With over 45m users of Facebook, 160m Tweets a day and 167m
videos being viewed on You Tube daily across the MENA region, there
is no doubt that engaging in social media has massive potential for
We have seen an explosive growth in the adoption of social media
in the Middle East over the past couple of years that shows little
no indication of slowing. Social media has without doubt changed
the way that consumers digest brand messages and make purchasing
decisions and it's vital that businesses recognise this.
Arriving in the UAE from the UK four years ago I was quite
shocked at the infancy of digital marketing within the region.
Whilst it has taken some time to catch up, businesses are now
recognising the huge opportunity that social media presents. There
is still a way to go however, as many brands fail to truly
understand the power of this communication channel, which often
results in wasted effort and damaging effects to the brand.
Many businesses think that Facebook, Twitter and l the like are
the perfect channels to throw all marketing messages out to their
consumers in a 'low cost' manner. Whilst I have no doubt that for
some brands this will work, it's only a matter of time until
consumers switch off.
With consumers being subjected to an average of 247 marketing
messages a day, they become very selective as to what they listen
to and no matter how much is thrown at them by brands they have
previously chosen to engage with they will ultimately get
disenchanted. Thus the 'low cost' social media channels actually
offer very little return in the long-term to businesses if used in
You may think it strange that I seem to be downplaying the tools
I use for my profession, but that's simply not the case. I truly
believe social media has immense power for brands - you only have
to look at the success of campaigns such as the US election and the
London Olympics, where political and brand advocacy were driven by
powerful social media campaigns. However, it must be remembered
that the keys to success in the social media world are the same as
any other communications platform that has gone before -
RELEVANCE and CREATIVITY.
So the big question is how do businesses ensure social media
success? As a particationer in the digital and social media world,
I'd like to share with you my five top tips that I believe will
guide your business to social media success…
1. Focus on your audience: Social media
needs to be driven with a customer-centric approach and, without
doubt, brands which don't take this approach will fail. Listening
to your customers and competitors is the best place to start when
planning; using an online monitoring tool can build amazing
insight, for example; wouldn't it be great to know what people are
already saying about your brand, where they are saying it and who's
saying it? What your competitors are doing, who is making
social media work well and how you can replicate this are all
crucial questions that monitoring can answer.
2. Be Engaging: Brands which are
succeeding on social channels have one thing in common - highly
engaging content. This element should not be overlooked, it is
essential that you get the right communications team in place to
develop a strategy that allows you to post the right content, at
the right place and at the right time for your audiences is key -
remember just because its online doesn't mean you don't have to
follow the fundamentals of marketing!
Your content can be promotional, factual, conversational,
humorous, emotional or controversial - but it should all be driven
by what makes your audiences engage, whilst reflecting your
business goals and brand voice. Again using a monitoring tool over
time can provide insights as to what is working best for your
3. Creativity: We all like sharing things
that we think our friends and colleagues will enjoy, but as we are
subjected to so many messages, brands need to offer something a
little out of the norm to encourage sharing. I'm not suggesting you
will reach the massive heights of over 1 billion views as the
Gangham Style video has to date, although I don't suppose they
thought they would reach those viewing numbers - so you never
4. Rely on recommendations: According to a
recent Nelisen survey, 92% of consumers across the world say they
trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations over
brand advertising. Society influncers are particalurly big in this
region and, be it an online food critic or a fashionsita, they have
a massive influence and people trust their recommendations. As a
result, it's important for brands to reach out to this group to
build a relationship and provide influencers with a reason to
enagage with the brand. Just as importantly, brands need to work
with them to communicate their messages and build brand
5. Keep it simple: Social media shouldn't
be complicated or too long. Consumers want to digest messages
quickly and move on. Brands should always remember to speak in line
with their brand tone, whilst chatting in a 'human manner'; forget
the fancy phrases, clever wording or embellishments, they just
don't work on social media.
It's not often that Knitting makes big headlines but this year
it hit the news for all the wrong reasons in two unrelated
First off was the public outrage that ensued at Wimbledon when
BBC cameras caught a woman in the crowd knitting a pink jumper
during Andy Murray's tense victory over Marcos Baghdatis. The
seething commentator voiced his fear of the players realizing that
there was an uninterested spectator "If the players looked up
and saw this…". Meanwhile thousands took to Twitter and news
forums to attack 'Knitting lady' or valiantly defend her and blame
Wimbledon itself for being boring, with the story making
international headlines. The conversation continues on the YouTube
video which now has thousands of views.
This is not the first time BBC has angered the Knitterati. In
2008, the BBC asked a woman to remove pictures of her home-knitted
Dr. Who puppets from the web because they infringed on trademarks
and copyrights. The story was brought to the attention of the
public in The Times newspaper, and the BBC quickly
backtracked and instead turned the knitted designs into a limited
edition of exclusive promotional products.
Another knitting controversy took place in the US when the U.S.
Olympic Committee (USOC) had a slightly heavy-handed reaction to a
social group calling their annual knitting contest 'The
Ravelympics'. The USOC sent a furious 'Cease-and-desist' letter to
the unfortunate knitters, stating that the Ravelympics
"…denigrate the true nature of the Olympic games….are
disrespectful to our country's finest athletes and fails to
recognize or appreciate their hard work."
Big mistake. The knitting community fired back through posts,
tweets, emails and letters to newspapers, eventually forcing the
shell-shocked USOC to send out not one but two statements of
apologizing for their insensitive use of language and insulting
tone. Following further coverage on ABC, Yahoo Sports, Gawker and
various other news outlets, the USOC spokesman eventually had to
make amends by apologizing in an interview with the New York
Two lessons to be learned from these stories.
One: don't mess with the knitting community.
Two: In the age of Social Media,
nothing is safe from public scrutiny. Perhaps the USOC
didn't expect any backlash from the knitters, and neither did the
BBC as it focused on the Wimbledon knitter, but it is important to
remember that everyone has a voice in today's social media
If offending a small and insignificant public can result in one
of the most powerful men in US Sports ending up shamefully
apologizing in one of the country's top dailies, and if focusing
your camera on a 'funny' incident for a few moments can lead to
questioning one of the oldest and most prestigious sporting events
in the world, then it's time to wake up and realize that social
media has changed the game forever. Whether or not you think you
need digital and social media communications as a proactive push
mechanism for your brand or company, you most certainly need it as
a reactive failsafe mechanism when things go wrong, because it's
becoming easier and easier to get caught out.
Did I just call the knitting public 'insignificant'? Oh no -
better watch out….
Last night, myself and four journalists from Ahlan! Gourmet, BBC
Good Food Middle East, Caterer Middle East and Elite Monde gathered
in the state-of-the-art 'Cooking Pod' in the exquisite Blue Flame
steak and seafood restaurant at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel.
To showcase the live 'Cooking Pod', we organised an exclusive
cooking class to teach the finer points of food preparation and put
our culinary skills to the test. Blue Flame's Chef de Cuisine,
Ruben Rebuffo, taught us culinary novices how to cook one of Blue
Flame's signature dishes. Step-by-step we roasted pumpkins, butter
poached fresh langoustines, pan seared sea bass fillets, and to
finish plated our final masterpiece's before devouring them.
Of course the proof is in the pudding as they say, and judging
by feedback from our media, the experience proved to be a perfect
platform to drive awareness of Blue Flame's cooking classes via
editorial and social media channels.
Most people will acknowledge that we are living in the digital
age. From clocks to computers, every waking hour of our lives seem
to be dependent on one gadget or the other, but despite the
prevalence of technology in almost every aspect of our lives, most
of us still regard it as alien, mysterious and completely beyond
Take the office for instance; in a day, the chances are you will
use your laptop or PC, the printer, a coffee maker, a camera, a
phone, a scanner and a video conferencing facility. When they are
working, life's easy - we get the perfect cup of coffee, get to
send messages to clients or suppliers sitting millions of miles
away and can access information faster than you can say
However, what happens when there is a glitch? For a techno-savvy
generation, ours is one that is strangely ill-equipped to deal with
breakdowns. In Dubai, we work in an ASAP environment and everything
has to be done, as they say, "yesterday". The major driver for this
change is technology - with the emergence of the internet, computer
and smartphone; any response less than instant is deemed 'late;.
In such an environment, there is absolutely no place for
techno-phobia - if we are working with automated gadgets, we must
learn the basics of their function to be able to work with them
efficiently and productively.
When we first learnt how to drive, we all spent time learning
about the ignition, brakes, speedometer etc, as this knowledge
helped us maneuver the car expertly. Over time, we also learned to
change the gas, top up the water, check for air and change the
tyres etc. This was so that when there were issues, we didn't panic
and call someone to tow it away at the first sign of trouble.
In simple terms, it helps to deal with the simple issues
without wasting too much time. So it is with office technology - if
the printer does not work, it does not help to go into panic mode
as a matter of reflex. Check to see if there is enough paper or
ink, if there is a paper jam or if you have too many heavy files
downloading all at once. Learn how to correct these common issues,
because there might come a day when your IT department is off or
busy, and you cannot wait until they can attend to you. Think
of these skills as the tool kit in the back of your car that helps
you deal with simple challenges.
Having worked with technology all my life, I regard machines
with the same equanimity that I do humans, but as a rule, it always
helps to be prepared to deal with a little bit of wear and tear…
without going into panic mode!To get familiar with machines
and how they work, all we need is a must-do attitude. It sometimes
helps to think that machines like computers and printers are like
humans - some days are slow days and they will literally need a
rest and a reboot.
Next time, take a breath and remember how the machine normally
works and do a DIY round of troubleshooting before calling in the
specialist. Remember, although your computer can do amazing things,
it is not more intelligent than you are; so the next time something
goes wrong, step back and assess the situation and see if you can
fix it on your own… you might be surprised at what you can
Earlier this year, there was a report on
Kippreport on how brands could use Pinterest effectively to
promote their goods, services or ideas; and interesting though the
feature was, it was the feedback that caught my attention. One post
in response to the feature was emphatic in its opposition to
Pinterest being used for marketing and promotional activity.
According to the comment, the site was not designed for promotion
of any kind or to drive traffic to other websites.
As a devoted pinner, I was initially in agreement. For a site in
which most people (barring celebrities) do not post personal
images, Pinterest feels like a private haven. If I found it
"doing a Twitter" and posting sponsored images on my page, I would
feel as violated as if someone had flicked through my scrap-book
and left notes in it.
But the fact is, promoting products and ideas is part and parcel
of the Pinterest universe and (it kills the Pinterest-purist in me
to say this), it would be rampant short-sightedness on the part of
brands not too take advantage of this. Pinterest is a marketer's
dream tool - it is visual, interactive, personal and most
importantly, it has a captive and engaged target audience who are
interested in "things". It provides brands with the ultimate
consumer wish-list. It also gives them access to millions of
potential brand ambassadors - one re-pin from the brand's website
or Pinterest page is all it takes to spread the word.
I am a social-media marketing novice but my instinct is that
aggressive, figures-based marketing that seems to be the norm with
Facebook and Twitter will get nowhere with Pinterest, at least for
now. Personally, I think Pinterest is more "inspiring" and "social"
than say, facebook or Twitter - it helps people with similar tastes
or projects draw ideas from each other's mood boards and get
creative. There are no status updates; and hash tags are few
and far between. With more pictures of cats, cookies and couture
than you can shake a stick at; a fun and "friendly" feeling
permeates the medium. It's not uncommon for strangers to share
humorous experiences and useful tips; and sometimes they even agree
to disagree on a point of contention. More often, Pinterest feels
like one big get-together of friends (albeit ones who have only
just met) who share similar tastes and sense of humour.
Breaking in on such an intimate group is a challenge but a lot
of brands like IKEA UK, Zara, ASOS are doing it and doing it well.
Scrolling through a few of their pages, I found a few things in
The Image represents - the brands use Pinterest
as a virtual store front and use really strong imagery. Since the
prettier or more arresting the picture, the more chances it has of
being looked at and shared.
Organisation is king - IKEA UK and Zara have
organised boards with relevant captions to make scrolling through
them easy. This makes sense given that, a Pinterest page is not a
package deal - pinners will follow only boards they are interested
in, re-pinning products they like - so being organised has enabled
them to do so.
They flaunt the famous - L'Oreal has an entire
board dedicated to its ambassadors and its presence at major
celebrity events including Cannes.
Themed boards - Although brands like ASOS have
recreated their entire catalogue on Pinterest, it has also created
themed boards - Vintage, Summer, Fashion Week - to help attract a
Links to other social media platforms - ASOS
has created a Future Stylist board that profiles up and coming
bloggers, wearing ASOS fashion.
They don't sell but share - The brands don't
use Pinterest for the hard-sell (although according to a recent
survey by boticca.com, Pinterest drives more sales and more new
customers than Facebook and drives users to spend twice as much as
facebook users), they have used Pinterest to show a different side
of the brand.
Brands aside, the most interesting usage of Pinterest recently
has been in the U.S. Presidential race. As President Barack Obama
and contender Mitt Romney spew venom at each other on the stump, on
TV, at debates and especially on Twitter; the First Lady and Ann
Romney are trying to soften their respective husbands' images
through cutesy family albums, custard recipes or gardening tips.
They have shown that it is a great forum to showcase the various
facets of a brand/person. Their pins cover the past, present and
future of the Presidential contenders showcasing their
non-politician personas and values - through a very evocative
So, is Pinterest the new alpha-social media market tool? Only
time will tell but for now it is a popular social forum where
people share a slice of what they like and in the process show what
they are like. And, because there aren't a lot of words,
it seems gentler, friendlier and more trustworthy. Brands that have
made their mark on Pinterest have tapped into this spirit - they
have used it to reveal different aspects of its personality - their
journey, inspirations and aspirations as well as their more fun and
There has been a great deal of debate about internships within
the PR industry on an international scale with industry bodies such
as the CIPR in the UK calling for PR internships to be paid for,
with clear objectives and deliverables in place to ensure the
mutual benefit for both intern and agency. The fact that this is
still being debated within the industry is a sorry indictment on
the value we as PR professionals place on internships.
Internships help graduates make the transition from academia and
are an important gateway to the industry. We live in a
multi-cultural society in the UAE and the PR industry is the chosen
sector for many expatriates from across the globe. One thing is for
sure, at some point most of us will take the experience and
knowledge accumulated in this region and leave to return to our
homes overseas or move on to another country. What then we have to
ask, will be our legacy? Surely as PR professionals we have a
responsibility to nurture local talent and ensure that the
industry, which has provided us with ample opportunities, is
contributing to the career development of the next generation of PR
Those agencies that follow best practice and are clear about the
nature of the internship offered, upfront about the expectations
and the financial compensation that an intern can expect on
completion of a successful internship, are helping to create this
legacy. Simply put, effort is required by agencies for
internships to be successful. It's not enough to find a spare desk
and a pile of magazines and call this an internship programme.
Firstly, let's be clear about what I mean when I refer to
internships. I do not mean that PR agencies get to hire free labour
during the summer and get recent graduates to sit in a corner with
a pile of filing to do. Unfortunately, this is an all too
familiar story among time-poor agencies which often see internships
as an afterthought with no-one in the agency taking responsibility
for the intern. This is not in the spirit of giving young
professionals a first step on the career ladder and just is not
I've seen firsthand the potential of the industry. Having helped
to organise this year's MEPRA Student Day 2012, I saw for myself
just how powerful the investment of time can be and the impact it
can have on young graduates wanting to forge a career in PR.
So what was the outcome of that day? The students benefited from
having young PR professionals take them through a selection of
specialisations within the industry and share their experiences of
working in PR, debunking the myths and providing insight into the
hard work behind the "glamour". That day was an eye-opener for me
that made me realise how much these students need our guidance and
assistance to polish their raw talent and prepare them for the
'real world of PR'.
During my career; I have had a couple of interns and fresh
graduates joining my team and I witnessed how their perspective on
PR has changed throughout their internship at the agency.
What is key for a successful internship is to have a clear idea
and a schedule on what the intern is going to do each day. It's our
responsibility to ensure that interns get to see all aspects of the
industry, whether that is writing press releases, selling in
stories to the media, assisting at events and meeting journalists
or doing coverage reports. As with so much in life, you get out
what you put in.
As an agency, DABO & CO has benefitted hugely from its
internship programme. Over the last 12 months the agency has
offered three interns permanent, full-time junior positions and in
most cases we have already promoted them and 'fast-tracked' their
careers. They now have fully fledged careers within the industry
that they hoped to crack after graduation and DABO & CO has
some very talented junior team members who we hope will be with us
for years to come.
What has been the key to this successful internship conversion?
I believe the answer is three-fold. Firstly, the fact that everyone
from the Managing Partners through to the receptionist has an
interest in the intern as soon as they walk through the door. There
is a collective willingness to make this experience count and to
ensure the graduate gets the most out of the time spent with us.
Secondly, the fact that there is a clear defined programme with
tasks and a reporting structure for the intern - there is no such
thing as 'under the radar'. And finally, our internships are paid
for. For me, this is significant and sends a clear message, that we
expect you to invest in this experience as we have invested in you.
The rules of engagement are clear and the opportunity is what you
make of it.
Listen to any PR agency and they will all tell you the same
thing: "It's so hard to find talent and to keep hold of it". Well
if that is the case, why are more agencies not investing in
securing a pipeline of talent by taking internships seriously? It's
time for agencies to stop whining about the challenges of talent
management and start building a solid internship programme for the
students in the region. Individual agencies will benefit, young
graduates will benefit and perhaps most importantly of all, so too,
ultimately, will the Middle East PR industry.
On 26th August 2012, MINI the legendary small car with a big
attitude, celebrated its 53rd birthday. In true DABO & CO
style, the PR team turned this occasion into an opportunity to
meet, greet and treat the media and generate coverage for the great
Hitting the road in the early hours, laden with MINI cupcakes
and mini birthday cards, the journalists were delighted to see the
an arrival of the PR team at their offices offering them a slice of
the birthday action.
Throughout MINI's birthday, the DABO & CO team visited 20
publications across the UAE. Coverage highlights included a MINI
mention on Virgin Radio's highest rating show, online hits on
leading automotive websites and a social media buzz across Dubai's
leading publications. Proving, once and for all, the importance of
getting out and about and meeting media face to face. Especially if
it involves cake!
Happy Birthday MINI!
"Why do you work so late?" is a question I am asked often. For
those who don't know me, I tend to stay late at work.
So, why? Is it because I am a slacker? Or is it because there is
just too much work? Or is it because I didn't define what work-life
balance was meant to be? Let's find out!
I am against a 9 to 5 attitude, but at the same time, I
personally don't believe one should stay every day at work late and
do as much as possible. Going 'over and above' is good and is
something which should be in our professional DNA. But, obviously
anything overly done isn't good in the long run, because
expectations are raised and become difficult to manage. This leads
to a tendency to excessively over service clients and that tends to
be the bench mark to excel each time, thereby impacting on the
As we all know, within the PR industry, everything is ASAP. For
me ASAP equated to NOW! This is where I had issues with in terms of
time management. On the constant drive to achieve more and do
things in the best possible way, I developed the habit of staying
late at work. I would stay very late and ensure everything gets
done even if it could easily wait for a few days.
During this process over the last four years, I did even more
work, attained the highest possible client servicing and
satisfaction standards; but also gained 40 kgs (yeah, you read that
right!) and a few extra strands/patches of grey hair!
Is it worth it? The answer is an obvious one! Better late than
never, I have accepted the fact that however much you do, work will
always come and it's perfectly okay to logically prioritise and
carry some work over for 'tomorrow' as well! So here comes the
question - how do I define work-life balance?
There is no perfect, one-size fits all, balance one should be
striving for. The best work-life balance is different for each of
us because we all have different priorities and different lives. I
personally feel work-life balance does not mean maintaining an
equal balance between the two. Trying to schedule an equal number
of hours for each of your various work and personal activities is
usually unrewarding and unrealistic. Life is and should be more
fluid than that.
What is important is to strive towards attaining a work-life
balance model with a 'purpose'. A 'purpose' that is defined on the
elements of personal "Achievement" and "Enjoyment", which are
basically two sides of the same coin.
By doing this one will bring work home if necessary, and at the
same time, one should also take a break from work. This
ensures you are productive and efficient on a professional level at
the same time a very happy individual on a personal level.
This is my two cents on work-life balance. On that note, I am
signing out today at 5.30 PM sharp! But for tomorrow - it's a
different story. I'll have to see…
Everyone is different when choosing their career path. Some
people change their mind about what they want to do over time, some
never find what it is they want to do for a career, and then there
are others who always knew what they wanted to do.
I have always considered myself to fall into the latter of those
categories. At the tender age of 12, while tagging along with my
aunt (a well-established Sydney Barrister) to Court during my
school holidays I decided that I wanted to be a barrister. This
goal only intensified over the years leading up to the end of high
school, and straight after that I began my Law degree. In New South
Wales, Australia, all Law students must complete a second degree or
double degree, so I opted for Commerce (Marketing), as I figured
that business knowledge would never go away. Little did I know that
I would need it more than I thought in later years!
I achieved my goal of becoming a Criminal Barrister at the age
of 26. During my university years, I had travelled, studied
overseas and done all of the things I believed at the time were
necessary before settling down for a lifelong career as a
Barrister. In fact, if you had asked me two years ago if I would
ever consider another career, I would have scoffed and told you
that I would not give up my career for anything or anyone. Well, as
it happens, life happens. You meet people, priorities change and
before you know it, there are big decisions to be made.
My husband's work was drawing us to Dubai, the land of
opportunity, and this opportunity was simply too good for us to
pass up. My main concern was, 'what am I going to do?" For those of
you who don't know, unless you speak Arabic you cannot practise
criminal law in the UAE Courts as an advocate. I do not speak
Arabic and corporate law was not an area I was overly keen to move
into, so my options were limited.
I had been told by some very wise people that it was not the
type of job I had to focus on, but the skills that I had acquired,
these are what mattered when it came to forging a new career. When
forced to re-evaluate your career options you will find that you
have actually acquired many more skills than you thought. For me,
this included strong organisational skills, the ability to work
under pressure, pitch/public speaking, analytic and problem-solving
skills and of course convincing people to do something that they
might not want to do. Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but it
was a start for me, and got me thinking of other jobs I could do
that required these same skills.
Over lunch, while discussing my skills and what my options might
be, it was suggested to me that PR might be a good way to go. To be
honest, I wasn't exactly sure what PR was and what kind of work it
would involve. After this big move, I decided to give it a go and
get some PR work experience.
It was an enormous change, from being a Criminal Barrister, used
to running my own business for the last three years, to working in
a job where I really had no idea what I was doing. I have to say,
the leap was well worth it. After a few weeks of building up
my knowledge in PR, learning from those around me and getting my
teeth into some great campaigns, it began to feel like I had done
this before - not PR so to speak, but the use of some of the skills
that I had built up over years in the legal industry.
Delving into a whole new career has been an eye-opener in more
ways than one. Working as part of a team had been something I had
not done in many years, and although it took some getting used to,
it is amazing to see how satisfying it can be to work in a GOOD
team environment where everyone supports each other and the work
they are doing. Secondly, the new job made me realise that I could
use the skills I had acquired in law in a whole new way that I had
never imagined. And lastly, that as long as you are using the
skills that you are good at, and that you enjoy making use of, you
can be just as happy and satisfied in another career, on the other
side of the world.
The lesson? Well for me, it has to be to "keep the blinkers"
off. Yes, it is great to be determined and goal-oriented and work
towards something you have always wanted. But once there, you
should not just rest on your laurels and think, 'this is it'.
Because you never know what is around the corner, and how much that
new world can open up your eyes and your mind. Maybe it is time for
us all to make that list, and realise our full potential. You may
even surprise yourself!
Tea. It's the world's most popular beverage after water, but did
you know that there is compelling evidence that drinking tea
improves mental clarity?
The last few weeks have seen the PR and event teams working
together on an exciting event for Lipton - the region's first ever
Tea Symposium. The event, which took place at The Palace Hotel in
The Old Town, Dubai, was attended by some of Dubai's leading health
and nutrition experts and featured exclusive insights from Dr Jane
Rycroft from the Lipton Institute of Tea and Wafaa Helmi Ayesh from
As part of the event, the PR team delivered a media roundtable,
giving journalists the chance to explore the science behind why
things become clearer after a cup of tea, as well an interactive
tea tasting experience with Karush Barucha, Unilever's Regional
Category Supply Chain Director for Beverages - and one of the
region's few tea tasters!
Find out more about the event - and how drinking tea can help
improve your mental clarity - from this great blog by Dubai in the
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