Name: Tom Hardstaff
Age: Young at heart!
From: Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.
Current job title: Regional Strategy Director, UM MENA
When did you arrive in the UAE?
I first arrived in the region in September 2014, and I was very pleased to see that the summer heat had begun to subside. Before this, I was based in London.
Where did you work prior?
I worked at Mediacom in London across several key agency clients in the automotive, travel and FMCG markets, and have worked with brands such as Volkswagen, TUI, Kenwood and DeLonghi.
What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
Mixed! Some areas of the region are obviously more advanced than others, but at the same time I was pleasantly surprised. The driving forces behind advertising are consumers and no matter where you are from, the demand for consumption is the same and this feeds media evolution.
Have these impressions changed much?
My impressions have naturally developed over the last few months as the opportunity and potential to deploy creative strategic execution is huge. I’ve now got to meet and spend time with many inspiring people, so the outlook for the future is very exciting.
Tell us about your new role as Regional Strategy Director…
As the title suggests, I am responsible for strategic direction across the MENA region with UM key clients, but mainly Coca Cola. I am currently working with the regional offices to create and implement strategies to be activated in local markets. Pitches also play an important and exciting part of my role, and there’s no better buzz than working with a great team to develop unique approaches and outshine the competition. 2015 is also a big year for UM, as not only do we need to build on the successes of 2014 but we are also upgrading the strategic approach in line with the ever-changing audiences to deliver real-time consumer campaigns.
What challenges do you face?
Initially, you presume the challenge will be your new team but this has not been the case. The level of cooperation, smart thinking and hard work has surpassed my expectations. While understanding new markets and consumers is a challenge, it is one that even with time won’t sit still. This continues to change and shift for us all in the industry and if this isn’t a challenge then I’m not doing my job properly!
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
This is twofold and not in any particular order! Working with new people and different thinking, as it is the people that set us apart form other agencies; and of course, delivering a campaign that not only exceeds expectations but also creates moments of client and agency euphoria.
What’s the most exciting thing to happen so far?
Well, moving to a new country and working in a totally new region has been quite exciting. But what makes this move to Dubai even more exhilarating is my involvement in the launch of new initiatives at UM MENA 2015, as this is going to be a pioneering and iconic year for us.
What do you think of the quality of media publications in the region?
As a newcomer to the region, the need for titles and their content has been vital in my learning and understanding of the practices in this market as a whole and who’s doing what. I see a similar quality in the titles here versus the UK.
What sets you apart from other industry professionals?
Growing up I wanted to be either a football player or a lawyer; I wasn’t good enough at football and needed to ‘try harder’ at school to take the Bar. However, combining my interest in people and their thinking, or in a work context ‘understanding consumer behaviour’ coupled with a passion for brands and their evolving philosophies; I naturally gravitated into the world of media and advertising and have never looked back. It’s that passion that sets me apart while at the same time connecting me to many like-minded individuals where I continue to learn and grow.
Work calls via landline, mobile or both?
Either, it’s nice to talk.
What’s your most overused saying?
Not so much a saying but the word ‘stim.’ Love a bit of ‘stim.’
Five things you can’t live without?
My iPhone because it keeps me connected (but not at dinner!), sports, my VPN, friends and last but by no means least, my wife.
If you weren’t a Regional Strategy Director, what would you be?
A failed football player!