Qatar cries out for good design

The big media companies are there already, and designers should follow suit, given Qatar’s growing need for creative and branding skills

‘Go East young man’ might once have been the advice given if you wanted to better yourself. Now, it’s the Middle East that’s on everyone’s radar.

So, what about Qatar? Many people still haven’t heard of the country, although the Doha Asian Games in 2006 raised people’s awareness.

Qatar, a peninsula adjoining Saudi Arabia – that’s all I knew when I first came here three-and-a-half years ago, first as a consultant and then as a client director for Fitch London.

I had no idea that one day I would be running Grow, a Doha-based branding and advertising group. There was a seminal moment in the transformation of my fortunes from UK-based employee to expatriate partner and owner. I presented to a very senior official who, in a moment of quiet reflection, told me that the ruling family were committed to putting Qatar on the world map. They were tired of the revolving doors with consultancies walking in and out, leaving little or no legacy, much less any transfer of skills or knowledge. That was my ‘eureka’ moment – I knew that I could help Qatar and Qatari companies articulate and express their positioning and differentiation, locally and internationally, but I would need to be based here to succeed.

I recount this story because it’s probably the most important principle that international advertising and design groups need to consider when looking at Qatar as an investment opportunity.

Forty-one hotels are being built here over the next three or four years, and the government is investing more than $100bn (£50bn) in infrastructure projects by 2012. Education, health, sports and upmarket tourism are the country’s key investment priorities – after oil, gas and infrastructure, naturally.

But this is just scraping the surface. There’s a huge youth market here – more than half of the population is under 25, highly literate, brand aware and flush with cash.

Qatar development projects are increasing exponentially. There’s Lusail, a new city for 200 000 people, Al Khor, a $500m (£250m) project to house more than 80 000 people, plus the massive Pearl project.

In all these developments, foreigners can own property with permanent residency.

But, what you want to know is, should you set up shop here?

Well, you’ve got to be in it to win it. The big media companies are already setting out their stalls/ Grey, TBWA and Publicis are just some of the international agencies that have recently opened up here. JWT is rumoured to be coming and Ogilvy & Mather is looking around. This doesn’t bode well for small local creative groups that have been plying their trade for decades, offering cheap – and some would say nasty – work.

Yes, there are still companies that give their annual report to printers and say, ‘Here, you design and print it’. And the word ‘brand’ is often still perceived as just a logo. It’s true that design here is price-driven – harking back to the great trading and deal-making instincts that are endemic in Qatar.

There is much work to do to raise perceptions about the value of good design. But for the moment, it’s all down to who is first to market in this pioneer country. While Qatar makes its great leap forward on to the world stage, there are many Qatari companies working hard to articulate their positioning and establish communication strategies.

The same is true for ad campaigns, corporate brochures, corporate social responsibility and customer relationship management – clients want integrated communications that will deliver on the brand promise and give a return on investment.

The tide is turning. Once we have achieved critical mass in terms of understanding, the dam will break. Rupert Sheldrake called it the ‘hypothesis of formative causation’ – or the 100th Monkey Principle to us ordinary mortals. When enough members of a population incorporate a pattern of thinking or behaviour into their lives, there’s suddenly a quantum leap in consciousness and those habits become inbred. Then, strategic branding and creativity will achieve their rightful place at the top of the management-thinking pyramid.

In the meantime, international agencies will open in increasing numbers, or link up with locally based thought-leaders in branding and creativity.


Anthony Ryman is managing director of Grow

• There is no personal income tax in Qatar
• There are no exchange control regulations
• Foreigners can earn up to 80% or more of a company’s profits if the foreign entity is the main player in the joint venture
• Food is cheap and good quality
• There’s no crime, lots of beaches and loads of five-star hotels
• Foreigners can own land in selected real estate development projects such as the Pearl, Al Khor and Lusail, but not elsewhere

Hide Comments (9)Show Comments (9)
  • Anonymous November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Having spent the last two years lviing as a design consultant in Qatar, perhaps the reason there is a revolving door is that contract conditions are extremely onerous and they don’t pay their bills.

  • anonymous November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Agree with the last comment, and would add that there is a culture clash in terms of economic motivation…foreigners are used to the “you get what you pay for” philosophy, out here the predominant mentality is “get something for nothing”.

  • anonymous November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Re the comment below. The problem is compounded with payments as the worst culprits are the quasi Government Organisations who purport to incorporate best-practice standards but in word only.
    Watch out; the more they talk, the less they pay!

  • Annonymus November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    A very well written article. Qatar is growing very rapidly and I personally consider it as the number one place to live in, especially having younger children.

  • regrets November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I spent a year in Qatar. The money is good and the country is nice. However the Locals don’t like expats at all and you will notice this as soon as you arrive. You have NO RIGHTS in Qatar as an expat. If you have a car accident with a local it is YOUR FAULT no matter what. It is not cheap at all. Food is expensive and clothes too. Don’t bother with a work contract, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. They promise one thing and give another. By the time you realize it is it os too late as you have left your job in the UK. I can go on and on. If you are thinking of going to Qatar think very carefully before you do.

  • toutankhamoun November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    i would say both sides of the arguements cover the fact of living in doha. the cost of living is acceptable if someone is taking care of the rent and it is a tax free country, for the time being. a conservative society that is witness an economic boom is not so much a glossy picture to look at, freedom of expression and lately the dress code for expats is becoming a new constraint in a casual mode of living, in the malls and public places. informative messages in the malls’ entrance are warning female expats to wear long sleeves shirts and trousers, that’s a considerable change towards nothingness. eating outside in ramadan can lead you to jail and good fine with lots of digits. a couple holding hands is a crime and cultural insult, yet, two locals holding hands is acceptable, within the cultural conduct!
    so, hi back to cultural tolarence, dubai is more moderate and understanding to the other, and at the same time, it is kind of a jungle to live in…
    on the other hand, business is here, whoever wants it and compromise the social life that he is used to, well, the market is waiting for bright/creative people and clients are desperate for a good service.

  • James Waters November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I read your article with interest but need some advise seen you have a wealth of experience in Qatar. I am setting up a business with outdoor living products and would like to make contact with the design consultants in Qatar, and publise the lines I will be doing. What would be the best way of finding out who they are and their contact details? I am based in Dubai. Thank you

  • Anonymous November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I agree with other coments here. The locals detest the expats and/or simply see them as something else to try and own. They will indeed change the terms of a contract or ignore it completely. Food prices are rising exponentially. Whatever good money you earn here, the dear sweet locals are spending every moment to try and ensure that you leave with as little of it as possible.

    Until Qatar drops its onerous contracts, residency requirements, exit visas, etc., the country is little more than a gilded cage.

  • reality November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    For God’s sake be greatful!
    Let’s be honest they are so genourous and if you calculate from riyals to pounds or vice versa you will “APPRECIATE” living here !
    For example, I’ve attended conferences and exhibitions in Europe and England and NOTHING is for free not even water!!! Here in “Doha”, everyting is paid for everything’s for free!!!!!

    living here is so much cheaper and simpler INDEED.

    And when citizens, ‘Qataris’ have pride and have the right, and life as you see it; easier for them (it really is not that sweet and sometimes not even fair) for Qataris. So don’t envy something that in reality isn’t a fact! After all it is their country.. if they don’t get well treated in Qatar (their home land) where else would they?!! what is more irritating is not being well treated and fairly recognized and supported in your country.

    “””And as for, “some get paid for nothing” that sooooooooooooooooooo much implies, way more to foreigners than Qataris.”””

    Simply put your self in their shoes!

  • Post a comment

Latest articles