Mohamed A.Kader Emara, CEO of Influence Communications, revealed in an interview with “Chief Marketing Officers” magazine the expansion plans for his company within the upcoming years, which target the African region. He further went on to discuss their work for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in affiliation with APCO Worldwide, to manage the portfolio of Egypt’s touristic standing abroad, with a focus on the top five global markets, and how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted his agency’s business volume, and the lessons it brought about.
Influence Communications is a full marketing communications consultancy with five subsidiaries; Influence Public Relations, Influence Public Affairs, Influence X (Experiential Marketing), Mention (digital advertising), and 925 (online magazine).
The agency’s portfolio includes many clients throughout various sectors including but not limited to- PepsiCo, Unilever, McDonald’s, Juhayna, Bel Group and L’Oreal in the FMCG sector, Etisalat and Huawei in telecommunications, Alex Bank, Attijariwafa, MID Bank, Blom, in banking as well as Orascom and Talaat Moustafa Group (TMG) in real estate development, Shell, Petronas and Rosatom in energy, and also Ghabbour Auto, Qalaa Holdings and IKEA.
Influence Communications also deals with different governmental entities, such as the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, as well as, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other partners include, European Union, German Aid (GIZ), African Development Bank, International Labor Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI).
Returning to script of Interview…
- Public Affairs (PA) and Digital Communications are our local priority and we plan for regional expansion in Africa.
- PR represents almost 50% of our business volume, 25% is our targeted growth rate for 2021.
- Conference organization reduced by 75% during last year, and virtual events couldn’t fill this gap totally.
Firstly, we would like to know more about Influence Communications and services it provides.
Influence Communications is a full-marketing communications consultancy, established in 2007; it is a joint-stock company with five subsidiaries which are: Influence Public Relations, Influence Public Affairs, Influence X (Experiential Marketing), Mention (a fully-fledged digital advertising agency), and 925 (online magazine). The magazine is not classified as a news platform but it shall be deemed a reference for every person who is looking for news related to the Egyptian workforce and those who want to learn more about business success stories and startup ecosystem.
Our PR subsidiary represents approximately 50% of the company’s business volume, while the other half is mainly coming from our Digital, Public Affairs and Events. We always like to make sure that we are positioned as a full communications consultancy, a “one-stop-shop” for all our clients’ communications needs.
How does your company plan to expand in services within the next period?
About two years ago, we started focusing on digitalizing our services, and since the pandemic we have worked even more in successfully taking steps in this direction. Therefore, we invest highly in research and analyzing tools, social media measuring, as well as obtaining licenses of best tools which are used globally.
Moreover, we currently focus on how to mix these tools by human factor in order to ensure accuracy of its results and guarantee that specific main subjects will not simply be left behind. The digital world is very dynamic and includes groups, key opinion leaders (KOLs) and influencers that have an impact on public opinion and digital tools cannot detect them totally, which requires human interference to achieve better, more accurate results.
We aim to focus on the expansion of government and investor relations in the Egyptian market which is currently covered by a limited number of companies. The reason being is because in order to deal with those two aspects you need a clear, scientific approach as well as a thorough understanding of how governmental institutions operate, in addition to good relations with different stakeholders.
Does Influence Communications have any partnerships with worldwide corporates providing PR services?
Yes. We have an exclusive affiliate agreement with APCO Worldwide, since 2018. APCO Worldwide is one of the world’s largest communications and public affairs consultancies. It is a worldwide network with close to 60 offices in different locations around the world, with regional offices in Washington, Brussels, and Singapore. It also has a regional office in Dubai serving the Middle East.
This agreement allows both of us to provide our clients with services and insights internationally and/or across a specific region.
- A 25% decrease in sales of 2020, impacted by the consequences of COVID-19.
- During the pandemic, our clients contributed more than 200M EGP in CSR activities.
- The Egyptian Market dominates largest share of PR business volume regionally.
In which markets would you like to expand in the coming period?
We would like to expand in Africa, especially North African countries, in the field of PR and PA with regional clients in markets such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, Sudan and Libya via our partnership with APCO Worldwide.
Why don’t you set up branch offices there?
Actually we did before, in 2012 we opened our second operational office in Dubai for about 4 years, and then we came to the conclusion that forming an affiliation is what made more sense for us. Nowadays, the entire world follows such system due to its low operational cost . Not to mention once more, the Egyptian market alone dominates the largest share of PR business in the Middle East.
Is there any kind of government cooperation with your agency at the current time?
Actually, yes. Currently, we are working with Egyptian government via the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. As we have recently assumed responsibility of managing the portfolio of Egypt’s touristic standing in five main global markets, as well as the crisis management portfolio in case of any crises that may threaten the sector. Honestly, we should commend our government for thinking strategically, outside the box in regards in contracting international companies supported by strong local affiliates.
What are the scenes behind the cooperation between you and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities?
The cooperation was first initiated when the Egyptian government started, nearly a year ago, to look for a worldwide agency to handle the portfolio of Egypt’s tourism standing abroad, provided that it has a strong presence in Egypt in order to understand and be more aware of the local market. So, through a global tender, the ministry contracted with APCO Worldwide, which in turn, has an affiliate agreement with Influence Communications. In this circumstance, it showed what an intelligent move it was from the ministry’s part to find not only a leading worldwide company to manage the portfolio, but to also require an Egyptian company to work hand in hand to achieve optimal results.
From your point of view, how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the Communications and PR industry? And how was the agency affected by the pandemic?
Let’s agree that crisis management represents a key pillar in PR. Although the market witnessed a halt at the beginning of the pandemic, the volume of our business increased shortly after due to the repercussions it had and its impact on a number of sectors that are in direct need of the services that we provide.
Moreover, the activities that were taken on by companies to fulfill their corporate social responsibility (CSR), supported the sector and aided in avoiding certain consequences of the pandemic through initiatives and contributions. Influence Communications has been honored by the Ministry of Health in this regard, as the company’s clients alone contributed close to 200 million Egyptian pounds in CSR activities concerned with the Covid-19 pandemic in the year 2020.
Our business, however, decreased by almost 75% at the level of events organizing, but virtual events helped narrow this gap a bit; our agency was the first in Egypt to convene a virtual conference for Pepsi.
Do virtual events have the ability to replace the offline events post- pandemic?
Not entirely, no. In fact, it is an acceptable alternative in the current circumstances but can’t be a permanent solution as it lacks two very important factors, direct engagement and building relations. Therefore, on-ground events will definitely have to come back, complementing virtual ones.
How did the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic impact the company sales in 2020? And what are your objectives for the current year?
The total sales of Influence Communications decreased by 25% last year, due to the pandemic, excluding, as previously explained, the PR subsidiary. We seek to achieve a growth rate of 25% by end of this year.
How has the pandemic changed the strategy of communications agencies in 2021?
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has, in one way or another, changed business strategies, particularly with regard to focus on digitizing the business we do. We are now paying more attention to the world “digital” in general, and applying it in means of public awareness, which day by day is evolving from traditional methods, such as TV and press to digital media, including social media influencer, bloggers and social media fb groups. I personally call it a bigger media list, which proves that every person can have impact in his/her society and the public, and it is not limited to traditional methods.
Finally, what are lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic for sector staff?
With the increasing role of digital communications during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the most important lesson for sector staff is the necessity to improve their understanding and thinking in regards to digital communication, in light of the reliance on virtual conferences and meetings. Also, they need to increase the ability to adapt with variables, particularly towards working from home, while taking into consideration the importance of mixing between digital and traditional communications.