Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Radar: Karim Khalifa, CEO of Digital Republic

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Being part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, Digital Republic will bolster Isobar's offering in Egypt and the MENA region

Last month saw Dentsu Aegis Network acquire Egypt's largest and most awarded independent creative and full service digital agency, Digital Republic, to bolster Isobar's service offerings in the region.

Isobar wanted to find out more about its co-founder and CEO, Karim Khalifa, to find out why he decided to set up Digital Republic, discover more about the man himself, and to find out his predictions for the industry in the MENA region. 

Q> Hi Karim, welcome to the Dentsu Aegis Network! Before you co-founded Digital Republic in Egypt, what did you do?

Karim Khalifa> Thanks and great to be on board! I started my career as a lab geek in a white coat, scratching at circuit boards at a small engineering company in Leeds, UK! Then I worked as a Satellite Comms Engineer at Maersk in Copenhagen, hopping around the world on oil rigs designing and coordinating the implementation of satellite comms systems. Finally I had been working a numbers of years in the technology and/or marketing divisions of Vodafone based in the UK and around Europe, developing mobile internet solutions – which ultimately led me to Vodafone Egypt. There I managed the launch of Egypt’s first 3G network back in 2007, followed by leading the Mobile Advertising unit within the mobile internet division.   

Q> Were you always passionate about solving business problems with the creative use of digital?

KK> As an Engineer, and in particular an Electronics and Communications engineer, I've always been passionate about communication through technology. I remember my favourite class at University was satellite communications (I'm also a big Planetary Science fan outside work!). With time I wanted to become less ‘techie’ as my interest in technology and product manifested itself through product development and product marketing of mobile and internet solutions. I guess that was the natural evolution from being a lab geek to an ‘Advertising Technologist’.

Q> What was the key factor in you wanting to start-up Digital Republic?   

KK> I felt that there was a lack of technology based advertising solutions in the market. I had just come out of launching a major mobile advertising platform for Vodafone, and I noted that brands were barely being offered websites. In the meantime users were already becoming increasingly tech-savvy, going online more and social was starting to grow fast. So there was a gap there, a problem to be solved, and the clients were ready to be convinced and were ready to see better ways of reaching their consumers through these new platforms and technologies. And there was no one else offering that in the market.

Q> How long has Digital Republic been up and running?

KK> Since 2009.

Q> What’s been the highest high, and the lowest low you’ve experienced along your Digital Republic journey?

KK> There are two highest highs: One is winning our first of many regional awards, placing us firmly on the regional map - up their with the big boys. The second was of course the signing of the Dentsu Aegis Network acquisition – a major milestone for the company. There are, in truth, no real ‘lowest lows’, perhaps I like to look at them as the lesser of the highs…!

Q> Digital Republic has created some amazing work – what’s your favourite piece and why?

KK> My favourite is our campaign for Axe (Lynx deodorant in some countries). It was the Axe Wingman campaign for Valentine’s Day, and it really ticked all the boxes. It was entertaining, engaging, personalised, added value to the consumer’s life and sold more deodorant for the client. But perhaps most significantly for me, was that it showed the full extent of the true full-service capability at our agency. We produced all the work in-house with multiple functions working together: music (yes music!), technology platforms development, creative, social and content, media planning and buying and video production, with all the teams working in harmony. That made me very proud.   

Q> Since you co-founded Digital Republic, until now, how has the creative and digital landscape evolved in Egypt?

KK> We have moved from websites, and textual posts on Facebook, to full interactive videos on social platforms with clients asking for Augmented Reality and VR solutions!  

Q> What’s the next big thing in Egypt, and more broadly, the MENA region?

KK> The region will experience a major boom in E-commerce, supported by Fintech in the next three years.

Q> Now you’re part of Isobar and Dentsu Aegis Network, what are you looking forward to most?

KK> To be able to offer really cool technology innovations to our clients, (and of course tinker with them in our local Isobar Nowlab), growing our agency to multiple locations across MENA, and of course meeting loads of great people across the Network!

Q> Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you would pass on to a new-starter in the creative and digital industry?

KK> When thinking of an idea or a solution, while technology is great, using technology for the sake of it is a lose-lose situation for you and for the user (and also, therefore, your client). Always think of the consumer first, they will be the ultimate judge. Ask yourself: is my product intuitive? Is it a great, seamless user experience? Is it improving the user’s life in some way, or helping solve a problem for them? Ask yourself “would I use this myself?”, if the answer is yes to all of those, then you’re onto a winner!  

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