Rufus Leonard, the independent branding and digital agency based in the UK, is planning to nearly double its business in Dubai this financial year to Dh5 million (US$1.3m). In a step towards this target, the agency, which opened its office in March of last year and most recently updated the brand and look of the AME Info website, landed a contract with the developer Aldar last week to create the website for the Yas Island Links golf course by January 1. "The challenge is to double turnover in the first year," said Richard Bowcott, the head of Middle East operations for Rufus Leonard. "The opportunities are out there." Rufus Leonard first started looking into these opportunities three years ago but was not convinced to set up its own Middle East office until its largest clients based in the UK, Lloyds TSB, asked the firm to do work for it in the region. "It's exciting out here," said Neil Svensen, the chief executive and founder of the company, who was visiting Dubai this week. "You recharge your batteries when you come out. It's a less sophisticated marketing environment, which is not saying that it's bad, but that people are more open to good ideas. They don't challenge as much as you get challenged in the UK. Sometimes that challenge wrecks a good idea." Rufus Leonard's Middle East office has grown from two employees to five as it has won work, and there are plans to continue growing with new projects for clients in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Kuwait. The firm has recently won work for Zurich Financial Services Group and continues working for Lloyds TSB. The lack of sophistication has advantages and disadvantages, however. With branding still a relatively new concept in the region, Mr Svensen said the company often finds itself having to explain that branding is far more than "just about the colours and the mark," or logo, but includes such elements as how customer service employees are trained and how digital communication with staff and customers is carried out. As local companies, particularly banks, look to cut internal costs, more are turning to digital solutions for these forms of communication, but in doing so they need to hold on to the core values of their brand, Mr Svensen said. "One of the largest touch points they have for their customers or staff is through digital media now," he said. "We can save loads of money for a client if we can stop people calling the call centre." In the UK, spending on online advertising continued to grow in the first half of this year, rising 4.6 per cent on the same period last year, in spite of the economic downturn, according to the Online Adspend Study produced by the Internet Advertising Bureau. The rise of internet marketing spending from nothing to nearly a quarter of total advertising spending in the UK in little more than a decade has been a major driver in Rufus Leonard's business, Mr Svensen said. The company was founded in 1989 as a pure branding enterprise, but today it does about 55 per cent of its business in the digital realm, in work that often involves the overlapping of branding and digital capabilities such as building websites, running social media campaigns and creating mobile services. Whether its success can be replicated in the Middle East is still unclear, however. There is little reliable data on internet advertising spending, but it is generally understood to make up between 1 and 2 per cent of total advertising spending in the region. Mr Bowcott, who used to work at Lloyds TSB, said he has seen evidence that this is changing. Two years ago, Lloyds TSB spent about 2 per cent of its marketing budget on digital; today it spends 10 per cent. "People are starting to focus more on the digital medium as a way of spending their marketing budget," he said. "We are seeing it going up [in the Middle East]. It's not going up at the same rate that it's going up elsewhere, but there is a growing number of people who are starting to take it seriously." firstname.lastname@example.org
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