Team TMN catch up with Peta Ireland Al Akawi, Founder of Soho Comms and Events who talks about her role and offers her thoughts on the PR industry in the Middle East…
Name: Peta Ireland Al Akawi
Current job title: Founder of Soho Comms & Events
When did you first arrive in Dubai?
Where did you work prior?
My first ever role in Dubai was heading up Topshop Personal Shopping in Dubai Mall. I had previously worked in Personal Shopping for Topshop’s flagship store in Oxford Street London, so working for the brand in the Middle East was very exciting. I did a stint in media sales at ITP Media Group, and then worked as Marketing Manager for Praias, a Brazilian multi-branded swimwear boutique in Mall of the Emirates.
What were your first impressions of the PR industry in the Middle East?
My first impression was that a lot of brands and companies in this region actually require a lot more than just a traditional PR agency – they require an extension of their team. A lot of SMEs don’t have an appointed Marketing Manager so they need a team or an individual to provide them with a complete 360 degree service from marketing campaigns, event concepts, social media, traditional PR and influencer engagement.
Has your opinion changed much?
Even in the relatively short time that I have lived here I have seen the industry develop, mature and grow exponentially. Business owners and marketing teams are much more educated on what works and what doesn’t work for their businesses. PR agencies work with their clients much more closely now than ever as there’s so many different communication channels that need to work simultaneously to generate results. Gone are the days of just sending out press releases and organising press conferences. The leaders in the PR industry right now are the people offering effective, strategic creative solutions that show a clear ROI for their clients.
Tell us about your current role…
I launched Soho Comms & Events a year ago having freelanced for one and a half years. Soho Comms & Events is a Dubai-based independent consultancy firm that specialises in public relations, social media and event management. My role is to wear many different hats on a daily basis. I have a fantastic Junior Account Executive, and together we work across all areas of the business.
What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge is that there are not enough hours in the day. The hands on the clock in Dubai seem to go around a lot faster than in the UK! My biggest challenge when first going freelance was managing and utilising my time effectively and this is something you only learn from experience. The other big lesson was managing expectations – always under promise and over deliver. Also learning how to say NO.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is getting results for my lovely clients. I am so lucky to work with the most fantastic people who believe in the service we offer. Whether it’s a great piece of coverage, a successful event or strategic partnership to drive sales, helping my clients promote their businesses and grow is hugely rewarding.
How would you rather be contacted at work?
I am a massive fan of voice notes. Sometimes I find I get answers and solutions from my clients much quicker by sending voice notes. I work directly for business owners so sometimes emails slow down urgent communications, as they’re so busy. WhatsApp groups and WhatsApp is another fantastic way to communicate with my clients effectively and quickly.
How has digital media changed the relationship between the PR and media industry?
One of the biggest changes I have noticed recently is that journalists will often use their personal social media platforms, Facebook groups and other online platforms to seek relevant pitches for features or articles they’re working on. So instead of having to sift through 100s of emails, journalists can quickly connect with PRs and find what they’re looking for at the click of a button. This is beneficial for both parties. I will watch publication’s Instastories and pages to see what they’ve got coming up so that I can pitch more effectively rather than emailing editors over and over again. A journalist’s time is more valuable than ever with such high turnover of content so pitches have to be more targeted and insightful in order to secure more coverage.
How has consumer behavior in today’s digital community influenced PR today?
To survive as a PR agency or consultant today you have to understand your client’s digital consumers and their behavior. Understanding your clients today involves a deeper knowledge than ever before. Knowing the print and online publications to target is now just the basics. We now need to understand the most effective digital platforms for our clients and how to utilise them to get the best results.
What role does social media play in building a brand’s reputation today?
From my experience, consumers go straight to a Facebook or Instagram page before they visit a website. Your Instagram feed is your business card and the face of your business. Behind every face, there is a personality. Your Instagram theme is that personality. For some brands Instagram is the only tool they use to promote their product. So many enquiries, sales and interest can be driven from engaging social media content. Social media allows anyone to promote their product, services or brand for free. Consumers love to show loyalty to brands through social media so this is extremely valuable for brands trying to build their reputation.
How would you describe yourself at work?
I feel very privileged to have the clients I have and be able to wake up every day and do a job I love. I am very passionate about doing the absolute best I can do to help my clients get the results they want. I work fast and hard and I’m committed to growing and learning every day.
Describe yourself in five words…
I’m a good listener, understanding, resilient, passionate and conscientious.
Who inspires you?
Iyanla Vanzant, Oprah and two of my best girlfriends Laura Collett and Jade Holland Cooper.
What’s your most overused saying?
‘Listen to your gut’, ‘Pick your battles’ and ‘You can only control the controllable.’
Five things you can’t live without?
My two cats, my husband, my girlfriends, my heated rollers and Coco Cola. I can’t really live without my phone and laptop either but I’d like to one day!
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My biggest passion in life is horses and I competed to a high level in Three Day Eventing as a teenager so I wanted to work with horses. As I got older though I wanted to either be a journalist or work in events.
If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?
I would love to be a therapist.
What’s your most used social media platform?
INSTAGRAM, addicted! To be specific, Instagram Stories.
How do you see the PR industry changing in the Middle East in the coming years?
I think that agencies will have to diversify and offer a wider range of services to their clients. Gone are the days of only offering traditional PR, clients do not understand the return on investment. Yes, we can show them advertising value equivalent, but they want to see this coverage reflect in their sales. Agencies will become a more integrated part of marketing teams and will have to cover digital marketing and events as well as PR services.