Son of a Fitch

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Marketing, Published journalism, Q&A on November 23, 2010 at 10:19 am

Design guru Rodney Fitch talks to Communicate about his new business in Dubai and plans for further expansion in the Middle East

Originally published in Communicate, January 2008

In September, international design consultancy Fitch became the majority partner in Dubai-based independent branding and design consultancy GSCS – now renamed GS Fitch.

Communicate met with Fitch founder and CEO Rodney Fitch, and his new business partner, Gregg Sedgwick, when Fitch came to Dubai recently to meet the GS Fitch team.

Communicate: Why acquire the majority share in GSCS rather than any other design consultancy in the region?
Rodney Fitch: Because it is a good business. The Fitch network – 22 offices in 12 different countries around the world – has come together as the result of organic growth, by what we call fold-ins, people who joined us with their teams, and by some acquisitions.

Our criteria are that they must always be companies that I know, they must be companies that I admire, they must be companies who have their own reputation, and they have to be companies which do great work. And Gregg’s business fell into those categories.

There are, of course, other criteria. If I found such a company in Iceland, I would not buy it. It is where they are geographically, and although we are already global, Fitch is making a major push to establish our business in those areas where we are currently not strong. Invariably these are emerging parts of the world – the Middle East, Russia, South America, China and India.

We are also structuring our business on a regional basis. So we have the Americas, we have EMEA and we have Asia. The plan is not to give greater emphasis to one place, and less emphasis to another, but to collaborate in this region, so that by this time next year maybe we will have a studio in Abu Dhabi and one in Kuwait. Maybe we will be in Saudi Arabia or maybe we will be in Bahrain. But the plan is to consolidate the Fitch business and grow it in the Middle East.

Communicate: Do you have any definite plans for expansion or opening new regional offices in the near future?
Rodney Fitch: I will be greatly advised on this by Gregg. But I would love to see us explore Saudi Arabia. I have worked in Saudi Arabia in the past, and I have worked for Saudi clients elsewhere in the world, particularly in London, but we have never had a presence in Saudi Arabia.

Communicate: Would the Saudi operation be an acquisition or a new office?
Rodney Fitch: Certainly it would not be an acquisition. It would be an organically grown business, and would be a part of the Middle East network.

Communicate: You have mentioned expansion and big projects in Dubai and Morocco. Do you plan anything more in North Africa?
Rodney Fitch: I love the idea that we are working in Morocco [on Amwaj, a city being constructed by Dubai Holding in Rabat] but I could not see us having a studio there. Having said that, you have to remember that we are a part of WPP and it could easily be that for a project reason, or team WPP reason, we were needed in Morocco or Algiers.

WPP has a business in Algiers, a major business. I could see us partnering with WPP agencies in those parts of the world. I could not see Fitch wanting to put down a version of GS Fitch in Morocco or in Algeria, but I could see us wanting us to put down a version of GS Fitch in Beijing or Shanghai or Saudi Arabia.

Communicate: Fitch has focused on store and retail design. Does GS Fitch have the same focus?
Rodney Fitch: From a Fitch perspective, ever since we started business in 1972, a major part of our output has been for the retail sector. Today, we are one of the world’s leading retail design firms, and we are easily the most important retail design firm in many parts of the world, and certainly WPP’s leading retail design agency.

Is that GS Fitch’s territory at this moment? We would have to say not so much.

Communicate: What is GS Fitch’s territory, then?
Gregg Sedgwick: Traditionally, we have been operating, predominantly, in a two-dimensional arena. We have been reengineering existing brands and we have been creating new brands. In that process, we position a brand in the market place, we do audience audit work, we create the value set for a brand, and then we create the visual language, the written language for a brand, through which it is expressed, internally and externally.

Now, through our merger with Fitch, we can start to build on our team. We have a team of eight three-dimensional designers already. We have substantial projects on the books. Now we can extend our three-dimensional offer and take our brand development work into the environmental arena.

Communicate: You mentioned that one of the reasons you went with GSCS was that you knew Gregg previously. Have you worked together before?
Rodney Fitch: I have been around a long time, so I know quite a lot of businesses and their work. GSCS was a competitor to Landor. Landor is part of the WPP stable, and through our contacts with Landor, we always had feedback about their competitors out here.

So I knew about GSCS, although we had never worked together, as – because of the WPP situation – we would always have wanted to work with Landor rather than with Gregg. But we knew all about GSCS, and when Gregg invited us to participate we jumped at the opportunity. It puts both of us in a very strong position in the Middle East generally. There isn’t a business like ours in the Middle East. There isn’t another multidisciplinary design practice.

Communicate: Will you be competing at some levels with advertising agencies?
Rodney Fitch: That is not a GS Fitch or Middle East phenomenon. As you know, what we would call traditional advertising – and, as a result, what we would understand to be traditional advertising revenue – is drying up rapidly. There isn’t any doubt that the advertising agency business in its traditional sense has to change, and one of the ways that they see of changing – and I get this at first hand from the WPP network – is that they see themselves moving more and more into the marketing services arena. For them, that includes taking back, wherever they can, the media business. It means getting into PR, and research if they are not there already, and at the executional end it increasingly means getting into the design business.

Our competitors are the usual suspects. For GS Fitch, who are the usual suspects? One of them would be Landor and another one would be The Brand Union. When I look at Fitch as a whole, our competitors are Ogilvy and Mather, JWT, Grey, G2, let alone the McCann Erickson people and Interpublic Group. Increasingly the competition comes from within [WPP] rather than without.

They do not do as well of course, but they do – increasingly – compete.

Communicate: Will you expand into events organization in the region?
Gregg Sedgwick: That is an area that we are now developing and GS Fitch will have an events division. In fact, we have started it already. In a brand circle, it is a natural progression for us. If we are developing naming strategy, creating identity, creating marketing collateral, it seems to make sense to us that we are also responsible for the launch of a new brand. So we have started the process and launched that division just recently.

Communicate: Has Fitch brought any big clients to GS Fitch?
Rodney Fitch: As of this moment, the answer to that would be no. But one of the things that we will absolutely be doing – and we do this throughout the network – is introducing our clients, wherever it is appropriate, to our different regions and to those other opportunities. So, if you take global Fitch clients like Microsoft, HSBC, Vodafone and Nokia, we will introduce all those clients to our operation here, and we will do the same via WPP with all our joint clients.

Communicate: Any big announcements coming in the near future? What is the next major step in the region?
Rodney Fitch: We have some pretty chunky pieces of business under discussion in the region and – touch wood, insha’allah – some will come to fruition sooner than others. We are very ambitious for this region, very ambitious. You can expect to hear from us – and of us – pretty often one way or another.


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