'We will disrupt PR, marketing and advertising in the region' - former Groupon co-founder Stephen George

In an interview with PRWeek Middle East, George talks about his new endeavour, experiential marketing platform Surkus and why customer-centricity has to be at the heart of marketing and PR.

Former Groupon co-founder Stephen George launches new UAE-headquartered marketing platform Surkus
Former Groupon co-founder Stephen George launches new UAE-headquartered marketing platform Surkus

As the co-founder of American worldwide e-commerce marketplace Groupon, Stephen George knows a thing or two about being at the helm of a globally successful company.

Now, he has turned his sights to the UAE with his new experiential marketing platform Surkus, which he believes will disrupt the traditional PR, marketing and advertising in the Middle East.

First launched in Los Angeles in 2015, Surkus aims to reduce wasted ad spend by allowing consumers access to events, including live music, fitness classes, luxury dining experiences, wellness sessions and beauty treatments, through an app in exchange for engagement tasks set forth by the business.

The app helps brands build hype around events, a role that is often tasked with a PR agency.

"Surkus is an experimental marketing platform focused on brands and business with the end consumers and leveraging with more meaningful experiences," said George. "It is a brand new concept for the region that’s set to totally disrupt traditional advertising by providing a whole new way to engage with target customers.

"Our goals are to build a platform that allows that connection and that can help us track engagement. We believe that businesses need more transparency around advertising amid marketing and promotion."

First launched in the US, George said he has since decided to expand to the Middle East.

"This region is special if you look at investments in event marketing," said George. "In the UAE, for example, and in Saudi Arabia, there is a huge investment in experiences, entertainment and the media. It is all part of the strategy of UAE Vision 2020 and KSA Vision 2030 – both countries are really investing in brands and experiences. So many expatriates come to such countries to work, but countries such as these really recognise that for it to be sustainable for expatriates, they have to enjoy life.

"It means there is a big marketing strategy and we believe there is really nothing like our platform in which customer-centricity is really at the heart of what we do. In international markets, there are little pieces of what we are doing but they are fragmented. Here, there is not much in the way off solutions for efficiency marketing and customer engagement."

Surkus - which has almost 100 employees - has moved its Middle East headquarters to Abu Dhabi’s new Hub71 startup ecosystem.

But why the UAE capital?

"The support they offer start-ups is very exciting for us," said George. "It allows us to set up more quickly and efficiently. Regardless of the economic support they offer start-ups – which is incredibly valuable – I think Abu Dhabi as a hub is really pushing innovation and technology, which we really appreciate as a concept."

The Surkus app is designed around the concept that targeted content (events and offers tailored to your interests) with a simple and trusted value exchange (the opportunity for members to access unique paid experiences and offers, in return for the completion of tasks) will convert potential consumers at a much higher rate for a much lower cost than traditional digital advertising.

Surkus currently has over 750,000 engaged users around the world and has successfully worked alongside brands such as Netflix, MTV, Samsung, Amazon, Perrier and Live Nation to increase native engagement.

George says after the Middle East they plan to expand into Asia and Latin America, along with other markets. 

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