Jeff Roach didn't think much about expanding his company, Sociallogical, in 2013; instead, he worked mostly for existing clients and spent time with his wife and newborn son. But that September, the founder of the Saint John-based social media consultancy got a phone call from an old acquaintance: Any chance he wanted to go on a business trip to Kuwait?
It was a speaking gig and some business meetings; the flights would be paid for by a Kuwaiti marketing company, Kilma Media. Mr. Roach was, at first, skeptical – both of the work the trip would require, and of travelling to a country he knew little about. But he dashed off some speaking ideas, got a formal offer and, after some thought, accepted it. He flew to Kuwait City in December and spent 10 days there, speaking at a career development conference and getting to know Kilma Media's staff.
It was the start of a great relationship. After half a year of back-and-forth negotiations, Kilma Media signed last month to be Socialogical's exclusive agent across the Gulf States, opening up an enormous marketplace for the two-person Atlantic Canadian firm to expand its client base.
Working in such a distant market is something "I never set my sights on at all," Mr. Roach says. But with the company's first international relationship established, he sees whole new opportunities. "I see us able to bring an advantage to partners in new parts of the world that they can grow with."
Social media adoption in Kuwait, Mr. Roach says, is about two to five years behind where it is in North America, making it a great market for training and strategic services. It also comes with its own set of unique trends. The photo-sharing service Instagram, for instance, has become a key tool for e-commerce as people and businesses use it to advertise wares.
Sociallogical partnered with Kilma Media through Kash Kannaiti, a Toronto-based agent who was raised in Kuwait and worked as an investment banker in London, giving him an extensive network in the Gulf States. Mr. Kannaiti lived in New Brunswick briefly before moving to Toronto two years ago. In the Ontario capital, he found it hard to convince local companies to embrace the Middle Eastern market – "they'll only listen to you if you're connected to the U.S. market," he says. So he turned to connections he'd made while living on the East Coast, and has connected five so far with opportunities in Europe and the Gulf States.
Mr. Roach founded Sociallogical in 2011 with his wife, Kelly Lawson. He's a longtime local tech evangelist, having spent five years running Propel ICT, New Brunswick's first private tech incubator, which launched dozens of companies. Sociallogical started as a social media education company but now offers a gamut of other services, including strategic advice and audience measurement.
The company has racked up hundreds of clients, teaching both leaders and ground-level employees how to use social media strategically and measure results, rather than just posting things into the void of the Internet. "There are so many people claiming to be experts in this field that companies don't know who to trust," Mr. Roach says.
Trust is the currency that helped him ink his first international partnership. Mr. Kannaiti had met Mr. Roach in New Brunswick, and saw an opportunity to connect him with one of his high-net-worth contacts in the Middle East. He gave the Sociallogical founder a call in September, and after some research, it became clear that the Gulf States made for an excellent new market – and that working with an established company like Kilma Media would make for a smooth entry. "Partnering with someone who already has experience in communications means you already have trust," Mr. Roach says.
After his first trip to Kuwait, Mr. Roach spent much of 2014 going back and forth with Kilma Media working out the details of a potential partnership. "It took six months to happen," Mr. Kannaiti says. "I'm not a miracle worker. It was a lot of hard work." Mr. Roach returned in August to secure the deal, including the royalty structure of the partnership, and train local staff.
The lessons he has learned in the past year will work both abroad and at home, as he has become more accustomed to communicating with clients remotely. "It's changed our model slightly," he says. "We're more open to going after clients across the country because of our remote example. It's been instructive – we don't have to be in the same town to deliver good service."