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Creative Industry: Bringing Together Egypt's Innovators

After their mammoth success of the inaugural edition of the Creative Industry Summit last year, the boys behind Idea Bakers are back with an even bigger event this May, designed to develop the industry's eco-system. We talk to them to find out more.

It’s no secret that Egypt is a country where creativity is often stifled; creative thinking considered inferior to logic, creative career paths relegated to a mass grave simply marked NOT A REAL JOB. One simply has to look at how often the mantra of Doctor-Lawyer-Engineer has been reiterated while a career in the arts is scoffed at. And yet, jobs in creative fields help both develop and sustain an economy and many rack in millions. But in this fervent dismissal of ‘out of the box’ jobs, the creative industry either remains underdeveloped or paralysed; people who want to pursue newer areas like video animation may not find a space to do so and people who want to break in to more typical areas like advertising will find a closed network still dominated by a few major players. But this is exactly what the Creative Industry summit is seeking to remedy as the event works to help propel the industry forward, this 8th and 9th May.

The two-day event, which was received with wild success last year, is back again. At its core, the initiative is designed to gather all the creative types in Egypt, covering everything from advertising to fashion, in one comprehensive event which will feature hands-on workshops, sessions, and panel discussions at the Greater Cairo Library in Zamalek. The brainchild of founders Amr Ashraf, Hamza Sarawy and Mohanad El-Menoufy, it was born of a need to have everything that fell under the label ‘creative’ in one place. “The industry is very fragmented,” Sarawy tells us of one of the core problems they are seeking to resolve. “We realised that there’s no event gathering the creatives in Egypt. If someone wants to join the creative eco-system, for example, if I want to work at an advertising agency, I never know where to start. It’s a very closed network so we decided to launch the Creative Industry summit to be an annual thing where everyone in the eco-system gets together, whether it’s clients or agencies,” Ashraf explains of the event’s inception. The three of them launched a start-up of their own for events in 2011, called Idea Bakers – “we use the term 'baking' because it’s like the planning and the execution, just like a cookie; you take it from dough to the final product,” – and it’s through their company that they organised and brought together the Creative Industry – the cookie of Idea Bakers. The summit will include some of the biggest names in the business such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Google, Vodafone, Hit Creative Communication, and TRACCS. Powerhouse agencies such as BBDO and Fortune Promoseven will be present; the latter will have CEO Lina Fateen giving the keynote speech, and their Executive Creative Director Ahmed Hafez Younis giving a talk about his creative journey. MO4 Network's own Amy Mowafi will be on hand too, to talk about challenges of establishing an agency in Egypt.

Creative Industry 2014

Their aim is to get the people at the top of the proverbial food chain, the people who have yet to enter it and everyone in between to share, explore, and most importantly connect.  “Right now within the creative industry, from advertising agencies, to PR agencies to clients, deals are being handled in a very closed network so, our mission is to open that network so the young talent of the creative system gets to know the biggest creative directors in the market such as Hisham El Labban and Mohamed Hamdallah,” Sarawy explains. Major players in the country are exposed to fresh blood and vice versa. “We’re trying to make a hub for the creative eco-system in Egypt.”

The team spends months analysing the market, tracking companies, clients, creative directors and carefully curating a roster of the crème de la crème of creativity – pooling together all the big fish and the little fish; both massive agencies and start-ups. Activities at the summit encompass everything from workshops to keynote speeches by those occupying top positions in the industry. “We have three parallel tracks; talks and workshops; panel discussions or the debates; and the creative pavilion - it’s basically an exhibition area where creative agencies and BTLAs get to exhibit what their products or services are,” Saraya explains. Last year’s event drew out such a crowd that the Idea Bakers crew were flooded with requests for it to be repeated since talks and workshops were fully booked up. “What people love about creative industry is that it gives them the skills they need to work in the field,” Ashraf elaborates. 

Creative Industry 2014

This year, they’ve added a special category dedicated to fashion, a nod to how that industry is evolving in Egypt. “I do believe that fashion is a big pillar of any creative sector in any country. It’s very underrated here in Egypt but the industry is emerging so I thought there should be a big presence for the fashion industry here in Egypt,” Saraya explains of their most recent addition. From photographer Bilo Hussein to co-founders of Okhtein, Aya and Mounaz Abdel Raouf, to designer Sara Hegazy, a myriad of innovators active in the fashion field will be at the summit. Believing firmly that an Instagram account does not a fashion blogger make, Saraya says, “it’s important to set a benchmark for how you can be a qualified fashion journalist or fashion blogger.” And this extends to all creative fields – the Idea Bakers team believe a standard needs to be set in order for the entire creative industry to advance. “As creative professionals, what we should be doing is setting a bar, and what I mean by that is setting exact criteria where you can judge if someone’s creative or not and you can actually tell if an agency is good enough. So we’re all about the client portfolio -  not depending on what work did you do, but whats the feedback of the client,” Ashraf elaborates. “This is not there because these people never network and they never get together, you never find a place with people from all the advertising agencies meet and people from the clients' side meet. So, Creative Industry is setting the bar.”

They’ve cited a lack of investment and fresh blood as two of the major impediments that are holding the industry back. “There are a few big players and they’re kind of monopolising the market; the barrier to entry is huge. On top of that, there’s no investment to push it forward,” Ashraf highlights. He maintains that some fields are developed enough that start-ups can push through, but most of the creative fields aren’t. “If I have a technology start-up, for instance I have all these sort of events that I can go to, to raise funding and to test my business models, to network to find out how I would go about doing my business, get advice…” Ashraf begins. “But this doesn’t apply to most fields in the creative industry.” Essentially a central problem boils down to the fact that “We’re not bringing in new blood in the creative industry with all its fields,” but this, they’ve sensed, is slowly being reversed.

What they’ve noticed as a driving force in the creative industry is not a singular pivotal moment, campaign, company, or person but rather a trend which is subtly formulated, where large powerhouse agencies are losing their ironclad grip on the industry as major clients look to smaller companies for creative work; a shift that was virtually unthinkable a while back. A devolution of sorts seems to be happening in Egypt as power is transferred from the limited hands of a few large companies and broken up into smaller allocations. “The trend over the past two or three years, as far as I know, is that the big clients are trying out new agencies and some of these agencies are just starting out, so they’re encouraging creative start-ups to actually make money and sustain and prove themselves,” Ashraf explains.

It is this wave of new blood, mixed with the right connections, and the right tools being given to develop that will push the industry forward and that the Creative Industry is striving to advance. The summit is drawing out some of the biggest names in the game and you can expect some real conversation to be sparked about the industry, so whether you'e already a part of it or looking to break in, this is the event for you.  

You can find out more on their Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram and Twitter @creativegypt. 
If you want to register for the event click here.
Photography by Ali Bahr.