Learning to do business, from London to Beirut: Charting INK Middle East rise

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Simon Leslie, co-founder of INK, with his book ‘There is no F in Sales.’ The group started in Beirut in 1994, where Leslie began publishing an airline magazine for British Mediterranean Airways. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 26 November 2019

Learning to do business, from London to Beirut: Charting INK Middle East rise

  • INK works with 30 of the biggest airlines in the world, including American Airline

LONDON: The West London base of INK does not feel like a regular media company office.

The vast open space is blanketed by an abundance of sunlight shining through overhead skylights, with budding plants everywhere.

The sales room — the travel media company’s co-founder Simon Leslie’s forte — is very different, with a trampoline sitting in the corner for stress-relief reasons, a bell waiting to be rung at every sale, and pumping, up-beat music bouncing off the walls.

Pacing round are sales executives with Bluetooth headphones speaking to clients.

“It’s about making sure that everybody who works for us has got an opportunity to live out their potential and become who they want to become,” said Leslie. 

INK started in Beirut in 1994, where Leslie began publishing an airline magazine for British Mediterranean Airways, which had only one route at the time — London to Beirut.

“The whole business started in Lebanon and I spent most of the late 90s back and forth across all the countries in the region,” he said. “We now work with 30 of the biggest airlines in the world, including the biggest: American Airlines.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Starting a company in the Middle East gave Simon Leslie a unique experience in the way business is handled in the region.

• Etihad is one of INK’s main Middle Eastern clients now — with the company working on a Grand Prix magazine titled ‘Ignition’ for the Abu Dhabi race.

Starting a company in the Middle East gave Leslie a unique experience in the way business is handled in the region.

“When people owed you money, they invited you for dinner. I love that because it was all about family.”

Etihad is one of INK’s main Middle Eastern clients now — with the company working on a Grand Prix magazine titled “Ignition” for the Abu Dhabi race.

“It’s (got to do) with everything going on in Abu Dhabi that weekend — all about the drivers, all about the city, all about the culture … it’s a great piece of work we do once a year,” he said.

Leslie decided to compact all the experiences, lessons, and ups and downs that he witnessed over the past 33 years on the job to write a book, called “There is no F in Sales,” in which he offers personal advice, motivation and truths about surviving in global business in the twentieth century.

“A lot of the time people write books because they show what they learnt in business school, but it’s not real and raw,” he said. “I talked a lot about how I dealt with personal issues, how I dealt with business issues and how they affect me, and that was really the main theme that’s come out.

“If you want to accelerate your growth in business, if you want to accelerate your growth in human performance then this book is something that you need to read,” he added.

Apart from that, Leslie explained that no matter what, everyone needs a mentor in their life and someone they can look up to for inspiration and motivation in their careers.

“I always say to people ‘if you want to be successful find a successful person and hang around them,’” he said. “If you’re a startup and you’re just starting a new career, read this … I made so many mistakes over the last 33 years, hopefully if you don’t make half of the ones I did you’ll get there a lot quicker than I did.”


Playtime for Saudi LEGO fans as new store opens in Jeddah

Updated 6 min 37 sec ago

Playtime for Saudi LEGO fans as new store opens in Jeddah

DUBAI: Following LEGO’s first Saudi store opening in Jeddah and the launch of its new Super Mario collection, we catch up with Urszula Bieganska, head of marketing, LEGO MEA.

Q: Tell us about the partnership with Nintendo and Super Mario.

A: It is a really exciting partnership for us; we have been working with Nintendo on launching Super Mario for quite a few years. The objective for both companies was to develop something of amazing quality, which is why we took our time working on the project.

Q: Where is it available and when is it launching?

A: It has already launched in Japan, and Aug. 1 was the global launch, although it has been available for pre-order prior to that date.

Q: Tell us about your new store in Jeddah.

A: We just opened the first Lego store at the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah and have launched the online store as well, which is going to carry all LEGO products available globally. For the first time ever, we actually have all the products available in Saudi Arabia.

Q: Why did you choose to open your first Saudi store at this time?

A: We were considering this for a long time, but we were also looking for the right partner to do it with. It’s a franchise model in partnership with the Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group. Once we established a relationship with this company, we were finally able to bring proper Lego stores to Saudi Arabia, which we’re incredibly excited about.

We opened the physical and online stores on the same day just to make sure that we catered to consumers’ different needs. Not everyone feels confident enough to go and shop in-store yet. Saudi Arabia is a huge country, and the physical store is only in Jeddah, so we wanted to invest in the e-commerce store to make sure we’re able to reach everyone.

Q: Do you have plans with any other Nintendo brands, such as Pokémon? 

A: That’s not something I’m able to talk about right now. We are focusing on Super Mario at the moment, but this is not just a one-year thing for us; it’s a long-term partnership with Nintendo. Also, it’s not limited to just one product. We have the starter set and a whole range of products through which fans can build their own Mario world. It also comes with an app that is free of charge and that you can download on your device to have an integrated experience. So, there are a lot of features that I think users will spend a long time exploring.

Q: What has the reception been like? There are a lot of adult fans too, for whom Super Mario could potentially have nostalgic value.

A: The interest has been quite overwhelming, and adults indeed make up a big part of the consumer base. There’s a lot of nostalgic sentiment.

Q: Can you describe your advertising and marketing strategy here in the Middle East and Africa region?

A: There’s so much excitement from fans surrounding this product, which has generated a lot of virality. This is positive especially right now when people are, to a large extent, operating in the home environment and are looking for different activities to stay occupied and entertained. So, through our campaign, we talked to both adult fans and parents because Super Mario is something that parents can relate to, and it’s exciting for kids as well.

Q: Did the pandemic and resulting lockdown affect your marketing activities?

A: We focused on the product reveal in different stages and started teasers as early as April-May 2020. We had to change our plans quite a bit! We had previously had a lot of event-focused advertising, and we wanted to have a big reveal where we would invite media and influencers in different global locations. But, due to the outbreak of the pandemic, we had to change our approach and strategy, which also put to the test the agility of our organization. We had to adopt a more virtual approach, so we sent over some sets for the biggest fans ahead of the launch. We also focused on social media advertising. But in the month of July, we actually pulled back a lot from investing in social media due to concerns regarding the safety of those platforms. We are posting organically, but we do not invest in promotion, and that will be the case for the foreseeable future until we conclude the conversations with these platforms.

Q: Did the pause in social media advertising negatively impact the campaign?

A: At the moment, no. To be honest, because we had already generated that interest and buzz, people kept coming back and checking in. Also, we benefited a lot from the fact that there is a great deal of excitement surrounding the two brands.