Top 25 Most Transformative Corporate Brands Impacting Business 2022

Saracen has now evolved from a media agency to a marketing communications group.

#19

Saracen

This brand is an exemplary essence of a transformative journey in the advertising and media buying industry.

Saracen Media opened its doors on October 1st 2002, the brainchild of four founding partners; Lenny Nganga, George Wanjohi, Sammy Thuo and Frank Maina, who had all worked for multi-national advertising agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, McCann Erickson, and TBWA, previously.

The dream of the founders was to establish a local media agency that would compete with the global agency groups in the area of media planning and buying, and elevate it beyond a subordinate role to the creative field, where a lot more emphasis was laid in selecting an agency, yet over 60% of budgets went into the media that connected audiences with the creative message.

The founders were convinced that the economic fortunes of the country were headed for a turnaround with the imminent election of Mwai Kibaki as the President of Kenya, a man whom the founders held in high regard as an economist with great experience in running the fiscal side of the country, thus the decision to launch in late 2002.

In the first full year of operation 2003, the company achieved a turnover of Ksh13.4 million but recorded a loss of Ksh730,000. The operations were fully funded by the savings of the founders. In 2004, the company’s turnover rose to 24.1 million, posting its first modest profit of Ksh347,000.

In 2005, the partners realized that to excel in this field there was a great need to tap into the vast R&D budgets of global media agency networks that went into developing insights and tools for superior results for clients. A search then commenced, and the partners wrote to the 4 then leading global advertising groups. Of these, only Omnicom responded in the affirmative. Thereafter, an assessment was conducted by the head of Omnicom agencies in Africa, after which he gave a go ahead for an affiliation. Upon signing up, Saracen gained access to all the tools, research, and global clients of the network. With this affiliation, the agency appended OMD to the Saracen name and became Saracen OMD.

A deep-seated belief at Saracen is that media planning and buying, when properly employed, benefits companies that advertise immensely, because the return on investment (ROI) that rigorous and data-based media planning can generate averages 1:3. That is, for every shilling spent on media, the company can get a revenue of 3 shillings, and this was a global average bench mark established by the Journal of Advertising Research through extensive studies. The partners therefore set about educating the market on the value of media planning through presentations, and one on one interactions.

Since then, Saracen went on to record a number of firsts and achievements among them, being the first agency to convince parastatals and government bodies to separate creative and media pitches. Until then, these two functions had always been bundled together. Saracen therefore became a thought leader and agency to turn to and the practice became the standard practice in the industry in Kenya to date.

In 2006, Saracen was the first media specialist firm to be admitted to the Association of Practitioners in Advertising (APA), which had previously only admitted “Full service” agencies (Agencies with creative, media, and client service).

In 2007, Saracen set up an office in Uganda, with one of the founding partners moving to Uganda to grow the business there.

In 2008, the agency entered the inaugural “Top 100 Midsized Companies in Kenya” survey run by KPMG and was ranked number 17. In this same year, the company started another media agency named Saracen PHD www.phdmedia.com to represent a new and upcoming agency in the Omnicom stable as well as compete for pitches in areas Saracen OMD could not. At this time Saracen OMD’s turnover was over Ksh279 million.

In 2011, Saracen established an office in Tanzania named Olaari Saracen OMD as the rules in Tanzania required a local partner in order to register the business. This agency hit head winds due to the challenging operating environment for a Kenyan company at the time, prior to finding a right fit in a partner.

By 2012, the staff complement across East Africa had grown to 34, and combined company turnover rose to over Ksh1 billion for the first time. This earned the company recognition by the Top 100 companies survey, as a member of Club 101, reserved for companies that cross the Ksh1 billion mark from within the ranks of surveyed members. Saracen Media was subsequently appointed the regional hub for Omnicom media group agencies in East Africa, the other hubs being Lagos for West Africa, and Johannesburg for Southern Africa.

In terms of culture, the founders have been very deliberate about the kind of organizational culture they wanted to create and maintain, having worked at different agencies and seeing the best and worst of the different cultures tenable in the country at the time. They deliberately set out to ensure the following:

  • A collegial environment where co-workers are supportive, and foster a familial bond.
  • No office politics.
  • Open door policy by senior management.
  • Constant learning embedded into everyone’s KPI’s.
  • A sense of fun and enjoyment at work.
  • Excellence in the media craft.

These values have been instrumental to the company surviving the deleterious effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, when in 2020 April, the entire advertising industry went into a tailspin along with many other industries, the leadership of the company took it as an opportunity to re-look the entire business model and the future for the advertising sector. This deep and sometimes painful soul searching led to the revelation that the way the company had previously done business was changed forever, and to stay at the apex and be more valuable to clients, the business model had to transform fundamentally.

As a result, Saracen has now evolved from a media agency to a marketing communications group and now offers services in big data and analytics, marketing technology stacks, influencer management, AI enabled digital planning and buying platforms, and brand experiences. The down time during the Covid-19 pandemic when business was low was used to train internally and get all Saracens to acquire new skills, and get to grips with the new and exciting reality of the post Covid-19 pandemic communications world.

Another significant area of practice the company has ventured into is sustainability communications, driven by great passion for the business sustainability agenda and recognition of the grave effects our part of the world will suffer if we all don’t work together to save the planet. By bringing our effective communications strategic skills to this cause, Saracens believe the firm is making a positive and lasting change.  

The founder’s profiles are:

Lenny Nganga – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lenny-nganga-5160071/

George Wanjohi – https://www.linkedin.com/in/george-wanjohi-966ba74/

Sammy Thuo – https://www.linkedin.com/in/sammy-t-87b0021/

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Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Dr. Hanningtone Gaya

Kenya’s Dr Hanningtone Gaya, holds a PhD in Commerce in Business Management from Nelson Mandela University (NMU), is viewed as an authority in country branding and is the founder chairman of the Brand Kenya Board.

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