytics, data science, organic search and e-commerce”.

Reprise may be the new kid on the block but its position within MCN gives it an advantage.

Mackay says: “If you look at it from a start-up perspective, we’ve got about 500
of the biggest clients within this building that exist as brands that we service through the agencies.”

The agency’s growth comes from two other sources as well: organic growth and winning new business. Organic growth is driven by quality, says Mackay. “Once you’re in and you’re doing a good job it’s a nice introduction to say, ‘Let me introduce you to someone else [within the agency]’. Because you’re doing a good job, clients are much more open to having these conversations.”

He adds: “I stress a lot to my guys that when you get into a client we do a fantastic job, because when you do a good job first it builds trust. They know you are going to do a good job, you’re not difficult to deal with.”

The other areas of opportunity are “where our competitors do a bad job,” says Mackay. The market can be overly sales-driven, and competitive pricing can affect agencies’ ability to deliver a consistently good service. Although he is quick to emphasise that Reprise’s clients don’t pay “massively more,” Mackay says “good service comes at a price point”.

There is some duplication of what Reprise does with data and the analytics and other services that any modern media agency is bound to offer its clients. But its specialism allows its sister agencies to focus on their established services that they do best.

In return, when Reprise was launched it didn’t have the hangover of being a traditional media agency now turning its hand to digital. It is much more expert on services such as analytics and optimisation that it does well.

Mackay says: “Over the past two and a half years, our role in support of MCN’s agency network has become more pivotal, giving our sister agencies the ability to consult across the broad spectrum of digital marketing.”

Reprise now services more than 40 clients including Mashreq Bank, RAKBANK, FAB, Bank Al Jazira, Etisalat, STC, Property Finder, Al Shaya, Dyson, American Garden, Gargash, American Hospital, Apparel Group, Yas Holding and Burjuman. Some of those were existing MCN or IPG clients, and others have been brought in from outside.

Mackay says: “You need to look at various tiers of clients. At every level I think our services are applicable. … I think we do our best work where a client has an appreciation for the importance of our services and how they add value to what they are trying to do from a marketing perspective.” Brands such as telcos and banks that have introduced more advanced analytics techniques are Reprise’s ‘Tier One’ clients.

Although some clients come to Reprise for specialist projects, Mackay says he prefers to develop a more strategic approach with his agency’s partners.

“The way we like to engage is to go in and more broadly look at their wider digital marketing transformation, to assess their maturity,” he says. “Then, once we have a flavour of how mature they are across media data technology, that allows us to build a transformational roadmap that says: ‘You are here today; you’re hindered in these various areas and your ability to be able to communicate effectively [can be improved by] introducing a number of these best practices.’ Those can be dynamic creative, organic search, Google Analytics or a customer data platform. This is your journey to getting to where you need to be.”

Reprise is continuously expanding its specialisms and certifications, and has become a Google Marketing Platform Partner. It has recently been certified in Google Analytics 4, the latest cross-platform analytics system, which is set to soon replace Google’s Universal Analytics altogether.

“On top of this, Reprise can develop for brands a transformation roadmap with clear milestones and deliverables. “We can assess a brand’s maturity based on the Digital Marketing Transformation (DMT) framework that was developed by the Boston Consulting Group in partnership with Google” says Mackay.

Reprise has expanded the Google/ BCG DMT framework to the other digital media touchpoints that a brand might have. “That gives us a nice fully comprehensive view of the landscape,” says Mackay. “It then allows us to assess the brand’s current state and go, ‘OK, our Reprise products and solutions once implemented would allow you to move along your transformation journey’.”

Reprise has recently become an official Google reseller. “It’s taken us two years to get [Google] reseller status,” says Mackay. “It’s quite complicated.” The process involved case studies as well as Google checking that Reprise is best-in-class in its knowledge and leverage of products and platforms, checking up on expertise, skills and capabilities within the agency.

“It’s a long-winded process, but very worth it,” says Mackay. “Now we are the first local MENA agency that has that reseller status.” Other certified agencies tend to leverage the accreditation of their offices in London or other EMEA hubs.

The client perspective

Stuart Mackay comes from the client side. He spent eight years with Hewlett Packard running consulting and programme management for a variety of European businesses. Then he moved to UK telco Vodafone to head up digital, before running the digital transformation programme at UK building supplies company Travis Perkins. His last role before coming to head up Reprise was as chief technology officer of boutique travel business TAG.

He says: “Because I come from a customer background as well, I always put a customer lens on things. If I was a customer, how would I want Reprise to interact with me?”

Mackay has tried to recruit much of his team with customer backgrounds. He says this gives them a range of experience, and it means they know what clients expect. He says: “I think I’ve got a pretty good view, over 20-plus years, of what ‘good’ looks like. If you’re bringing in people who have been customers, you can collectively come up with what ‘good’ looks like for a client in MENA.”

Recruitment and retention of talent is a challenge. It can be difficult to keep good staff for a long time. Mackay hopes recruits will stay with the company for two to four years, and the company is “working hard to minimise attrition and keep our talent for as long as possible”. Reprise gives them opportunities in return. Experts coming from clients in one sector will work across verticals and expand the breadth of their experience. “It’s an easy sell,” says Mackay.

In a quest for stability and to keep staff turnover down, Mackay says he is careful about who comes into the Reprise team. As well as being evaluated for their skills and experience, job applicants are painstakingly assessed for their ability to fit in with the team and culture.

Reprise has almost doubled in size since it was founded, and how has about 30 people, but the team is small compared with most network media agencies. This means clients get more personalised service. “You can get four or five people that will be your four or five people for pretty much the duration of the contract,” say sMackay. “That makes a big difference as opposed to, having to say, ‘I’ve got to move this guy to another account so you’re not going to get access to the guy.’”

Reprise has recently moved into refurbished offices in the MCN building in Dubai’s Barsha Heights, and already Mackay is eyeing extra space as his team continues to grow. “It’s a good problem to have,” he says.

Even as Reprise expands and continues to pick up big-name clients – both shared with its MCN sister brands and stand-alone – Mackay doesn’t plan to let the agency get too large. “Reprise in Dubai will be as large as it needs to be to provide a personalised service to clients, but we are also focused on building nearshore capability hubs that can support our growth and ensure we can still offer attractive commercials to the clients,” he says. The agency is a lot bigger now than the 15 people it started out with back in 2019. And that’s not bad progress for a three-year-old start-up.