Written by Saul Taylor
According to Karla Otto, The Qode is “Dubai’s most important communications agency”. As its cofounder, Dipesh Depala discusses how the company he started accidentally has grown to straddle the globe, the mercurial nature of doing business in the Gulf, and why he misses “the days of magazines and models”.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I got started accidentally! My wife at the time was a designer, and I built her business. I was able to establish her very strongly in the media as I already had great connectivity with everyone in the region. When brands saw the work I had done for her, they started to approach me to manage their PR and events. They even engaged me to activate my guestlist as I and my family before me have been in the region a long time, and hence have great connectivity in the Middle East. I did this alongside running my family business, which is a completely different industry. Then [his business partner] Ayman approached me to join forces after he left Villa Moda, and we established The Qode in 2010.
Was it organic or was there a plan?
I was already informally managing communication and events for my wife’s brand, and Ayman was marketing manager at Villa Moda. We discussed the dire lack of adequate communication and events for luxury brands in the Middle East. As consumers of luxury brands we knew what was missing, and what was required to excite and engage potential customers like ourselves. And hence The Qode was born. Our first client was L’Oréal, where we managed the PR for Kiehl’s. This we did successfully for many years. Shortly after we took on Kiehl’s, we were asked to do an event for the brand. The event was so successful and well-attended by VIPs and the media, including the marketing managers of most of the luxury brands, that the next day our phones were ringing off the hook with brands inviting us for meetings to discuss future events, collaborations and communication.
What do you do all day?
Each day is a mix of meetings, brainstorms, working lunches, client meetings, events, pitches. No two days are ever the same, and thank goodness! We have an amazing team in our office, and we nurture a very relaxed and familial atmosphere in our workplace. It has really paid off. We even hold regular wellness initiatives, parties, get-togethers, weekly breakfasts, and birthday celebrations to maintain the humanness in a world where sometimes it can be lacking.
What’s different about the luxury market in the Gulf region, and what’s it like doing business there compared to, say, Europe?
The luxury market in the Middle East is very much part of life and the fabric of Middle Eastern society in general. A much larger percentage are consumers of luxury brands as a normal part of life, and therefore the expectations are much higher. Doing business here is very different in that it is much more immediate. Of course the competition is fierce, and brands are fighting over a smaller pool of people to entice and engage. The strategies need to consider these factors, along with the notion of instant gratification, mercurial customers, extremely high expectations, and enormous spending power. The combination of all of these makes our market very particular, and the approach needs to be constantly refreshed and targeted.
Can you describe a few events you’ve worked on recently?
We recently worked on a huge event for Cartier. This was over 10 days to entertain and treat their clients each night during the holy month of Ramadan. We also did two wonderful events for Givenchy Beauty. An underground party in the boiler room of the Queen Elizabeth 2, and also an influencer dinner in a hidden raw concrete space that we transformed with contrasting luxury – the juxtaposition of the two made for a breath-taking event. Yes every one is unique, and we have to think in that way. We have to excite and surprise every time. As I mentioned, expectations are extremely high in our region. The audience is small and can be unforgiving, so we need to be extra creative and innovative.
How has social media changed what you do?
It has completely turned the business of PR on its head. The majority of the focus now is on influencers and how to engage them to reach a wider audience than was ever possible using traditional methods. Influencers can have a massive reach, and this is measurable. I do think that they are far more effective in certain industries than others. I also think that the old guard within brands and businesses are not always up to speed on this phenomenon, and nor do they completely understand it, which is where there is room for error. I do think it is here to stay for the near future at least, but hope that as an industry we can hone the art of it and sift the wheat from the chaff!
What do you think the industry will look like in 20 years’ time?
It’s hard to say. The advancement of technology is so powerful that 20 years in today’s time is the equivalent of perhaps 100 years of old. Meaning things change so fast it’s hard to predict how it will advance. I miss the days of magazines and models!
You work closely with Karla Otto (she told us you were Dubai’s “most import communications agency”). What are the benefits of joining forces?
That’s very kind of her. From our perspective, it gives us a wider reach in terms of PR, events and digital propositions for our clients. We have access to her amazing resources and expertise, and can offer this to our clients looking for services further afield. Likewise, we can offer Karla a footprint in the Middle East and India, both extremely large and important markets. With the coverage we offer as a group we can cover the entire globe – this is a great value-add for clients, especially large luxury groups and brands because we can offer a one-stop shop for all their PR, event, digital and content needs.
If you weren’t doing this, what else would you like to do?
I’d have been an actor!Back