Tribal Caribbean

Robert de Gannes is the bold, solo representative of Tribal, DDB's digital agency, in the Caribbean. This is his story.
Pounding the digital drum
Published in the Business Guardian on March 15, 2012. This is the final draft version of that story. In error, an earlier version with editor's notes appeared in the print version of the newspaper.
Robert de Gannes at his Woodbrook office. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It’s hard not to see Robert de Gannes, with a macho grizzle covering fresh 24-year-old cheeks, as just a good example of the very generation and demographic that advertisers and businesses want to reach.

He’s a young, educated citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, and a good-looking, well-dressed consumer of digital technologies.
But de Gannes sits on the other side of the sales pitch. He’s the managing director of Tribal Caribbean, the region’s branch of DDB Worldwide’s digitally focused agency business.

Omnicom owns DDB, a US$12.69B traditional agency business, which in turn has founded the Tribal network which consists of 65 offices spread over 46 countries and Tribal Latina, which oversees the Caribbean branch office, operates in 21 countries with 30 offices, employing 1,800 digitally enabled workers.

Tribal Caribbean manages interests in Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico while pursuing accounts at its home base in Trinidad and Tobago.
Robert de Gannes’ office is shockingly spare. There’s a meeting table and a long L shaped built-in desk in a small side office at Rostant Advertising’s office in Woodbrook, the local agency affiliate of DDB.

It’s lots of room for de Gannes though, because he’s the only employee of Tribal Caribbean, the first personnel commitment by Tribal in the region’s potential for participation digital promotions and engagement strategies.
The agency operates under the watchwords “bringing humanity into the digital age,” but it’s digital culture that expands the capabilities that de Gannes brings to the table.

He’s in constant contact with Tribal’s thought leaders and specialist creative teams executing his projects via a stream of bits carried via e-mail, Skype and any other digital medium that his Tribal teams find convenient.
The process is buried in Tribal’s work processes, in which work is distributed to global centres of excellence, congregations of talent that bring specialised knowledge to such diverse project elements as gaming, design, Internet TV, e-mail, and digital customer relations management.

The Tribal Caribbean bossman is less a one-man show than he is an army of one, the leading edge of a massive team that organises itself around him depending on the solutions that make sense for his clients.
Tribal is committed to projects that “influence the swarm,” digital solutions for clients that identify customer interests and place clients into those conversations and engagements.

“We can’t shout at people and expect them to buy anymore,” de Gannes said.
Instead, they work on the “fun” theory. If something is pleasant, people will engage with it and share it.
Tribal Caribbean put that to the test a year ago when they began operations in T&T with a competition to create their logo. All Tribal’s agencies have logos based on a 7x7 pixel grid in which three colours must be used and twelve more are options.

The new agency created an app, hosted it on their Facebook page and went quickly from three likes to more than 700 in just a few weeks. The winner of the competition, from which entries from outside the region had to be disallowed, was Kristopher Lucky, an IT professional from Kappa Drugs.

“It was tough,” de Gannes admits, “we kept going back and forth between two particularly good designs.” Lucky won an iPad for his pixel art and the 17 top entries, chosen by visitors, are still in an album on Tribal Caribbean’s Facebook page.
So how does someone so young bypass the entire agency promotion system to head a startup all on his own?

You could start by following your first instincts after studies at QRC and Maple Leaf by enrolling in a computer course at RoyTec. Then, you might find that programming really isn’t your thing and decide to enrol in St Francis College, a Brooklyn institution that bills itself as “The small college of big dreams.”

St Francis might appeal to you because you could spend your first year or two doing general studies before buckling down to a speciality.
There, you would quickly discover that you really hate the weather and take every course available, including summer opportunities to compress a four-year course into three and still graduate as class valedictorian with a specialisation in advertising and public relations.

Right out of school, de Gannes began working in social media management and that experience led to the opportunity with Tribal.
Entering the market, he found some activity already in the sector in Trinidad and Tobago.
“We’re one of the few who have started up recently,” he said.

“We want to distinguish ourselves from technology development houses, though. We are a digital marketing firm. We don’t want to just build you a website or create an app for you. Our business is finding our where clients are online and figuring out how to help them to achieve their goals.”

To do this, Tribal Caribbean can leverage their networked scale to use powerful social media analysis tools that are available to the entire group.
Monitoring tools such as Radian6 which scans tweets and status updates for keywords are too expensive for a small shop or a one-man operation but are part of the arsenal of support that sits behind Tribal Caribbean’s representative.

The company has done three major projects in their first year, one for Venture Capital Credit Union and two others nearing completion for NEL and a probono project with the Gaming Association of T&T.
There have been lots of conversations though, and the Tribal MD is working on turning some of those into projects.

“I have two years for this to become profitable,” de Gannes said. “I’d rather fail giving it my best than be a coddled success.”
The young manager stops for a minute and gives that a second thought.
“I don’t think I’m going to fail at this though,” he adds with a laugh.
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