In The Hot Seat – Ashley Gresh

Team TMN catch up with Ashley Gresh, Head of Strategy & Media – LMTD, who talks about her role and offers her thoughts on the digital marketing industry in the Middle East.       

Name: Ashley Gresh

Age: 38

Nationality: American

Current job title: Head of Strategy and Media

When did you first arrive in Dubai? August 2014

Where did you work prior?

I was a Content and Community Outreach Strategist for a small production / social agency in Los Angeles, California.

What were your first impressions of the digital marketing industry in the Middle East?

Scalable. I came to LMTD with a content-focused background, joining LMTD as a paid media coordinator. I learned from the best, and the complex campaigns I trained up on gave me incredible insight into just how much opportunity there is through digital advertising. Fortunately, I came to Dubai at a time when we worked with companies growing into the social space. Developing comprehensive digital marketing launch strategies for multiple major UAE companies – both on a local and global scale – was a great introduction into the power of social.

Has your opinion changed much?

I’m a bit more cynical now – but I take that as a good thing. I’m more skeptical of strong campaign results. Where I once found amazing success through reaching a client’s KPIs, I’m now more concerned about speaking to our audiences in the right way rather than simply speaking at them. It takes a discerning eye to look beyond a great CPA.

Tell us about your current role…

As head of Strategy and Media I’m across the majority of our client work; from launch strategy to campaign activation to paid media execution (although this is less frequent lately). We joke that LMTD is full of Swiss Army Knives, but it’s totally true. In one day I can sell across an integrated SLM paid media strategy, scope out a quick-to-implement influencer activation strategy, develop a product marketing rollout plan while thinking about marketing our own business. It definitely keeps me on my toes.

What challenges do you face?

Emerging markets are amazing, right? There’s opportunity to push boundaries and experiment with new tactics… This is easy to sell, but tougher to get final execution approval. Institutionalised marketing takes times to change – we see it happening every day, but it’s a slow process.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Relationships are 100% my motivation. I like to solve problems; seeing a project all the way from a collaborative brainstorm session to execution is incredibly rewarding.

What are the most common digital marketing mistakes companies make?

The topic of vanity KPIs is such a double-edged sword for me. They serve a purpose, absolutely, and of course, I believe in challenging expected outcomes and overachieving; but taking a step back and weighing the impact of a campaign – whether it be from an awareness perspective or changing customer behavior – is less about impressions and more about impact.

Is traditional marketing still efficient in the UAE today?

Effective? Sometimes. Efficient? I’m not convinced. A wonderful LMTD colleague, Serene Touma (who is much smarter than I am), once said, “You can’t measure the CTR of a billboard.” She is 100% right. I understand out-of-home as an element of a big scale marketing strategy, but I grew as a marketer through digital advertising – I haven’t worked at a traditional agency – so from a granular measurement and optimisation perspective, nothing beats digital.

What role does digital media play in building a brand’s reputation today?

It’s so important. I know it’s a touchy subject right now, but data drives everything we do. From the day I joined LMTD my life has been data. Best vs. worst performing, highest engagement vs. strongest ROI – all these things play a huge part in marketing decisions. The depth of insights we gain (and therefore learn and improve) from an A/B test will forever outweigh eyeballs on SZR.

How do you stay updated with the latest digital marketing trends?

My peers. I’m consistently blown away by their perspective on the industry. Where we’re at and where we’re going. It’s inspiring, really. Also, Twitter. I don’t actively post much, but I find that it’s the most effective way to follow a topic.

Describe yourself in five words…

Living. That. Leisure. Life. Always.

What’s your most overused saying?

Be Better. It started as a personal tool to keep myself in check, but morphed into an LMTD-wide mantra. We demand the best from each other, and hope for the same from clients.

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career? Working with our client Adnoc during their IPO was incredibly exciting. Being a part of this massive undertaking – the largest in Abu Dhabi in the past decade – was definitely an eye-opening experience.

Five things you can’t live without? Books, a blanket scarf, multiple home diffusers / essential oils, my work water stein (hydration!) and my jade face roller. #Basic

 If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing? Something related to CSR. I am a firm believer in Ubuntu (not the Linux operating system), which is the idea that “I am because we are” – it’s a belief that all of humanity is connected and we should collectively work towards the greater good. From a business perspective, I am a firm believer in the stakeholder – focusing on those affected by a business instead of just the shareholder. Finding ways to help businesses give back is definitely an end goal. Or let’s be honest, a wellness influencer. See above re: leisure-forward life aspirations.

What is your favourite form of media (i.e; TV, radio, print, social media)? Well. I met my husband, got an amazing job and moved to Dubai from being an OG member of the Tumblr community…so obviously social, always.

If you could change something about the digital marketing industry in the UAE, what would it be? How clients think about performance marketing. I’ve already said it, but this is so fundamental to a successful marketing strategy. Measuring campaigns not from a “did we hit our targets?” perspective (again, still important of course), but from a “did we move the needle?” position. Focusing on impact as a success indicator means we’re doing our job right.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in the digital marketing industry in the UAE? Patience. Dubai is a transformative city with aspirational goals; but as with most things, it takes time to change established norms and processes.