Navigate through the storm in shipping

The shipping industry has weathered a lot, but keeping your strategies simple can help you navigate through the storm. If you’re a shipping company able to handle a vessel every 15 to 20 seconds all around the world, it’s fair to say you’re making waves in the industry.

Navigate through the storm in shipping
20 May 2014 - 06:16
The shipping industry has weathered a lot, but keeping your strategies simple can help you navigate through the storm. If you’re a shipping company able to handle a vessel every 15 to 20 seconds all around the world, it’s fair to say you’re making waves in the industry.

But it would perhaps be even more impressive to have grown to such a level of success while keeping your strategies just the way it’s always been: simple, yet effective.

“Everything that we do in terms of developing the brand is the same,” Sean Bradley, group marketing director of Gulf Agency Company, or GAC, told Khaleej Times in an interview.

“When we develop anything that is brand-aware or brand-conscious, we’re very careful that there are no changes to the logo, taglines and strategic directions that we’re trying to achieve with the brand.”

GAC, a widely-recognised global provider of integrated shipping, logistics, marine and other related services, is one of the first companies to be established in Jebel Ali back in the early 1980s. It was started in Kuwait by Swedish entrepreneur Bengt Lindwall in 1956, and — as Bradley would allude to it — the rest is history. It has 300 offices in 42 countries and manned by 10,000 employees.

“We’re very well-known; anyone in shipping or logistics knows GAC,” he quipped.

While having gone global recently, the Middle East still contributes more than half of GAC’s business. The UAE is, according to Bradley, “probably our largest business”.

“We have a very, very strong development in all the emirates with many different products,” he said, adding that GAC has a “very strong relationship” with Dubai-based logistics giant DP World.

Game on

Marketing has been at the forefront of GAC’s strategy. It has to be carefully thought out, not just making sure that you’ll be able to get your point across, but as well as hitting customers where it’ll strike them the most.

The GAC brand is heavily-promoted on all levels, and there is one vertical that it feels can take them closer to people: sports.

Sports sponsorships have experienced a boom in recent years. Companies have been scrambling to support teams especially in the biggest of leagues, but getting your brand slapped on kits and uniforms isn’t the only way to provide sponsorship, much less gain promotion. Football and cricket are among the sports that attract major sponsorships. The National Basketball Association, or NBA, in the United States has also stated that it is exploring the possibility of for the first time having brands on their players’ jerseys in the future.

GAC is heavily involved in the Extreme Sailing Series, or ESS, an annual global racing event. Organised by OC Sport, it is raced in Extreme 40 catamarans and features renowned sailors from circumnavigators to Olympic medalists and world-record holders.

Aside from having its own GAC Pindar team at the event, GAC has a bigger and more important role in the series: it is its official logistics partner, making sure everything is moved around the world on time amidst a very tight schedule. The event hops from cities around the world, the most recent ones in Muscat and the Chinese city of Qingdao.

Bradley believes in the power of commercial sports marketing. Aside from their involvement in the ESS, GAC is a long-term sponsor of English Premier League side Crystal Palace and League One team Sheffield United, as well as the official logistics partner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Race driver Alex Brundle, golfers Richard Sterne, Graeme Storm, Chris Wood and George Coetzee, and ex-England cricket captain Michael Vaughan are also in the GAC sport-sponsorship stable.

And as a result of its competence, GAC has also been nominated to look after the Volvo Ocean Race, which has 1.5 billion viewers.

“I look at the benefits of what I’m doing in sports marketing to retain business and to develop business that we already have,” Bradley said. “We try to develop new opportunities; we try to do that on the sports marketing platform.”

Overall, focus is what is needed to drive a business further, he pointed out. “From my point of view, this is very, very good – direct marketing with your customer and your customer target base… basically, the guys you already have and how you deal with them on a day-to-day basis.”


The shipping industry was not spared by the late-2000s global financial crisis. Bradley says that everybody in logistics was impacted by the supply and demand of products. He also pointed out the glut of ship orders before the crisis; while these hit companies hard, the good news is that with a recovery in the sector, these vessels are now available, ready to be used and would increase global container capacity by 20 per cent.

However, this also comes at a cost — literally.

“These now have made pricing very, very pressured,” he said. “So the shipping industry is pressured price-wise [as] there are a lot of competitors and margins are squeezed in our business.”

Bradley believes that being able to innovate is something that can see a company through, especially in tough times. GAC, he says, has some of the most innovative products and services that it is designing and running. “We are a strong believer in innovation. We have a particular division that looks after the innovation of different things that we can develop,” he said.

Aside from the UAE and the Middle East, Bradley says Asia is a developing market for GAC. It has offices in key cities such as those in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and others, as well as strategic partnerships and alliances in the rest of the region.

Strong business relationships keep GAC going, and moving forward, the plan is simple.

“We will continue to do what we’ve done very well in the past with a specific way of dealing with and approaching customers,” Bradley said. “We want to make sure there is transparency and clarity in everything we do.”

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