Team TMN sits with Nicole Suter, Managing Director of Djembe Communications, offers her thoughts on the role of digital media and the PR industry in the Middle East…
Name: Nicole Suter
Current job title: Managing Director, Djembe Communications
When did you first arrive in Dubai?
Where did you work prior?
I previously worked at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Switzerland and in the UAE, I worked as Account Manager at Golin Harris, Communications Manager at Legatum, Account Director at Weber Shandwick and most recently held the role of Regional Director EMEA at Djembe Communications.
What were your first impressions of the PR industry in the Middle East?
That it is an interesting, multi-facetted industry where someone like me who started out fresh could learn a lot.
Has your opinion changed much?
No, not at all. I think with the Middle East and particularly Dubai, becoming an international hub, it is more important than ever for organisations, both local and international ones, to focus on their reputation and communications. Which is why I think this industry remains very interesting and challenging.
Tell us about your current role…
I am leading an international team across offices in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. My role is very diverse in that I strategically advise clients, drive our growth by generating new business leads and ensure we as a consultancy offer our clients best in class capabilities and expertise. It is very exciting for me to interact with a team of drummers with local expertise in UAE, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the USA.
What challenges do you face?
The challenges of entering and setting up a business in the Middle East or any region for that matter, are manifold and range from understanding the culture, approach to business and becoming familiar with procedures, processes and key stakeholders. It was imperative for us to understand the market and adapt our market entry strategy accordingly to ensure we have a successful start to our operations in the Middle East.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Witnessing every day how such a diverse team of people can deliver great work.
How would you rather be contacted at work?
Through email, phone, our website or social media channels. Our channels of communication vary and are always open.
Has user-generated content taken over brand promotion and marketing campaigns in the Middle East?
Megabrands and smaller companies alike are harnessing the power of user-generated content by mobilising their audiences in social sharing, both on and offline. I would not say it has taken over yet but it has definitely added great value and created another reference point for consumers today.
Has the Middle East’s diverse audience posed as a challenge or advantage in PR today?
I think it is a challenge in that we as communicators need to make sure we address this diversity, so it is a positive challenge and an advantage at the same time for brands to speak to various stakeholder groups.
What role has digital media played in redefining the relationship between PR professionals, journalists and bloggers?
Digital media has become very important and a source of information, news and opinions that is readily available and spreads globally within a very short period of time. Smartphone penetration is incredible. It has brought a new dynamic to the communications industry and key actors. We have seen that African companies are increasingly adopting social media as a tool for business growth and, supported by increasingly reliable broadband infrastructure, it is becoming a core part of the innovation eco-system. That eco-system also includes a nascent app and web development industry. Collectively we are seeing the growth of an exciting new digital age in Africa that is proving to be attractive to the region’s young population and creative minds.
How would you describe yourself at work?
Focused, driven, organised but also in need of a laugh once in a while
What inspires you?
I can’t name one thing, it is often the unexpected – a different opinion or view for instance, that inspires me to think or act differently.
What’s your most overused saying?
‘We need a plan’ and ‘Let’s get the job done’.
What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career?
There are many but overall, I would say the exciting places my work has taken me to over the years.
Five things you can’t live without?
Definitely, my two sons, the rest is materialistic and shouldn’t be so essential.
If you could have one work wish granted, what would it be?
Shortening travel times to a few minutes.
If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?
I would have loved to have been a criminologist or profiler.
What’s your favorite form of media?
As communicators, we have to consider all channels, always. I access news on my tablet as I’m always on the go and depend largely on social media for latest news. I also depend on TV while at the airport waiting to board.
How do you see the PR industry changing in the Middle East in the coming years?
Clients have embraced digital and we have fewer clients giving us traditional briefs. Digital and social media continue to prove essential channels for brands looking to engage with their highly connected audiences. We have also noticed that clients are looking at consultancies to advise them on campaign PR as opposed to regular one-time activity or solutions. In terms of professionalism I think we can always do more. Evaluation is still to come of age, but again the inclusion of social and digital elements, including paid media, into many mandates is starting to finally force through the changes we needed to all see in this area too. We have also seen that the importance and impact of online influencers have grown and will keep growing, however there will be more emphasis placed on ROI, measurement and earned equity. With the Middle East and Dubai continuing to become a regional and international hub, the industry will also become more sophisticated and adapt international best practices even more.