Lessons for the PR Industry from the Dubai Lynx

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The Dubai Lynx highlighted the issues that communicators (and their marketing colleagues) will need to face up to. But is anyone listening?

It was an early morning, but the 6.30am start from Abu Dhabi was certainly worth it. The Dubai Lynx is always worth a visit for anyone working in marketing and communications. The Festival, which is organized by the people behind the Cannes Lions, has been going for over a decade. And, as the two disciplines of marketing and communications coverge, the Dubai Lynx (which billed itself this year as the MENA region’s biggest celebration of creative communications) is becoming a must-attend for communications professionals.

For me, there were two basic takeaways from the Dubai Lynx:

  1. It’s all about data, data, data: Every other word seemed to be data. The push to incorporate data – big, small or something in-between – is understandable; the marcomms industry has always struggled with the question of ROI, and data measurement, when used wisely, should help answer the question of what are organizations getting for their money’s worth. When analyzed well, data will also help marcomms professionals better understand both their audience and their impact. However, what wasn’t mentioned was ‘creativity’. Have we swung too far over to talking about data, rather than marrying data with creativity? While I’m sure there are computers and algorithms that are far smarter than me, I doubt there’s any machine which understands the human mind better than we can. Could a computer have understood why the ice bucket challenge would have gone viral? Or the success of the Chewbacca mom? I doubt it.
  2. Agency Convergence gathers steam: There’s no marketing or communications in our industry anymore, as the list of agencies offering everything under the sun grows longer. Those marketing agencies who were already one-stop shops are going further, and breaking down the internal silos to promote better integration between the various disciplines. Some PR firms are creating new roles, such as creative leads and digital heads. And then there’s the big consultancy firms, the data goliaths such as Accenture, IBM and McKinsey, using their IT know-how and their understanding of strategy to break into the marcomms industry (we’ve already seen this with Accenture and IBM, and expect to see it with McKinsey in this region following their acquisition of marketing firm Elixir). For an industry which used to be mainly focused on media relations about a decade or so ago, this is a seismic shift. Expect to see the gap between those offer an ever-expanding range of services (think creative, digital, public affairs, technology) and those who stick to old-school offerings such as media relations to grow significantly over the coming year.
  3. Marketeers are doing PR (and some of their work is exceptional): One of the best PR executions I’ve seen in a long time was from last week. It was the ‘Fearless Girl’, a statue commissioned by State Street Global Advisors and executed by McCann New York. The concept, which was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, saw the ‘Fearless Girl’ face off against the famous Wall Street Charging Bull. The stunt symbolized the power of women in leadership and emphasized that companies with women in top positions perform better financially. Ask anyone in the business and they’ll tell you that McCann isn’t a PR agency, but rather a creative. However, much of the work which has been winning plaudits at Cannes recently has essentially been PR work executed by creative agencies.

The PR industry has gone through some remarkable change over the past decade. However, we’re going to see much more disruption over the short and medium term as creatives and consultancies move into new disciplines. Are PR firms ready to both embrace data and expand their own offerings? Or are we about to see another wave of industry consolidation over the coming five years? Time will tell.

Getting engagement right – Zain Kuwait’s ‘We Know You Well’ ads

Advertising is a tortuous task – get it wrong (which most brands do) and your advert is either forgotten or, even worse, hated. Consumers will turn over as soon as they view the advert or hear the copy. But when a brand gets the advert right, the content becomes engaging, entertaining and even iconic. Think Fairy, Hamlet or Heineken.

Unlike in the UK, brands in the Middle East are loathe to do things differently. The Kuwait-based telco Zain is different however. They’re often looking at pushing the envelope in terms of both creativity and message.

My wife stumbled across a couple of adverts run by Zain this Ramadan. Named ‘We Know You Well’, these adverts which are purely aimed at promoting the brand are a fun poke at the younger generation of Kuwaitis and how, despite their lifestyle changes, they still revert to their old selves. If you know any Gulf Arabs, especially Kuwaitis, Saudis or Bahrainis, ask them to explain the particulars to you. The message in the second video is easier to understand, but the nuances and details, from the accents to the music and the voice-over text are uniquely understandable to anyone who knows Kuwait. The title of the adverts also plays on the telco’s own name (Zain means well or good in Arabic).

The adverts are simple, the message is clear, and the content is not only engaging but entertaining (both thanks to the voice-over as well as the acting). The characters are believable as well. All in all, they’re a powerful piece of content which consumers can not only understand but enjoy.

For an added extra, Zain also released a behind-the-scenes video on social media.

If you want to be bold, then look no further than Zain Kuwait and how the telco does advertising. You are truly Zain my friends…

Meet Fraz Chishti, (possibly) the region’s first Chief Innovation Officer

How important is innovation to you and your business? (image source nbry.files.wordpress.com)

What is innovation? It’s an idea that is also bandied about today. Launch a phone in a different colour? Let’s call it innovation. How about a longer chip? Yup, that’s innovation. Well, it probably isn’t. To me, innovation should be a treasured word. To me, it implies the introduction of a new product or service that results in a transformation, upheaval even, in how we think or act. A simple example could be the car, the internet, or the mobile phone. The point is that innovation keeps us improving and moving forward.

I had the pleasure of meeting a person who does innovation for his day job. Fraz Chishti, who works for Noor Investment Group, is the first Chief Innovation Officer I’ve ever come across in this region. While his CV is impressive – he has a Phd in chemical engineering and has worked in communications, marketing, information technology and project management – what’s different about Fraz is his willingness to question and probe and not accept the status quo.

His opinions, especially for someone working in the financial sector, are different from what you’d expect. For example, Fraz worked with his CTO, the technology department and internal stakeholders to implement an open source application for the bank’s Human Resources department. Open source is a taboo in the banking sector, due to the risks associated with security and the lack of supplier accountability. However, Fraz and his team innovated and worked to develop a solution that met the requirements of a number of parties. Instead of going with an established provider, Fraz stepped out of the box and delivered a tool which, as he puts it, “gets the job done.”

In markets and industries which are becoming increasingly crowded and competitive, companies need to find better ways to distinguish themselves. They can either do that through marketing (which most do), or through a product and service focus. Add to that the disruptive nature of our digital age and consider how rapidly our world is changing.

Just talking to Fraz is an experience in realizing opportunities and unlocking potential. He’s disarmingly honest – Fraz worked with Noor Islamic Bank to understand the potency of social media rather than just jumping in blindly – with a touch of common sense (just ask him about e-commerce).

What’s clear is that Noor Investment Group has a person on the top table who isn’t afraid of floating ideas, concepts and thoughts which he will then take and mold into a functional model. He is the rare individual here who understands different functions of a business, who knows how to get ideas accepted by different stakeholders, and then collaborate to transform those ideas into processes, products or services that will add to a company’s bottom line as well as improve a customer’s perception of his organization.

In the US, the innovation officer has become an accepted position among blue-chip firms. But we’re still lagging behind in this region. If we’re looking to create rather than copy, innovate rather than import we’re going to need many more Fraz Chishtis. I for one wish Fraz and his future innovation colleagues the best of luck.

* This piece was first published on the Kipp Report news portal.

A talented Khaleeji designer and her creative work – have a look!

Eid has already passed but I wanted to share a sample of her work which was done for me on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha. Jehan Abdulkarim is a marketing executive during the day, but she’s also an incredibly talented designer and photographer. I hope to share more of her work here with you, but for the meantime please do enjoy the below and let me know your thoughts!

A greeting card for Eid created by my good friend Jehan Abdulkarim.

Is talent enough? Does the #Gulf have enough #creative #marketing #talent?

This week I wrote a fun piece for the UAE-based internet news portal Kipp Report rebutting arguments put forth by the head of creative marketing and advertising agency Leo Burnett.

I’m not going to repaste the stores word for word but you can find both pieces linked here. You can find my piece, Is talent enough, via this link. The piece by Kamal Dimachkie, executive regional managing director of Leo Burnett – UAE, Kuwait and Lower Gulf, can be found here.

What I’d like is to hear from UAE and GCC nationals who are either working in this sector or who have a passion for advertising, branding and marketing. What are your thoughts on this subject? And what would you like the industry to do to encourage local talent?

And for all of my friends, family and everybody else out there in the blogosphere I’d like to say Ramadan Kareem! We’re a day into the holy month but it’s never too late to express our blessings for this month. My wife designed the visuals below (and she’s a GCC national! Go figure…)

Ramadan Mubarak to you all!