Marketing and Communication: Riham Alayyar Presents Kuwaiti Marketing Firm Philosophy

Riham Al Ayyar presents Philosophy, a Kuwaiti marketing firm she established in 2015. Philosophy has a communication arm under it dealing with advertising, social media and PR. Riham Alayyar also discusses challenges to be faced, success stories, competitive advantages, and shares her vision for the next two to three years, as well as her inspiration.

Interview with Riham Al Ayyar, Founder and CEO of Philosophy

Riham Al Ayyar, Founder and CEO of Philosophy

What was the journey to start your own agency with Philosophy?

I left the client side in 2014. I actually took one year off just to put the whole plan in place for the next chapter of my life. I decided to flip to the other side because I saw a lot of potential in the market for the kind of things that we do. We are not an advertising agency. We have a lot of advertising agencies in Kuwait. We are a marketing firm that has an advertising agency embedded in it. Communication, to be more specific, is integrated with marketing. If you do communication without the marketing and strategy and positioning, then the shelf life of that communication would be too short. This is where I find it very interesting. In 2016, I decided to actually go ahead with the idea.

What is the specific concept of Philosophy?

It is a marketing firm that has a communication arm under it and that communication arm has advertising, social media, PR, all aspects of communication. We create tactical and promotional ads. Back in 2016, the people who are in the industry knew that the traditional media was at the end of its life and social and digital media was coming and taking a big chunk of that cake. So, who actually decides what to put in traditional media and what to put in digital media? This is where the marketing strategy comes in. What I personally do is position clients. We have many different kinds of clients. We have large organizations, commercial brands, small and medium enterprises, entrepreneurs. I am an entrepreneur and I believe in that. We also have individuals because in the first year I realized it was more about giving awareness of the importance of marketing strategy. We tell all our clients to not do something that is standalone. Awareness of brand equity is where positioning comes in. This is where you build the whole strategy. Once the whole marketing strategy and the positioning of the brand is agreed on, then we get our communication arm which has the traditional media, which is the advertising, the PR, the social media, and we tell them how to execute it.

You had this strategic way of thinking even before starting Philosophy?

I was lucky enough in my experience that I was trained by experts. What differentiates us is that we have that international standard with the local essence. That is the perfect combination. We have the international standard of experience when it comes to strategy and we have the local knowhow. We know what is going on in the market. We know what the society will accept and what the society will not accept but we are putting it on that quality of the international standard.

What are the major challenges for you to boost your company?

I want to be one of the top 10 marketing firms in the Middle East and North Africa. I will reach that. I love challenges and I am very optimistic.

I love challenges. The past four years, putting Philosophy on its feet was the challenge. Now, I can say that we are stable. I am also handling another beast called VO. It is mainly a creative hub related to media and for younger entrepreneurs and young talents to grow and to prosper and to go beyond Kuwait borders. Kuwait sells our oil to the whole world but we want to put quality talent and great entrepreneurs on the international stage. We have great entrepreneurs, amazing success stories, amazing local brands. We need to shine the light on them and put them on an international stage. The main challenge that entrepreneurs are facing is the awareness of the importance of positioning and brand equity, what brand equity means, and having a marketing and communication strategy. Working with even public government organizations, this is one of the main challenges because when you talk about the brand, they think of a brand like any of the commercial brands that has products and services. Philosophy took us a full year just to raise the awareness within the markets that when you went to one market to service or market a product, you also need to market a law, you need to market a legislation. Marketing is not just for products and services and a commercial enterprise or entity. The main challenge the first year for us was raising the awareness of the importance of brand equity. For me, the name Riham Al Ayyar is a brand. Kuwait is a brand. Around the world, we saw perfect business cases of nation brands. This is where the idea of VO came. I want to support entrepreneurs because at the end of the day, if I support entrepreneurs and their own brands and their own talents and putting them on an international stage, automatically, I will be working on the Kuwait nation brand because these are great ambassadors. As expats, when we travel, the first thing you do is you open Google and browse about Kuwait. If we want to get these good caliber expats to Kuwait, the first perception is the Iraqi invasion. The second thing is that we are an oil rich country, as if our entrepreneurs or Kuwaitis do not really work. But we actually have careers and we do work and we build ourselves financially. The third was that sometimes people do not know the real Kuwait and you have to tell them we are the country next to Dubai. So, as a Kuwaiti, as a local, I feel this is one of the things that I need to do, that I need to change. I am a Kuwaiti. This is my bread and butter when we talk about brands. For me to reach that point, first, I need to raise the awareness of the importance of brand, brand equity, positioning, and what brand means, what communication means, the difference between advertising and brand, etc. This is what I have been doing since 2017. I have been getting different clients who already have the knowhow. We have a big segment in the private sector who understands exactly what I am talking about. The lingo that I am using is not gibberish for them. But when I talk about the public sector and entrepreneurs, there is a difference.

What is your major challenge personally?

The biggest challenge is actually having more time. I need more time to develop my projects. I enjoy creating heroes, but it takes time.

Who are your clients?

My clients are in the private sector more because the private sector actually understands what we do. If any organization, either private or public, wants to cut costs, the first thing they do is they cut their marketing costs. They want to cut costs and raise their profits. The only way you can raise your profit is by marketing yourself. So, you actually want to market yourself but the first thing you do is you cut your tongue so you cannot actually talk. That is a common mistake I see with different organizations – public, private, small, medium, large. Some colleagues were asking me about when COVID was hitting and economically, would small entrepreneurs and small enterprises like us be really affected. Yes, some segments will be affected. Fine dining will be affected, for example. But marketing will not be affected. Media will not be affected. It will actually have a boost and we are seeing it. Everyone needs media now. Everyone needs marketing. Now, everyone needs to talk about the new way of doing things. This is why it is easier now to tell people that this common mistake of when you want to cut costs you cut your marketing department is wrong. You are shooting yourself and me.

What does Philosophy bring to the market that is different? What is your competitive advantage?

My competitive edge starts with the name. We have a different philosophy in how we approach things. The difference between us and a lot of agencies is that we are not an agency. We are a marketing firm that has an advertising agency within it. We have thinkers, we are creatives, and we also execute. We come up with an idea, we create it, we have all the debates with the thinkers of will that work or won’t it. Some ideas can work in Kuwait while some will not work anywhere other than Kuwait. Some ideas can work in Europe and would not work in Kuwait. The difference is that my team and myself are glocal. We give you the global standard but with the local essence. You can get the best people globally, but if they do not know the knowhow of the market, the essence of that market and the society, they will not be able to sell. It is also the other way around. If you get the local firm, they cannot give you that global standard. We give you that high standard, that global standard, that international standard, with that local essence, with the knowhow of the local society, with what is accepted and what is not. There are even ideas that are accepted in certain months and in other months that are not accepted. It is a very fine line, but it makes a huge difference. This is what we have that is different from others. We have a very diversified team from all over the world and I have a very good solid local team. I believe in locals. I believe in creating heroes. We develop locals. In Philosophy, part of the expats’ KPIs is actually to develop young Kuwaitis. This combination is the differentiation point.

What are some of your success stories?

Our Philosophy brand is a success story. We started as a boutique firm about three or four years ago. Just last year, part of our company was acquired by a bigger holding company because they saw the potential that Philosophy has. We have clients from different sectors and from different industries. We deal with public sector, private sector, oil and gas industry, political industry, commercial, etc. We deal with small and medium enterprises and for them, we do different packages because we believe in them and we want to support them. I see Philosophy as a very successful project and a very successful dream. We started with a team of four and we are a team of thirty-five now. We actually grew rapidly even with COVID. With the pandemic and with the lockdown, we never stopped working. We flipped totally digitally. We stood by our clients in changing their strategy and changing their communication strategy. In their strategy and in their budgets, they had a huge budget for traditional media, for example. We stood by our clients in changing that strategy to how to do that digitally. We literally did not stop. It was one of the most stressful years in terms of the number of projects.

The Middle East and the Gulf area are very connected. How do you interact with the rest of the region? What is your international reach?

We are still on baby steps when it comes to the reach in the international region. One of the things that I have in the strategy is to take Philosophy beyond Kuwait borders. We have had some projects in the region, but then the pandemic hit. We could not do the whole thing digitally. We had to be there with them for a certain time. It is on hold and we hope it is going to happen after everything goes back to normal. But we are still a Kuwaiti marketing firm.

Can you tell us a little bit about the journey for you as a female CEO? Have there been advances in female empowerment in the country itself?

I believe in women empowerment. Personally, it was not easy for me from my career perspective to reach the point that I have reached now. I do not want the same thing to happen to young ladies or young girls. There is this stereotype that women cannot work with each other. It is a wrong stereotype. I see a lot of women in Kuwait and females supporting each other and believing in women empowerment. Two things that I really believe in are entrepreneur empowerment and women empowerment. These two things I truly believe will put my country to number one because concrete is not the future and buildings are not the future. Human capital and the human element are the future. Empowering women is also the future. So, when you have the combination of entrepreneurs and women, that is a win-win situation. It is biology. It is in our DNA. Women can do three, four things at the same time. She can be a mother, a sister, she can take care of the kids, she can go to work. We have been created this way. Women think about their community because they have been created to think about community. They have been created to be able to create a community. We think about how our actions impact our community. It is second nature for us. At Philosophy, we are a team of consultants. There are some projects that I do not actually work on because it does not fit what I believe in. I am putting my efforts toward entrepreneurs, I am putting my efforts towards females, I am putting my efforts towards Kuwait’s perception. So, other projects I do not really engage in because I cannot add to that. Now, I do not do advertising. I have a full team who is much better than me to do that advertising. I am not a jack of all trades. I am an expert in image management and brand positioning. Brand positioning means an individual brand, a small, medium, or large organization. The image itself we call professionally “the brand”. The image is either of an individual, an image of a company, or an image of a ministry. There is a perception. What do people say about this? This is what I create. This is what I fix.

What is your vision? What is your mission in the next two to three years’ time? What do you want to achieve?

Honestly, in my career, when I was with a large organization, there was a reason behind that because that part in my career was training myself on those international standards. Then, when I got the right training, I flipped to be my own entrepreneur. My vision is that Kuwait can create very successful entrepreneurs and businessmen and women. We have the right market for it. We have everything. But we do not have the right media to talk about it. That is the difference. That is the vision that I want to reach.

How is it that Kuwait does not have the right media?

In Kuwait, we are not highlighting the right way of how to be a successful businesswoman or a businessman or an entrepreneur. We are only highlighting in media the negative which is not true. In every market, in every country, everywhere, you get the negative and the positive side. You cannot have something that is 100% negative. It does not work. It does not exist. 100% positive is the same thing – it does not exist. My vision is to reach that kind of media and to highlight it in a positive way.

What is your vision for Philosophy?

I want to be one of the top 10 marketing firms in the Middle East and North Africa. I will reach that. I love challenges and I am very optimistic.

What exactly is your inspiration? You started with this global company, you were learning those international ways of doing things and then started out on your own. But clearly, that is not the easy path. Clearly, that is not the safe way to go at all. What drives you to do what you do?

I went through an awareness trip over the past four years. This type of awareness is the human awareness and how to actually be a better human – not even a better person, but a better human. Professionally, in my vision, I want a better Kuwait, but after Kuwait and the Middle East, I want to inspire people to be better humans. This is not professionally, but this is personally. This is the spiritual part of me. Humans are created in a good way. We have been taking bad stuff from different experiences. We were never created in a bad way. Greed, dishonesty, when we were kids, we did not have these aspects. We were better humans. So, the child in me is inspiring me to inspire others to be better humans. I can do things for you if you asked me or even if you did not ask me without expecting anything in return and it is okay. We do not need to do everything for a financial return or a financial benefit or if I give you I will take. I can give to you without taking. I might give to you and someone else gives me something. So, my inspiration is actually to be a better human – to treat everyone the same, to give to everyone, because I believe that in giving you will receive – not only Kuwaitis, not only Muslims, but all human beings. That is my personal inspiration.

With this approach, do you feel that you can change things?

This approach might take more time, but I have all the time I have. It takes more time, but it is actually fundamentally more solid. It is an individual experience that everyone one day will go through. This is the growth that I have been going through personally over the past four years. It was a personal growth for me and I love it. I love myself now even more than I used to. I see things with a different eye. I am rarely sad after this growth because we used to think that if something bad happened to you, you need to analyze what you did wrong. With this kind of thinking, when something bad happens to me it is not “what did I do wrong?” it is “what do I need to learn for the future?”. It is the same coin, but it depends: which side do you want to see it from? So now, I just decided to see the coin from the other side, from the other face. That is my personal challenge.


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