Moe Minkara: “We Lebanese Are Born with a Need to Self-Express”
BIG KAHUNA FILMS, the award-winning creative production house based in Dubai and Beirut, is proud to support creativity across the Middle East. Over the coming months, as part of our sponsorship of LBB’s United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia editions, we’ll be speaking to some of the great minds driving creativity forward across the region.
Today we meet Moe Minkara, creative director and founder of mink. Moe’s journey through the industry - and indeed through life - has rarely followed a clear or set path. Over the course of his experiences in Lebanon, Britain, France, and Croatia, Moe accumulated a worldview and set of expertise that helps define mink, the marketing comms agency he founded. Here, Moe reflects on his creative journey, the secret to great creativity, and why the worst hardships can become the greatest motivators.
LBB> Growing up, what kind of kid were you? And when did it dawn on you that you were ‘a creative’?
Moe Minkara> I believe no true creative is ever bred from a picture-perfect childhood. Life taught me very early on to always find creative solutions to deal with what it threw at me. I guess I have always been more of a problem solver rather than a trouble maker. And that has followed me throughout my life. That’s what creativity is in a way - finding creative solutions to business problems.
I grew up in a home that spoke three languages simultaneously and I believe that’s where my passion for words and copywriting came from. Very early on, I had the ability to mix words from different languages to come up entirely new ones. As a kid, I even started reading backwards almost as fast as I read forwards. You would be amazed at how many fun words can come out of reading backwards sometimes! I have always 'thought' in words and that is what directly led me to my career path.
LBB> You’ve spent time living in Lebanon, Britain, France, and Croatia. Are you conscious of influences from all of these places in your approach to work today?
Moe> There is no doubt that I am who I am today because of my travels, experiences, and lengthy stays in different countries entrenching myself amongst different cultures. Each experience grounds you in its own special way, and each culture helps you behave and think in a different manner. What I have realized later on in life is that the best creative ideas are never restrained by borders, languages, and cultures. They come from a deep human insight that moves the core of our emotions in one way or another. It no longer matters if you are in Britain, France, Lebanon or Croatia. A good Idea comes from within and should be fluent in any language.
Despite that, I can safely say that Croatia taught me all I know about design, Britain about discipline, France about self-expression, and Lebanon… Well, Lebanon taught me about life.
LBB> As we’re UK-based I have to ask - have you picked up any distinctly British cultural quirks or habits?
Moe> I have learned never to say “I feel sick” in a car filled with people when all I ever meant to say was that I was feeling a little “ill”. I have learned to appreciate the sun, and understood that taking the piss on someone after a few pints in a pub was only an expression…
Honestly though, Britain toughened me up, Britain gave me a kick in the butt. What I used to think was good, was not even mediocre, it was ‘shite’! Looking back, my experience in the UK is probably what gave me my stubbornness to succeed.
LBB> What motivated you to set up your own agency, mink, in 2018?
Moe> Funny enough, I had just started a new career path in a big multinational agency and it was more of what demotivated me - rather than what motivated me - that caused me to take the leap. Every creative director’s dream is to open his/her own agency and create a unique creative culture. I just didn’t have big enough kahunas to do it until then. Even though the timing was off due to the global recession in our industry, I was determined. I had just turned 40 and there was no going back. I wanted to create an agency that would stand different from the rest, and that would offer clients a creative experience that they would not find anywhere else.
LBB> And what was your original vision for mink? Have the past few years changed it in any way?
Moe> My vision has always been to create a proper agency. I was never the kind to want a boutique studio, nor had I ever intended to re-think the wheel here. mink was always meant to be a full-service agency focused on great design and ideas from the heart, and that is what I have been building day-in, day-out. Yes times are changing, and today having a performance marketing team has replaced the traditional marketers and we are on track with that, but the core of an agency will always remain and be based on human talent and transparent communication.
LBB> Looking back on mink’s time as an agency so far, has there been a specific moment which has proved to be especially significant?
Moe> It’s hard to look beyond August 4th, 2020, at precisely 18:07. The second largest explosion in history erupted barely 100 meters from our offices in Beirut. Luckily and thankfully, that day we had left the office earlier than usual - 12 minutes earlier to be precise. The explosion wiped out everything we had built at mink. It was devastating to say the least.
Paired with an economic meltdown in the country and the Covid-19 pandemic, there was little hope in sight. But this only made me more determined to succeed, to keep growing, and pushed me to open a second office in Dubai which today helps support the office in Beirut. Since August, mink has grown from a 12-person agency to a team of 24 multidisciplinary creatives. I guess you could say that we boomed since the bomb.
LBB> You’ve been quoted in the past as saying “our industry doesn’t rely on machinery, it relies on talented human beings”. What do you mean by ‘machinery’, and do you think we often do rely too much on it?
Moe> Originally I meant that in our industry specifically, we rely on talented people to come up with ideas, create, design, strategize and keep up with the world by always keeping things bright and relevant. Our tool is talent, and we need to care for our talent and create cultures that are safe, nurturing and inspiring for them.
To answer your question though, if agencies today relied solely on SEO, SEM, analytics and online performance measures, we would all end up as data companies owned by global consultancies. Yes, numbers do give us direction on where a brand is going and who our consumers are, but without emotional intelligence these facts and figures won’t spur a smile, or shed a tear, or give you goosebumps… these numbers will eventually get outnumbered by words.
LBB> When it comes to hiring talent for mink, you’ve mentioned that you often like to look for people currently working outside the industry. Why is that?
Moe> I guess my career as a regional ECD in multinational agencies has taught me to nurture different teams and grow young talent into leaders. That is the part of the job that I loved doing most. Ideas can come and go, leadership teaches you to grab hold of the good ideas and expand them in a disciplined way. The same applies to talent. Out of 24 talents at mink, only 2 come from previous advertising experience. It wasn’t done on purpose; it just happened this way. When you have a startup, you rely on people that are as passionate to succeed as you are and you learn to stray away from unjustified ego’s and from the ones that have already been molded into a specific system. I look for spark and ambition - the rest can be taught.
LBB> From the outside looking in, Lebanon seems to perform fantastically when it comes to producing great creativity. What is it about the country which inspires creative minds?
Moe> Lebanon is a breeding ground for creative insights. We are a tiny, beautiful Mediterranean country that was unfortunately born in the wrong place with a slight inferiority complex. We Lebanese are born with a need to self-express in order to show the world who we really are. Various cultures, religions, languages, and general ways of life all coexist in our small country which brings a little magic to our everyday life.
Because of our turbulent history, we live each day as if it were the last and our creativity flows in exactly the same manner. Walk down a street in Beirut and you will be surprised by the amount of amazing graffiti work, local product design, graphic artists, comedians, painters, musicians, you name it. Throughout history, we have always been travelers, we go out in the world to absorb art & culture and come back home and recreate our own version of it.
LBB> Finally, the last 12 months have been a challenging time for many - not least in Lebanon. Throughout it all, how have you been keeping creatively inspired?
Moe> Working from home was challenging at first, but Covid-19 has taught me that mink could have creatives working for it from all over the world. Today, mink has designers in Lebanon, Armenia, the UAE, and Croatia. These talents from different cultural backgrounds are what keeps everyone creatively inspired. They push each other to think outside borders and challenge themselves beyond their local peers and experiment further. Even though the Beirut office will always be base camp for mink, some team members in Lebanon proved to be more productive working from home, so I believe the future for us will be hybrid.