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The Road Not Taken


The Road Not Taken

UAE-based Q Communications just announced its expansion to Europe, right in the middle of a pandemic. Co-Founders Elsa Roodt and Katie Harvey explain how such a move is indeed a challenge, but one that can be turned into a strength.

“You shouldn’t open a business with your best friend.” “We are mid-recession, no one will invest their PR spend in an unknown…” These are just a couple of the lines we heard back in 2010, when we decided to launch Q Communications – or DPQ as it was known at the time.  Fast forward ten years and having just celebrated our milestone birthday, we have opened shop in the UK, mid-pandemic and again as a relatively unknown player, but this time in a mature market. Why? Because swimming upstream works for us.

To expand from the UAE to the UK does not follow the traditional narrative of established UK and US agencies opening branches in new markets, the UAE in this case. Choosing instead the Middle East as the anchor from which to springboard the company is something we are proud of, but also means we are going up against some of the best known and respected names in the business, on their home turf.  However, we feel this is something we can turn to our advantage. We are hungry, we hustle, and we know we can offer an insight into the coveted Middle Eastern market, with the same tenacious, agile approach we had ten years ago.

Having cut our teeth here in the UAE has allowed us to grow and learn in a dynamic environment unlike anywhere else in the world, one built on relationships and respect. The human element plays such a big role in every facet of business here and is naturally an integral part of our culture at Q Communications. Entering the UK, we will carry this Arabian hospitality with us, with no stiff upper lip in sight. At a time when authentic connections are imperative, this ingrained approach will set us apart. Kate Greville, who is heading up Q UK, opened our Abu Dhabi office in 2016 before returning to the UK, so she understands the relationship between the countries and regions, each being a feeder market to the other. Here, we can offer great value to our current client portfolio and attract new business eyeing up the lucrative Middle Eastern clientele.

For domestic business, we will be battling it out with more local established competition, even though the current climate amid the Covid-19 pandemic will call for a different tact. We find many internationals like to talk strategy versus the ‘Get it done’ attitude we have instilled in the team. There is a place for us both in the market, and strategy is an integral part of communications, but during a time of downturn, the hands-on approach tends to work and actions truly speak louder than words.

In 2010, during the financial crisis, when we only had a handful of clients and three of us to the team, we would be up past midnight baking cakes for press events the following morning, where we were caterer, press officer, host, MC and waitress, all in one. Many barriers were put in our way – our youth, nationality, gender – and there was a constant demand to prove our ROI. But we were persistent, battled through and learnt the value of graft, creativity, and confidence. Now, with a team of over 40, we consult and represent global brands like Reebok, work with multiple government organizations, and have a roster of luxury clients that would make the most entitled influencer weep. This Cinderella throwback isn’t a vanity exercise, but demonstrates our ability to roll up our sleeves while having a seat at the top table. This versatility will challenge the status quo: entrepreneurial thinking, but this time around with a legacy of experience and demonstrable results.

KSA would have been the logical next step for us – it is where most agencies are eyeing up currently, and it is still on our radar – but we haven’t conformed to date, so why should we start now? At a time when most businesses are holding back, we have decided to step forward. We were born in a recession and are growing in one; we trust our gut and invest in people and relationships. Poet Robert Frost summed it up nicely in his poem ‘The Road not Taken,’ and it is with that ethos that we will continue to thrive.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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