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Meet the Women Leading Lebanon’s Indie Creative Agency Scene

Beirut is bursting with super cool creative and design shops led by women, as LBB’s Laura Swinton finds out…

Meet the Women Leading Lebanon’s Indie Creative Agency Scene

Beirut is a city buzzing with creativity. It parties hard, it’s diverse and is home to musicians, artists, filmmakers, designers and DJs. Small wonder that Lebanon is a country that exports a hell of a lot of creative talent around the MENA region and beyond – the Lebanese reputation is renowned. And there are plenty of exciting advertising and design agencies that are worth checking out to get a taste of how that energy and talent translates into commercial creative. But the punky, confident spirit isn’t the only intriguing aspect of the local industry. If the fancy took you – as it took us – to find out what indie agencies are really rocking in Lebanon, what you’ll also find is that a high proportion of the cool creative shops are either founded by or led by women. 

We caught up with some of Lebanon’s fantastic female creative leaders. 

Name: Nathalie Masri


Agency: Operation Unicorn
Role: Founder and creative director

LBB> Operation Unicorn’s logo is a hippo unicorn… what’s going on inside the agency?

Nathalie> My agency is made of a tightly-knit team; a talented and rebellious one. A team made of ‘people’, ones who have personal lives, mood swings, hobbies, and dreams, and all of this is what makes them interesting. We don’t suppress our talents to create a ‘corporate’ environment where we pretend to enjoy our work. On the contrary, we live as a community to create work we’re all proud to be part of. Although we work in the ad field, we know that most people want to “skip the ad”; this is what we usually want to do too. But, there’s something people don’t want to skip: a story. The most basic and eternal form of communication. So rather than trying to sell our audience the product, we build a brand’s communication by telling people stories they can relate to.

The agency’s structure does not follow any established model. Our team is an eclectic mix of characters and lifestyles, a reflection of the society we cater our ideas and stories to — we’re our own focus group. We value personal freedom over working hours and initiatives over job lists. 

Using culturally relevant insights in our storytelling has allowed us to create communication where we don’t underestimate the intellectual levels of general public, offering them engaging content pieces rather than fake imagery. This raised the bar for other agencies and allowed our audience to be more aware of what matters. 

We are the most controversial agency in Lebanon, and we’re proud of it!

LBB> What does creative independence mean to you?

Nathalie> Creative independence is like top-notch champagne, rare and precious, once you get a taste of it you don’t accept anything else. Creative independence is the base of our relationship with clients. We don’t ask for it; we simply think of every job with creative freedom. If our ideas are well received by the client, then we know our journey with a client will be successful. If not, then we part ways. 


LBB> The best thing about Beirut’s creative scene?

Nathalie> The best thing about Beirut’s creative scene is the challenge to create memorable ideas while respecting the cultural taboos and limits, be it political, religious or classism. It is very easy to choose the ‘shocking’ route that creates the buzz. The real challenge is to create stories that people remember and relate to, and change their behaviour within these cultural boundaries. 


LBB> I’ve noticed that a lot of the independent agencies  in Lebanon have a female founder or senior CD/ECD. This is certainly not the case in a lot of markets we cover. What is it about Beirut/Lebanon that is fostering this phenomenon do you think?

Nathalie> I think due to our culture’s brainwashing on ‘being something’, the youth is pressured to take traditional career paths such as lawyers, medical doctors, or engineers; few venture into the arts and even less into advertising. 

So the few talented individuals, men or women, who choose the creative advertising field can easily shine and build a reputation for themselves. 



Name: Yasmin Murad


Agency: Scratch&Courage
Role: Creative director / managing partner

LBB> Tell me about your agency.

Yasmin> We launched Scratch&Courage officially in 2016. We’re a small team, even compared to boutique agencies, but it’s by design. My partner and I have always been of the mindset that a smaller set up lends itself to a more open environment for learning, therefore making it a healthier creative space. We’re a digital communication studio, so we’re constantly aware what we know today will either be redundant tomorrow or, at best, it’s not redundant but it’s been redefined. Our network of partners is important to us. Being able to constantly collaborate with different kinds of creatives and professionals keeps things interesting… plus it makes sure you’re always finding the right person for the job at hand.


LBB> What does creative independence mean to you?

Yasmin> The best part of opening your own company is defining the philosophy and process your company will abide by. We don’t see our clients’ final approval as the end of the creative process – we involve them from the start, building brands and communication that have their stamp on them as much as ours. Having a smaller operation cuts out a lot of the bureaucracy and back-and-forth that can kill ideas. We prefer our ideas to live free and happy lives, with a chance to be seen by the world. Too many good ideas have been lost to the convoluted (and sometimes completely arbitrary) internal approval process of an agency.


LBB> The best thing about Beirut’s creative scene?

Yasmin> Historically, Beirut’s always been a mish-mash of different cultures and inspirations. It’s no different now. From art, music, and theatre to design and communication, we tend to get inspired from different sources around the world, but then we’re somehow able to make it something so inherently Lebanese. 



LBB> I’ve noticed that a lot of the independent agencies in Lebanon have a female founder or senior CD/ECD. This is certainly not the case in a lot of markets we cover. What is it about Beirut/Lebanon that is fostering this phenomenon do you think?

Yasmin> There are so many different factors that could have contributed to this phenomenon. One of them is cultural. In general, men aren’t pushed towards choosing careers in design and communication, so with a female majority of creative graduates going into the workforce, agencies are mostly made up of women by default. However, this doesn’t explain why a lot of the independent agencies in Lebanon have women in founding or senior creative roles. This, I think, is due to good old fashioned sexual politics in the workplace. Competition is intense in the large multinationals and in that context men do tend to move up faster and higher than women. However, some of the most talented creatives I’ve known have been women. So, I imagine they faced a dilemma – live out an entire career in the same position, or strike out on their own. Combine that with the intense wave of entrepreneurial spirit Lebanon has experienced in the last few years and I think we’re getting closer to the reason why. 



Name: Rola Ghotmeh



Agency: The Creative 9
Role: Founder and chief creative officer

LBB> The Creative 9 – what makes the agency unique?

Rola> The Creative 9 is a boutique agency that operates with a brand-centric, highly immersive and creative frame of mind. Founded in Beirut in early 2014, the agency’s goal has been to focus on its growth as well as that of its clients, whether in Lebanon or the world. 

As such, we make it our point to invest the appropriate amount of time and energy to understand and delve into our client-partners’ respective businesses and industries to enable each and every member of the agency to lead, inspire and create. One of our key strengths is our integrated approach to communication and the holistic services we offer. We are progressive and make it our mission to be knowledgeable about the latest trends and technologies, especially in the advertising world. This approach, coupled with our thirst for knowledge and our hunger for brand distinctiveness, has allowed us to provide quality work and tailored solutions on a number of industries – including, but not limited to, F&B, automotive, spirits, fashion, entertainment and home solutions. 

We are a group of highly skilled individuals, converging from different professional and technical backgrounds and carrying very different stories that make our group an interesting mix of talent. Currently, the Creative9 is home to over a dozen individuals who thrive in a collaborative environment, and work hard towards one goal - to be creative in everything we do.



LBB> What does creative independence mean to you?

Rola> The ability to make a difference. To set the rules. To have a direct influence on the market and the status co. And more importantly, to be agile. 

The layers are less important in an independent agency and results are the common drive. Being agile in our operations both internally and externally is key, especially with global markets moving at a fast pace and big shifts happening overnight. To me, our only option is to keep up with this speed and maybe, one day, lead the change. 


LBB> The best thing about Beirut’s creative scene?

Rola> The inspiration one finds in every corner of Beirut and Lebanon in general, and of course, the versatility. Generally speaking, most Lebanese people are the fruits of a nomadic lifestyle; they’re travellers, explorers and curious individuals. Here you can explore various creative and artistic styles where both local and international influences can be sensed in the work. The best gems are found when our old traditions and heritage are revived in a modern expression. 

Another important thing that is unique to Beirut’s creative scene is our sense of humour and cynicism. This can be noticed not only in the work of ad agencies, but also in popular manifestations, where the people express themselves through punchy slogans and creative banners.

LBB> I’ve noticed that a lot of the independent agencies in Lebanon have a female founder or senior CD/ECD. This is certainly not the case in a lot of markets we cover. What is it about Beirut/Lebanon that is fostering this phenomenon do you think?

Rola> Nothing should stand in the way of a dreamer - be it male or female. 

I wouldn’t say there is a particular reason or ‘system’ in place that is fostering this phenomenon. I would attribute it to women going after their dreams and following their own paths, without asking for permission. Many Lebanese women, like their male counterparts, leave the country after graduating to build a good base working abroad or to study. And we come back to bring home some of our acquired knowledge, benefit our country and create work opportunities. 

Perhaps people still expect a man on the highest seat on the board. But things are changing.



Name: Maya Saab Haddad


Agency: Spirit
Role: Managing and creative director

LBB> Tell me about Spirit.

Maya> For 14 years now, Spirit has combined all marketing and communication sectors under one roof, operating from Lebanon with a team of around 20 people to serve the whole region as well as international markets. Our added value lies in the combination and hand-in-hand coordination of branding, creative communication, media, event management, PR and of course online – giving our clients and brands the best results they need. We bring all kinds of talent and experiences to create that all important spark: Creative directors, art directors, design managers, production artists, communication managers, media managers, PR managers, digital experts, community managers…

Spirit’s clients are very different and we work with classical brands as well as fun brands at the same time, which makes our work output really diversified!

We love to start fires. We ignite emotions. We love to listen. We love to act. We love to produce. This is our Spirit!

LBB> What does creative independence mean to you?

Maya> Creativity needs independence. And this is a big advantage we have at Spirit, not being affiliated to a multinational company that limits our ideas by guiding us through a specific channel of policies and other limitations. At Spirit, and thanks to all our clients who trust us, we have the freedom to dream and propose award-winning ideas that will strike!


LBB> The best thing about Beirut’s creative scene?

Maya> Beirut has a history and a culture. And the creatives in all industries are always inspired when living in this city. It is a very special kind of inspiration, based on richness of differences, contrasts, contradictions and mixed communities… Be it in the artistic, audio-visual, architecture or communication fields, the creativity of the Lebanese is determined and ambitious.



LBB> I’ve noticed that a lot of the independent agencies in Lebanon have a female founder or senior CD/ECD. This is certainly not the case in a lot of markets we cover. What is it about Beirut/Lebanon that is fostering this phenomenon do you think?

Maya> Some agencies have male creative directors. There is no rule here. Most importantly the Lebanese women are by nature fighters and ambitious in any field and they reach the highest positions in all domains.



Name: Yasmine Sakr


Agency: The Farm Branding and Creative Lab
Role: Founder and creative director

LBB> Tell me about The Farm and your coworking space Submarine…

Yasmine> Founded in 2012, The Farm is a bespoke branding and communication agency. We are a team of 10 Farmers with a ‘back to basics’ approach. In 2016 The Farm launched The Submarine Coworking space to share our work space and collaborate with teams and creative professionals. The goal was to evolve the way a typical work environment in the design industry operates. This has proven to be a fruitful and flexible model, which is starting to work today as a business fostering a broad collaborative platform in the creative industry for our clients and others to rely on. 



LBB> What does creative independence mean to you?

Yasmine> It means creative freedom. Since creativity is always expressed in a certain context and environment it cannot be totally independent; instead I would say “creative flexibility”.


LBB> The best thing about Beirut’s creative scene? 

Yasmine> It is accessible 


LBB> I’ve noticed that a lot of the independent agencies in Lebanon have a female founder or senior CD/ECD. This is certainly not the case in a lot of markets we cover. What is it about Beirut/Lebanon that is fostering this phenomenon do you think?

Yasmine> If we are referring to small and medium creative agencies there are several probable reasons. In most universities the ratio of women studying design is higher than the men – that was the case in my university back in 2003. Teenage girls are encouraged to pursue creative majors more than engineering, maths or finance. It could be perceived that it is difficult for men to earn a living as a designer.

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