Network plans Middle East push

The entrepreneur behind one of the world’s fastest growing creative agencies has set his sights on the Middle East.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  July 24, 2005

The entrepreneur behind one of the world’s fastest growing creative agencies has set his sights on the Middle East. Chris Clarke, the Australian owner of the Shanghai-based agency Nitro, said: “We will set up somewhere in the Middle East within the next 12 to 18 months.” Clarke started Nitro in China in 2002 and it has already grown to a company with US$125 million billings and a staff of 85. He has offices in London, New York and Australia and is talking about launching operations in South America and Russia. This year Clarke launched into London by taking a stake in independent advertising agency Soul before eventually buying it out. He told Campaign Middle East: “I would really like to find the right partner to buy an equity stake in, but whatever happens, we will definitely come to the market. “The Middle East is a growing area. It’s one of those great developing markets.” Despite running the network, Clarke said he still considers himself an ad man first rather than a suit. “I’m a creative. And I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of planning lately,” he said. The Nitro model differs from many agencies, with creatives having far more direct contact with clients rather than having a layer of account staff between them. Clients include Nike, Mars, Unilever and Schering Plough. So far, the agency has never lost a client. Clarke is known for his globetrotting in his attempts to deliver high levels of client service. And he said he was realistic about the levels of advertising creativity in the region. “It’s like China or any developing market — you’re going to struggle at the start. But you can lead the market, and I’m sure there are pockets of creativity. It will take time, but these guys will catch up.” One issue Nitro may face in its search for a Middle East partner is that there are fewer independent advertising agencies with sufficiently large rosters of clients to provide the immediate regional launch platform it is looking for. Within Dubai, the highest profile independents include Tonic, which recently won the region’s first Cannes Lion, and Face to Face. Clarke added: “I’m looking for a base to push into Africa from the Middle East, so we’re looking for a great agency that can be that for us.”

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