DESTINATION X THE BOLD GROUP
The Bold Group is an integrated creative ecosystem that provides innovative platform-driven solutions to the challenges faced by creative industries using a fresh approach. Destination KSA had the privilege to sit with Abeer Alessa, its founder, and CEO, to get a rare insight into her journey as one of the executive female pioneers in the country’s creative and media industries.
We began with a simple question, what is Abeer’s origin story? We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the confines of the classroom always eluded Abeer, where math and science didn’t make sense, and her inclination was more towards the arts. “I hated being in class, that’s why when I was pursuing my degree, Saudi at that time didn’t have anything within the realm of creativity, and truthfully I didn’t know what to do or what to study, or what I wanted to become., At that time, I started to hear about graphic design. I thought, if I did graphic design, I could have a career, whereas if I studied art, what would I do with that?” This led Abeer to travel to Bahrain to study art and design, specializing in graphic design.
After finishing her degree, Abeer returned to Saudi Arabia to a wave of uncertainty. She was unsure of her future until one fateful Ramadan night when her uncle called her about an opportunity at MBC. “My uncle told me that MBC has a training for a rotation program as their contribution towards localizing and creating jobs for Saudis in MBC; this was in 2006 or 2007,” adding, “I said, okay, why not, and he informed me the interview was right away, mind you, it was 2 am right before the Fajr prayers. It didn’t give me much time to prepare. I went back home and took my portfolio, which honestly didn’t have much, just a compilation of my drawings and art, and my interview was with Dawood Al Sharian, a famous media person with a top-rated show on MBC. Unfortunately, he informed me that the gates were closed.”
Nevertheless, Dawood saw something special in Abeer and agreed to mentor her, as part of MBC. “The very next day, I packed my bags and headed to Dubai; bear in mind that at that time, this wasn’t something conventional for Saudi women to study abroad or work abroad, especially in media, but my family’s support was what got me through it all.” Abeer rotated in various media powerhouses like Arabiya, MBC 1, and 2, eventually becoming a promotion producer at MBC4. She fell in love with everything she learned, which was starkly different from what she studied. “This is where I learned everything, from editing to all other skills related to the field, at MBC.”
Abeer would start freelancing, landing gigs with Saudi companies, and little did she know that it would lead her back to Saudi Arabia. “While I was at MBC, I often took up side hustles; I received a call about a commercial that was being shot in Dubai for STC and that they were looking for a Saudi wardrobe stylist,” adding “Back then, all commercials used to be shot either in Dubai or Lebanon as we didn’t have any production houses in Saudi.’’ Even though wardrobe was not Abeer’s expertise, she decided, to take it on, and it opened many doors. Frequently freelancing with Saudi companies, she grew her connections.
As it was the first time around, the next pivotal moment in Abeer’s career came as a phone call. “I wanted to pursue education in film, having worked with MBC on on-ground productions, wardrobe, and more, I was in love with the field and I wanted to learn more.” But life has other plans— a single convincing call asking her to work on a project for STC landed her a seat at a multinational agency that represented the company in Riyadh for four years.
It was this return to Saudi Arabia and seeing the market that got Abeer’s wheels turning, “I saw the gap in the Saudi market, as multinational companies often only took big clients, I saw a gap for midsize businesses and this led me to start Bold.” “Bold was founded in 2012, by Mohamad Baalbaki and me. He used to do the creative, and I used to do everything else, it was just two people but then the team grew. Fast forward to 2022, almost ten years later and we have over 75 people in two offices. Today Bold has gone from a single agency to a group and we are focusing on specialization and growing in our specialties, whether geographically, vertically, or horizontally.” With over seventeen years of experience, Abeer is an experienced pioneer who has seen the market evolve.
She lends her expertise and knowledge to the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, as part of the Advertising Committee.
So today the growth of the industry and where it’s heading is up to the local and independent industries, they’re getting all the interesting work and projects, I do believe we have some challenges and gaps, but there is a competitive edge today more than before.
“Regardless of what your specialization is, the key is to know the science and art of what we do, the art needs to be relevant to the target audience, and it needs to be localized, that’s why I feel the local companies are being very competitive. And then there is the scientific part, which I feel we need to develop further as we move on.”
With the rise of creative representation in the country, we wanted to know how The Bold Group is adapting, “A lot of the agencies in the market these days tend to go too local, if you look at Saudi Arabia today with 32 million population, and I would say 12 million of those are not Saudi. So the challenge today is yes, being local, but there is a very thin line between being too local that you are irrelevant to everyone else living in the country, because at the end of the day everyone is your target audience, if you look at big brands such as McDonald’s, or Coca Cola, they target everybody and not only Saudis.”
“And with the country’s vision for 2030 being to increase its population, you can anticipate that foreigners will need to be better included in future communications. So yes, being local is good but all target audiences must be kept in mind and that’s something that Bold always focuses on.”
As a woman CEO, Abeer had to navigate a rapidly changing industry. “I believe that the challenges we used to have as women, in the past ten years in comparison to today, are totally different. If I look back to the challenges I personally faced, they were more about being the only woman in the room, often having difficulties getting my voice heard, which was demotivating at times. But I would say at the end of the day, consistency and persistence were the keys to overcoming those challenges.” Adding, “Today as we speak being a woman or a man in Saudi does not make any difference, actually being a woman today gives you a competitive advantage, women empowerment is at its peak today in Saudi, we are seeing a lot of encouragement whether from the private sector or the governmental sector.” Abeer says that her go-to advice is to women in the country trying to create a path for themselves.
We asked Abeer what the future holds for The Bold Group and herself, “The Bold Group today, how we are growing and where we are headed, is strong. We aim to increase further by 50% year on year; we have a new strategy for the company; we transformed from a single company into a specialized group, with Bold brands, Bold comms, and Bold experiences and one more company, which will is specializing in corporate gifting.” Adding, “The Bold Group also aims to grow geographically, having recently opened an office in Egypt this year, we also aim to grow and open office around the GCC.”