Going Far (Together): The Qode Enters Into A Partnership With The Independents

For its next business growth stage, Dubai-based The Qode enters into a partnership with The Independents, a global luxury brand management group created by Karla Otto and K2.

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By Tamara Pupic • Jan 20, 2019

The Qode
Alexander Werz, Karla Otto, Ayman Fakoussa, Dipesh Depala, Isabelle Chouvet

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It has been a fast-paced entrepreneurial journey for The Qode co-founders Dipesh Depala and Ayman Fakoussa since 2010, when they decided to establish themselves as the brand management agency of choice for local and global luxury brands across the MENA region. Less than a decade later, with a 35-strong team, the company's portfolio has become a growing list of the sector's top-names.

And The Qode's next business growth stage is all about going the distance together, which, in today's fashion and luxury sector, usually means uniting with one's peers in order to jointly create an enviable global reach. That was what Karla Otto, the founder of Karla Otto, a Milan-headquartered public relations company dominating the global luxury, fashion, and lifestyle arena since its foundation in 1982, and Isabelle Chouvet, the founder of K2, a Paris- and Shanghai-based events, design, and production company, aimed at when creating The Independents –dubbed a global luxury brand management behemoth– in 2017. A year later, it became clear to Otto and Chouvet that their objective of becoming a one-stop shop for luxury brands looking to coordinate their global profiles would be incomplete without having a reliable and strong partner in the Middle East- which turned out to be The Qode.

Through a new partnership, The Qode has now become an integral part of The Independents, and will be its operational partner for global clients in the Middle East. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, Fakoussa explains that for The Qode's clients, it is business as usual, but now with a global perspective. "The Independents and The Qode have a very cohesive and strong partnership, in which we plan to work closely to further improve and enhance our service to clients globally, and particularly in the Middle East," Depala adds. "The partnership offers us access to an incredible pool of resources, and the strength of a global group to ensure we offer the highest level of service across the board. Our plan is to further strenghten our imprint on the GCC region, with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia in the coming couple of years. We are also working on some interesting projects in India which is becoming a key market for luxury brands."

The Qode's Ayman Fakoussa and Dipesh Depala
Source: The Qode

Otto says, "We definitely could see that The Qode knew what they were doing. I already knew Ayman from the days we worked together at Villa Moda, but I could see that The Qode was very quickly becoming the go-to agency for most of the brands we were already working with in other markets. There is a lot of synergy between our code of conduct and theirs, so it was a very clear and easy fit for us on so many levels, and a natural fit for us and The Independents' network."

Chouvet notes that the changing face of the industry has led her and the two partner agencies to work on more integrated offerings. "K2 evolves in a highly talent-driven industry with more and more demands from brands, but a certain shortage in trained talent, because this industry remains quite young, especially in Asia, and without the same flexibility in terms of talent mobility as we may have inside Europe, for instance. So, we decided very early on that the race to size should not be blindly defining our growth objectives, because we need to keep control of what we deliver, and steer the boat with ease."

"We invest in young talent, and give them the opportunity to grow and feel empowered with the projects they manage. In parallel, this is a win-win for us, because the brands' highly coveted consumers are getting younger, and we need to have this millennial perspective inside the agency to stay fresh and relevant. As you can see, the company talent development strategy and the way we reengineer ourselves to address the transformational shifts the fashion and luxury industry is undergoing are two subjects -internal and external– that have a lot to do one with another."

Souheil Hajjar, Nadine, Ayman Fakoussa, Rama Hajjar, Noor Sweid, Dipesh Depala, Noor Shawwa at The Qode event
Source: The Qode

Chouvet points out that the increasing online investments from the brands over the past 10 years to reach out to digital-first consumers have affected the whole ecosystem of media, PR and advertising worldwide. The brand story now needs to be narrated across channels and platforms on a 24/7 basis, at each point of contact of the consumer with the brand, anywhere in the world. "And the brand may not even be directly part of the conversation when it comes to the social networks," she notes.

"The global city never sleeps! And it is expected that 2019 will just continue to reinforce this phenomenon. What we call the experiential is something that cannot be just seen as injecting some digital into an offline event; chatting on your mobile phone with the after-sales department should be perceived as a brand experience in itself. But unique moments and experiences where the consumers have a more up-closeand- physical interaction with the brand they love will continue to strive, and our role is to remind our clients to take this into account early in the process of creating campaigns."

In Otto's opinion, the proliferation of new communication channels forces brands to change and adapt. She expects next year to bring new ways of evaluating the effect of PR on the basis of relevance and impact, not just visibility and awareness. "The narrative has evolved from being simply a demonstration of beauty and luxury to creating experiences, inspiration and empowerment," she says. "Brands today no longer look to just to educate people, but also aim to encompass a much deeper experience and purpose. Today's audience is fashion-savvy, and does not look for uniformity, but demands uniqueness, individuality, and purpose. Brands look to relate, to resonate, and to connect. This will continue to evolve with the way this narrative reaches the audience."

Source: The Qode

When it comes to the MENA region, Fakoussa says, the focus is on the need to localize key messages and communication. "Brands are investing in local campaigns with influencers, which have a strong impact in terms of creating affinity and connection with the local community," he says. "And we are seeing a big trend in brands also creating local social media pages as a way of creating an engaged local community through their Instagram and Facebook channels. It's a very effective tool to really have a meaningful and strong connection with the local communities in the region."

However, Chouvet points out two crucial differences between the West –"where brands and their agencies had to learn how to navigate through the new rules of the game written by Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Amazon"– and the particularly tricky Asian markets in which K2 predominantly operates. "It's a totally different story in China which will soon be the biggest consumer pool for luxury brands, where these players are not present," she says.

"WeChat, Weibo, TMall, and JD have shaped a more integrated way that consumers interact with the brands on an emotional and transactional level. Localization is therefore an important factor in helping the brands stay relevant in their core messaging delivery. But if I had to identify a common challenge encompassing all our geographies, I would say that hot topics on a business point of view for our clients, such as new retail, online to offline integration, and customer-centric data-based strategy tend more and more to blur the line that used to separate marketing from communications."

Regardless of current trends, Depala believes that the Middle East is an important strategic market for global brands, due to its young population with high spending power, and a real focus on luxury brands. However, they need to be properly advised on the region's specificities and cultural sensitivities. "In our market, digital and social marketing has become a very significant part of marketing, and we can see that year on year, its importance is rising, even compared to more developed markets," Depala says. "We have recently added a content division which can produce content for brands including videos and other tools to reach their customers. It's a very dynamic and interesting time for marketers in general."

And it looks to be an even more interesting time ahead for The Qode as well.

Related: Reclaiming Your Entrepreneurial Dreams: Searchie's Sahiqa And Harvey Bennett

Tamara Pupic

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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