They’ll be many casualties in COVID-19 times, but by far one of the greatest will be the SME (small and medium sized enterprises) community. What you may not know is that the SME community is a major component of economic growth for the UAE. The contribution of the SME sector to the GDP of the country is constantly growing and in 2019 it was estimated at 53%. SMEs are important for so many economic reasons. We play a major role in the creation of employment and many of us are innovating and providing services and capabilities never available before. Entrepreneurship and self-employment are ultimately some of the best ways to boost economy and they have been cited many times as a crucial part of the economic vision adopted by the UAE.

Within the SME community, one of the hardest hit groups is the marketing, communications, creative and content agencies. Whenever a recession or any kind of economic downturn hits, consumers and companies alike become more cautious with their money. With customers not buying as much, it means businesses have to find ways to stay afloat and since customers aren’t buying, to many the thinking goes, why not cut marketing and advertising expenses as it’s not as if a brand’s social media presence will disappear overnight, or a company’s customers will suddenly forget them right?

What statistics also show, and what many businesses don’t immediately see, is that continuing to invest in marketing and advertising during a recession actually benefits a business. There are many examples in history of those who grew during tough times, but what all have in common is that when companies continue to market themselves during a recession, they keep their names in the minds of the consumers, so that when customers do have money to spend, they are more likely to turn to the brands they readily remember and in turn, trust. Even with all the possible justifications for scaling back marketing spend, not only will those customers forget if you don’t stay out there and top of mind, but as research suggests a recession might actually be the best time to advertise and market one’s self – in the right way of course!

As two local SME marketing and communication agency owners, Tash Hatherall (TishTash Marketing and Public Relations) and Chloe Ragg (Fox and Hound Communications) have nearly 30 employees between them who rely on them for their salaries and livelihoods each month. Both agencies are well established in the market and collectively have an impressive portfolio of clients including the likes of The Body Shop, Warrior Events, Aster Group, Emirates Nature WWF, Mamas & Papas, Bath & Body Works, Nightjar Coffee Roasters, Medcare, Kibsons, Warehouse Gym and ICD Brookfield Place, but when the COVID-19 crisis hit, both agencies saw 70% of their clients cancel or pause contracts in order to save budget and expenses, leaving both in the position of having to make redundancies, implement salary reductions and potentially face closure depending on how long the crisis continues.

Both passionate advocates for SMEs in the region, regular collaborators as agencies, and personal friends, early on in the COVID-19 crisis Tash and Chloe partnered together to run a competition across their social platforms and business communities offering one business the chance to win a package of PR, Marketing and Social Media support. In just one week they received over 2,000 entries from local SMEs, each telling a very personal and emotional story about how much their business meant to them and how the prize would give their company a chance of survival during this very difficult time.

There could only be one winner, but it got Tash and Chloe thinking about what more they could do to help their fellow SMEs during this time, whilst also supporting their own businesses and employees too and so “The SME Rise Collective” was created.

The SME Rise Collective Explained

“The SME Rise Collective” is a new platform that will go live on the 13th of April that offers individuals and companies in the community the chance to come together and buy packages from local marketing and communications agencies that will be used to sponsor and support other local SMEs at a time when they need it most.  In contributing to a marketing package, the community are helping safeguard the livelihoods not only of our SME marketing and communication industry, but also of many in the wider SME community as the agencies pay it forward with their services to do all they can to drive much needed awareness and sales at this time, as well as helping with marketing strategy and support for those needing to pivot their business offering.


The platform has three sections – “Apply”, “Support” and “Collaborate”:

“Apply” allows SMEs in the UAE to submit an application to be considered for the marketing packages.  SMEs apply through the website and answer a number of questions about their business and what they want to achieve with the packages available.  All applications are in the strictest of confidence and will be reviewed by an independent board of 3 senior business and industry figures and marked against certain criteria and prioritized in a list as and when packages are signed off.

The SME Rise Collective has a number of monthly packages available which support across the two launch agencies to start with. The packages cost AED 5k, 8k, 10k, 12k and 15k and each approved SME recipient will receive a 3 package that covers strategic support, marketing, PR, social media, content creation, digital marketing (Google Ads and SEO with 3rd party budgets) database marketing and more. 

SMEs are awarded a package and they together with The Collective agree the elements that would best support their business at this time based on the budget they have been allocated  Businesses that are not operational at this time including gyms, salons, play centres etc, are also able to apply and request support starting at a later date.

“Support” allows members of the community, individuals and companies to offer their support to local SMEs by sponsoring an SMEs marketing package.  The sponsoring fee can be from as little as AED 100. 

Those wishing to offer their “Sponsorship” need to submit key information on the platform and will be contacted afterwards to finalise their invoice and payment. Sponsors can make a one-off payment or regular smaller payments as they wish.  Invoices and receipts are issued for all marketing packages purchased and full audited records will be kept and VAT payments submitted in accordance with UAE law.

By sponsoring a business, sponsors will get the chance to be featured in the Collective’s PR campaign, on the business’ social media platforms and obtain recognition for their patronage.

“Collaborate” invites other marketing and communication agencies and licensed freelancers in the UAE to join the Collective and offer their services once marketing packages are signed off and additional resources are needed to fulfil them.

The impact on the wider economy

“The SME Rise Collective” has the potential to impact the local economy in many ways, which is why this initiative is so exciting and important at a challenging time for so many of us.

The SME Rise Collective is about supporting in the ongoing survival of our SME community, covering as many salaries as we can, ensuring business continuity and paying forward much needed marketing and advertising services to SMEs who need it.

Every agency member will be employed and paid as normal, which in turn enables them to pay their rent, bills, school fees, support their family and continue spending to support the overall economy.

SMEs who receive the marketing packages will receive the package that best meets their needs at that time, with a focus on driving awareness, leads and sales when they need it most so they can continue to employ their workforce, pay their suppliers and also support the overall economy.

All sponsors will be invoiced, and VAT will be paid on all marketing fees, supporting the UAE economy as a whole.

Why be part of The SME Rise Collective?

The aim of the SME Rise Collective is to stimulate our economy, keep the growing entrepreneurial spirit of the UAE alive and ensure that as many SMEs as possible, and their staff, benefit both personally and professionally.

Simply put, think of it like this: If The SME Collective receives AED 200,000 of sponsored marketing packages, this will enable 20 staff across two agencies to keep their jobs for a month and support their families. These in turn will be able to support up to 30 SMEs with marketing and advertising (depending on packages awarded).  That’s already a lot of people whose lives you made a difference to in a challenging time.

The Future Potential

Our vision is to use “The SME Rise Collective” to not only sponsor our two founding agencies, but the idea is that once we have funded 3 month campaigns for SMEs to cover our agency core expenses, that we bring other local SME agencies and legal freelancers into The Collective to also fulfil packages having the ripple effect through our SME agency community, as well as the wider SMEs.

Final Words

COVID-19 will have many implications short and long term, but we choose to see the positive giving us all a much-needed reminder of the importance of empathy, community, human connection and working together for the greater good.

Whilst we can’t promise to save all the SMEs in the UAE, we’d love to try our best. Let us do the work we love. Let us use the skills we have to help those who need support right now.  We are all stronger together, as a collective.

Apply, support or just follow our journey at and @smerisecollective