We chat with Lucy Perrott, Group PR and Communication Manager at Solutions Leisure, who talks about her current role and offers her thoughts on the PR industry in the Middle East…
Name: Lucy Perrott
Current Job Title: Group PR and Communication Manager, Solutions Leisure Group
When did you first arrive in Dubai?
I came in 2012 and was offered an internship at Promoseven 360, whilst completing my Bachelor in Communication and Public Relations from the University of Newcastle, Sydney. I jumped at the chance to experience the industry in a totally different part of the world and get out of Australia for a bit! Here, I fell into a second internship and joined the consumer team at Weber Shandwick, and as they say, the rest is history!
Where did you work prior?
I started my career in advertising at McCann Health in Sydney, working part-time with the account management team across brands such as Pfizer and Jansen. During my spare time, I interned at Trish Nicol Agency, looking after brands such as Lindt, Celine Eyewear, Moroccan Oil and Goldwell before moving over to Dubai permanently. In Dubai I worked with Promoseven as an Intern, Weber Shandwick as Account Executive, COPIA Group as PR & Communications Manager and most recently with Seven Media as PR Director.
What were your first impressions of the PR industry in the Middle East?
In all honesty, coming from a relatively small, modern, Western-focused agency and being thrown into the deep end of an expat-driven market in a Muslim country, I was pretty lost! I remember one of my first clients was Nespresso and I was briefed to create some Facebook content for them involving interesting facts about coffee and health. I did my research, came up with some solid posts and submitted it feeling pretty happy with myself, only to have every single one rejected. This was my first introduction to the limitations of Middle Eastern media. Perhaps it was because I started in such a large, international agency as a very small fish in a big pond, or perhaps it was the step into completely unknown waters, but the industry as a whole felt slow and detached in comparison to back home. Being such a forward-thinking country with such a fast-paced stigmatism attached to it, I anticipated things to be much faster and ahead of the times when it came to the creativity and tactics involved in PR as a whole. During the early stages of the digital emergence in our field, the engagement with influencers and key opinion leaders had started to pop in other parts of the world well before Dubai and the UAE seemed to click onto them, which seemed odd in such an innovative market. I remember Facebook being the only platform we really tapped into and the overall PR tactics used were still very traditional, press release, email distribution, follow up call, interview or feature pitch. It wasn’t so much about the quality of media as opposed to the number who showed up to our events. There was such a belief that if you didn’t have 20 plus journalists there, your event wasn’t a success. There was also a lower turnover in both media and PR in 2012 from memory. People seemed to stay in jobs longer and not shuffle around as much, so this made navigating the media landscape and learning who was who much easier.
Has your opinion changed much?
Whilst in many ways I feel we, as an industry, remain somewhat slower and perhaps a little less organised in the Middle East as opposed to such other parts of the world, there are certainly key trends and developments we have jumped on the back of and appear to be driving forward. Examples would be the integration of social media and digital trends into our strategies, delving into the analytics of social media platforms and really using the stats to our advantage to shape our plans and the incorporation and relationship building with not only influencers, but key opinion leaders to help build trust and huge activations, which continue to make headlines around the world. You’re are certainly in the right place if you’re looking for a career in a constantly changing, fast-paced and diverse market!
Tell us about your current role…
After years on agency the side, I was offered me the chance to move in-house and head up the communications department in one of the industry’s most exciting F&B groups. I oversee a fantastic team of young, talented individuals and have worked to integrate the different skillsets in order to maximise efficiency, creativity and productivity. With the face of digital, media and marketing industries changing so rapidly, it is so important we, as a group, stay on top of trends, media, applications and digital developments.
I spend much of my time sitting with the social and digital teams, tapping into the back end of our social media in order to strategise ways forward for each brand, exploring our customer habits etc. Social media is a goldmine of information we need to learn to grow from and an area that I believe is only going to impact the building of brand reputations more as we continue in the future.
In addition, I work with the team to create budgets across social media boosting and promotions, sit with the graphic design team for artwork and engaging pieces of eye-catching content, research up and coming influencers as well as key opinion leaders across various industries. I also sit with our videographers and photographers to plan content collection sessions in order to capture current and interesting imagery and videos etc.
My role also includes handling the traditional ins and outs of PR, including plans, reporting, liaising with media for different opportunities, features, reviews and more, working on creative story telling tactics across both digital and traditional platforms, planning and managing guest lists for events, running orders, keeping an eye on upcoming regional events we can tap into and staying up to date with the overall trends in Dubai. I then manage all the corporate communication across the group, including media training and interview management for directors, chefs and spokespersons. It is pretty busy around here!
What challenges do you face?
Being in-house, there is much less ‘role’ definition. I find myself delving into everything, with every day a different experience. Last week I was reorganising the team structure, delving into new concept creation, liaising with organisations for partnership opportunities and discussing the possibility of using one of the venues as a Hollywood film location. This week I am organising festive packages, announcing NYE acts, preparing for the launch of STK and food service at Lock Stock & Barrel JBR, editing video content and creating guest lists for VIP invitations… but it’s only Sunday! I find this factor, as well as in-house communications in general, leaving us very reactive. As a planner, this is one of my biggest challenges! Everything happens there and then, which is tough from a communications point of view as we have deadlines to meet in the media, people to accommodate for and content to create.
I am also in new territory when it comes to exploring the marketing side if things. Learning what an ‘appropriate’ rate is, negotiating, managing graphic design specifications, it is all something I am having to factor into my own education. In saying all this, without challenges, I wouldn’t be learning, so I’m definitely not complaining! My colleagues are great in the sense that, if I have a problem and come with a solution, they will listen, take it on board and help me to act on it. There aren’t any ‘no’s’ at Solutions Leisure.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The immense sense of ownership that comes with being in-house of a brand. I have always treated my clients as though they were my own brands, however it definitely is a different feeling when you’re on the receiving end of the awards and recognition. I’m like a proud mother! I am also driven by the passion seen through the team, from the owners through to the bar staff, every Solutions Leisure member lives and breathes their job. There is nothing better than being surrounded by true passion and ambition.
How would you rather be contacted at work?
I would normally lean straight towards email as it is so busy at the moment, however I am actually finding that I quite enjoy a phone call these days. I feel they’re more personal and actually gives the person on the other end an identity as opposed to a bland email. One of my favourite parts of my job is actually meeting people, so it gives me a good chance to get to know someone instead of typing away on a keyboard.
How has digital media changed the relationship between the PR and media industry?
I find the emergence of digital media absolutely fascinating. With PR as an industry often seen as old-school in its methods, digital trends offer us publicists a whole new tool kit to drive awareness, shape identities, create trust and followings around brands. I am still a huge fan of print media and get so much satisfaction flicking through a publication, admiring the work, reading the content someone has taken the time to create and appreciating their support through editorial coverage. I like being able to see hard results, holding them in my hand and feeling proud of my ability to influence someone enough, they’re willing to include it in their work and that they too, strive to make it perfect and engaging, from front to back.
Being client side, I find it refreshing being able to reshape the way we monitor ‘coverage’. Today’s digital age sees us moving away from the amount of coverage generated, measured by advertising value equivalent (AVE’s), PR value equivalent (PR VE’s) etc, and really focusing on the quality of coverage. This means that in addition to your key pieces in respected titles, we also look at the digital conversation, the views, the likes, followers etc.
Although seeing many publications move online or develop a digital platform, this shift not only means the reach has increased for our editorial content and messaging, but has also meant we, as PRs are able to suddenly return to our creative roots and explore new avenues for developing interest amongst consumers. Something like 70% of digital content is video and as a result, we as a group have incorporated video content into our media communication and animated our marketing collateral to make it as engaging as possible. I personally don’t like the idea of the press release in this day and age. We need to be looking at creative story telling as a whole, incorporating both traditional and digital elements to our communication. Digital development has also given brands such as Solutions Leisure, a gateway to those with a respected followership.
The emergence of the ‘influencer’ has taken the UAE specifically by storm, with many respected residents boasting of tens of thousands of followers and key opinion leaders are more accessible than ever. It is the analysing of these people as to how much they benefit and match brands and their impact on the consumer that we need to pay close attention to. Social listening is crucial for us to know what is being said, where and about who, including competitors, in order for us to plan around. We need to analyse and predict trends through digital platforms in order for us to better our products and understand the customer wants and needs.
There is a whole ocean of information telling us what we need to change to do better. As a result of the data science, we need to incorporate the use of customer data and behavioral insights to create offers and promotions as well as branded, customised content for dissemination on social and newsletter channels.
What role has digital media played in the hospitality industry in the UAE?
With traditional print media sadly disappearing by the day and new digital platforms taking over, the media industry as a whole is definitely an area us PRs need to keep on top of. I find it really exciting, being submerged in such a time of change and creativity. Digital has opened up a wealth of opportunity for us to showcase, promote and introduce concepts, presenting key messages through whole new avenues. With incorporation of video, animation and more, we have the ability to showcase our venues to consumers before they experience it for themselves, giving them a little pre-taste that should, if done correctly, get them buzzed for the real thing, driving footfall to the venue. Digital story telling is limitless. Point of view clips, short, sharp shots of events, pan shots over tables of mouthwatering key dishes and delectable cocktails, a dive into the vibrant atmosphere of each venue accompanied by some faboulus music to really draw you in – the opportunities are endless. The use of animated artworks is also becoming far more engaging and eye-catching for not only social media use, but digital advertising, pop up advertisements and more. Digital media is fascinating and evolving at such a rapid rate. The impact is phenomenal on the possibilities across every market, not just hospitality.
How has consumer behaviour in today’s digital community influenced PR today?
Smart phones are the taking over the world, which is no secret, with their usage surpassing that of tablets and desktops in late 2016. However what few people realise is that F&B takes up approximately 72% of the market share when it comes to topics and themes researched using smartphones. This means we need to ensure that we are completely mobile friendly across all our marketing, content and digital platforms. We need to target people with the understanding that many of them are on the go whilst using these digital platforms, with our own brand analytics showing the peak times to be on the way to work, at the end of a lunch break and once home from work. Statistics show that 70% of people have noted they won’t leave home without their phones and as TV, newspaper and magazine consumption is on the decline as a result of the accessibility and ease of smartphone use, PRs need to look at ways to tailor content to suit their actions and habits.
Has user-generated content taken over brand promotion and marketing campaigns in the Middle East?
I don’t believe it has so much as taken over, however user-generated content has certainly become a major player in today’s day and age. I believe we certainly need to take this into consideration more and build it into our strategies to accommodate for it, using it to our advantage.
What role does social media play in building a brand’s reputation today?
With the emergence of digital trends taking us by storm and Dubai quick to jump on board, we need to be on top of service and experience across the industry. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Trip Advisor have quickly led the consumer to be a journalists themselves, rating their experience publically and spreading the word. There is no better PR than traditional word of mouth and with the world at our fingertips, hospitality venues have to be on their game.
Describe yourself in five words…
Passionate, ambitious, outgoing, inquisitive and driven
What inspires you?
I find inspiration in aspects of my life every day, from scrolling through the internet, researching the F&B industry across the globe, listening to TED Talks and communication podcasts and researching the future of PR, to following influential publicists including Kris Jenner (don’t all jump to judge…that woman has done some incredible things in terms of PR) and sitting with my colleagues. They are all so passionate about what they do and always looking for the next thing to help grow the organisation.
My Dad is also a big inspiration. Working in healthcare advertising, he worked his way up the company he is with today, shaping the industry with a vision to drive new-age, creative approaches to advertising as a tool, to the point he is now one of the most respected and well-known figures in his trade. His approach, drive and passion has always given me the inspiration to say yes to every opportunity passed to me, believe in my thoughts and ideas and let my creativity lead me through my career.
What’s your most overused saying?
“I am literally pressing send now….” Honestly, the amount of people I am anticipating with their eyes as they read this!
Five things you can’t live without?
My phone, my diary, my brow lady, Nutella (guilty pleasure) and a hair tie. Love a good high ponytail!
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A horse trainer or publicist…two opposite ends of the spectrum, I know.
If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?
There are two things I always wanted to do, one is go back to working with horses. I have grown up around them and despite my parents’ hopes, I never grew out of my expensive obsession with them. Alternatively, I would love to use the knowledge, skills and contacts I have gained throughout my career in the advertising, PR and media industries to really make a difference in third world countries. I would like to get involved in the United Nations, helping to drive greater awareness across western countries when it comes to helping the poverty and war-stricken parts of the world, looking at ways we can analyse statistics delved from digital platforms and incorporate forward-thinking social media tactics, digital trends and more.
What’s your most used social media platform?
Instagram! It is absolutely one of the most genius platforms/tools ever created. My other half would say I was obsessed…
How do you see the PR industry changing in the Middle East in the coming years?
The face of communication is changing rapidly and as publicists, and communication professionals, we need to make sure we are thinking ahead of the game in the ways we promote our brands, creating awareness, managing and protecting reputations and, in turn, producing revenue.
News is instant as a result of technology and social media. We need to look at the interesting and creative ways we tell our brand stories across digital platforms, making these more fluid and the user journey easier to navigate. Influence in the market needs to be made through relationship building with relevant persons and key markets, ensuring a great experience. We need to look at harder-hitting content, not just static images. Stories need to be told across digital media platforms, as well as Instagram and Facebook, promoting attention-grabbing content to broaden its reach.
I think there will be a move to recapture true public relations, promoting services and products through traditional word of mouth and using digital and social platforms as a form of megaphone, accelerating its reach to targeted audiences. The traditional PR professional is gone, enter the digital savvy, forward thinking, well-versed creative with a tongue for persuasion.