Saracen Media was registered as a company on the 9th of July 2001 but only began operations on October 1st 2002. The company was the brainchild of four founding partners 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 customers with the creative message.
The founders were also convinced that the economic fortunes of the country were headed for a turnaround with the imminent election of Mwai Kibaki whom the founders held in high regard as an economist with great experience in running the fiscal side of the country.
On opening it’s doors for the first time, the agency acquired an additional 3 employees, (inherited from the previous owner of the offices who gave Saracen a major break in letting the company have a fully furnished and partitioned office in the then Mobil Plaza in Muthaiga, for a staggered payment plan over 3 years) which brought the total staff complement to 7.
In the first full year of operation 2003 the company achieved a turnover of Kshs 13.4 Million but a loss of Kshs 730k, and the operations were fully funded by the savings of the founders. In 2004 the company’s turnover rose to 24.1M and posted it’s first modest profit of Kshs 347k.
The founders who had all risen to the top in their field of Media Planning and Buying believed that this skill when properly deployed would benefit companies that advertised immensely, because the return on investment that proper planning media could generate was in the average region of 1:3 i.e for every shilling spent on media, the company could get a revenue of 3 shillings, and this was a global average bench mark established by the Journal of advertising research. The partners then set about educating the market on the value of media planning through presentations, and one on one interactions.
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 4 global groups Interpublic, Publicis, Aegis, and Omnicom, of these only Omnicom responded in the affirmative, and an assessment was conducted by the head of Omnicom agencies in Africa, after which he gave a go ahead for an affiliation. This was the preferred arrangement as an affiliation was based on a fixed fee, and gave the company access to all the tools, research, and global clients of the network without ceding equity. This is when the agency appended OMD to the Saracen name. www.omd.com
The agency then went on to record a number of first and achievements among them, being the first agency to convince parastatals and government bodies to separate creative and media pitches, previously these had always been bundled together, but from the efforts outlined in a previous paragraph this came to be standard practice in the industry in Kenya. In 2006 the agency was also the first media specialist to be admitted to the Association of Practitioners in Advertising, which had previously only admitted “Full service” agencies (Agencies with Creative, media, and client service).
In 2007 the agency set up an office in Uganda, and one of the founding partners moved to Uganda to grow the business there, and in that year the company in Kenya posted a turnover of Kshs 180M with a Kshs 1M profit, and a staff complement of 18.
In 2008 the company entered the inaugural “Top 100 Midsized companies in Kenya” survey run by KPMG and ranked number 17. In this same year, the company started another media agency named Saracen PHD www.phdmedia.com to handle conflicting clients as well as compete for pitches in areas Saracen OMD could not. At this time Saracen OMD’s turnover was Kshs 279M.
The companies continued on a growth trajectory, and in 2011 established an office in Tanzania named Olaari Saracen OMD as the rules in Tanzania required a local partner in order to register the business. Tanzania was also slow in establishment due to the challenging operating environment for a Kenyan company, 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 1 Billion Kshs for the first time and the company was recognized by the Top 100 companies survey as members of Club 101, reserved for companies that cross the 1 Billion mark from within the ranks of survey members. The company was also 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.
There followed a period of ebb and flow of turnover between 2013 and 2016, though profitability remained pretty stable, until 2017 when the company’s turnover crossed Kshs 2 Billion and Saracen became the 2nd largest agency in the East Africa region in terms of turnover.The companies held at this level until 2020 when the pandemic hit the advertising sector very hard and turnover dropped by 58%.
In terms of culture, the founders were very deliberate about the kind of culture they wanted to create, having worked at different agencies and seeing the best and worst of the different cultures. 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.
Communication internally has evolved significantly since the advent of the pandemic, where previously staff meetings, reviews, and celebrations were the key means of disseminating important information and updates, this has now mainly moved to Microsoft Teams where we have introduced both work and social chats such as book clubs, and information sharing sessions in addition to the normal work sessions and chats. The company also had a bar on premise with games such as pool and foosball and this greatly fostered after work interaction, but this has been closed due to the pandemic.
Virtual town halls are now held every 8 weeks to update the entire region on all matters important to them, and since all are on the same Teams platform, we have seen collaboration levels increase markedly as well as online learning.
The company is currently in the middle of a transformation, to keep ahead of the transformations that have been accelerated by the pandemic and how people are now interacting with different media. The transformation seeks to deduce and incorporate the critical skills and knowledge that will be required of agencies into the future.
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/