Horizon FCB appoints new Executive Creative Director 

Dubai-based advertising agency, Horizon FCB has appointed Bruno Bomediano to the role of Executive Creative Director. With 16 years of experience in advertising, working across global brands such as Nissan, Heineken and Fiat, Bruno most recently worked with Leo Burnet as Creative Director. In his new role, he will oversee the creative portfolio of Horizon FCB’s clientele across the Middle East and North Africa.

“It’s an honour to take on this role,” says Bruno. “I’m looking forward to working closely with Mazen and the Horizon FCB team, who are the absolute best in the business. Together, we’ll continue to build our creative product and create powerful creative solutions for our clients.”

In The Hot Seat – Tariq Al Sharabi

Team TMN catch up with Tariq Al Sharabi, Managing Director, Cicero & Bernay (C&B) who talks about his current role and offers his thoughts on the PR industry in the Middle East…

Name: Tariq Al Sharabi

Age: 42

Nationality: Palestinian, combining the heritage of Jerusalem from my mother and the warmth of Nablus from my father

Current job title: Managing Director

When did you first arrive in Dubai?

I’m proud to have been born and raised in Dubai.

Where did you work prior?

I began my career at a boutique local advertising agency in Dubai. During my time there, one of my clients was a PR agency and I worked closely with the General Manager, who informed me that I was in the wrong industry. Following his advice, I took a leap of faith and joined his agency in 2002, taking my first steps in the PR world. I started right at the bottom, worked my way up and later joined C&B in 2006. The rest is history.

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

I came into the PR world completely fresh so it took a lot of research to find my feet in the industry. At the time, PR was not yet fully-fledged in the Middle East and as far as I could tell it lacked any strategic influence. I could see that PR agencies across the world were having a real impact on important areas like public and government affairs, and I believed that Dubai was ripe for this sort of meaningful communication. The Dubai government was already setting an excellent example of how PR could be taken to the next level, and I knew that Dubai could serve as the ideal platform for an industry-wide shift in this direction.

Has your opinion changed much?

In the years since, PR has come of age in the Middle East. It was once considered an add-on to business as usual, but it is now a major part of any sound business plan, leading communication and playing an essential strategic role in helping companies to accelerate their growth ambitions, meet their business objectives and deliver ROI. Dubai has become a global hub for PR best practices and a model for how PR can drive business strategy.

Tell us about your current role…

I have been with C&B since its inception and as a result, I feel personally responsible for its long-term success. As Managing Director, I focus on developing C&B’s new business and affiliation opportunities to drive the agency’s growth, while continuing to enhance our client services with innovative solutions that go beyond traditional methods. I am responsible for adding value for C&B’s clients as we expand our portfolio and footprint locally, regionally and globally.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I live for the moments when my instincts are proven right. A good idea can emerge in a second and in that instant you have a wonderful gut feeling that it is right and that it will work. When the campaign results justify this intuition, I find it hugely gratifying. Meeting new faces every day is another rewarding part of my job because I am a true people person; people are a constant source of inspiration and interest for me.

How would you be rather contacted at work?

You can’t beat the phone. To really chew over an idea, get to the heart of an issue or understand a client’s point of view, you simply have to talk. Taking a personal approach to communication is at the heart of our industry and I think much of that can be lost over email or WhatsApp.

What challenges do you face?

We operate in a very rapidly evolving industry and the main challenge is not just keeping up with it, but ahead of it. The pace of progress is relentless, particularly with digital transformation, which means that we are engaged in a constant battle to develop our know-how and stay ahead of the curve. At the same time, we need to remain highly attuned to shifting consumer behaviours. This is not just about following trends but instead about anticipating and setting them.

What do you think is the secret to successful leadership?

The word leadership always strikes me as very top down in character. It suggests that you are in front, ahead or on top of your team, but in my opinion true leadership is more about supporting your team from behind, beneath or within. If you are the captain of a ship or the cox of a rowing boat, you steer and support your crew from the back of the vessel, and I believe this is an important thing for leaders to remember.

How has PR managed to stay relevant in today’s digital community?

I think there is a misconception that PR is somehow separate from the digital community, whereas the two actually work hand in hand. If anything, PR has become more relevant in today’s digital community, because digital transformation has significantly broadened the scope and impact of our work. In the digital era, PR has simply taken a different and more exciting shape by moving onto new platforms — this has given PR the potential to communicate in a more meaningful way than ever before.

In your opinion, what makes a PR campaign successful?

A campaign is successful when it changes lives. That may sound dramatic but it really is the crux of what we do because public relations begins with people. The change can be as simple as helping a customer to discover an offer or as important as helping them to find their dream home. Having an impact on real people is the measure of success in PR.

What do you think of PR ethics in the industry today?

In our increasingly competitive environment, PR ethics is of paramount importance. This is particularly true in light of my answer to the previous question because at the end of the day, we are impacting people’s lives. In the UAE, we are fortunate to work in a very ethical PR industry that is characterised by sensitivity, honesty, integrity and fair competition. We like to keep it clean!

Describe yourself in five words

This is where I find myself instinctively reaching for my phone, because to describe myself I need more than five words — I need to talk to you.

What inspires you?

Dubai is my ultimate source of inspiration. I was born and raised here and I feel a deep pride in this city, which constantly amazes and challenges me. Its pulse, rhythm and ambition are driving forces in both my life and my industry; PR in Dubai is significantly influenced by the city itself and I enjoy this symbiosis.

What’s your most overused saying?

“Let me tell you something.” I don’t hear myself saying it but I’m told that it’s a recurring phrase in the office and my personal life. This makes sense because I always have an opinion or a story to share, and I guess this has become my ‘hook’.

Five things you can’t live without?

Life would be a struggle without Saturday night football, coming home every night to my daughters’ smiles, a good cup of mint tea, people around me and the standard of service that we all enjoy in Dubai.

What’s your favourite form of media? (i.e. TV, radio, print)

From a professional perspective, I believe that TV continues to play a very significant role, particularly in our region. While print is losing ground, radio is also still highly engaging and always on, at least in the car. But let’s not forget digital media, which is the undisputed champion and will only go from strength to strength from here on in. From a personal perspective I would have to say TV because it offers a level of escapism that you just don’t get with any other media. 

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career?

This is an easy question because I had the privilege of working with Diego Maradona when he was the Head Coach of Al Wasl Football Club. The experience was surreal in many ways. I remember receiving a text from the club asking me to prepare for a meeting with Maradona in five days’ time, and honestly believing that it was a practical joke. It was one of those rare moments that a dream becomes reality, which was exciting for both me and the media. Unsurprisingly, attendance was high for those press conferences!

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?

I would be doing anything that involves communicating with people. I love engaging, talking and sharing stories with people, and I have a flair for making them smile and connect with me. This is one of my defining characteristics and I believe it would hold true in any job, whether behind a counter, in a meeting or in front of an audience.

How do you see the PR industry changing in the UAE in the coming years?

We are currently in an era of digital transformation and it is far from over. While we are mastering social media and enhancing our digital analytics, I believe there are new heights to be reached when it comes to mining the true value of big data for PR purposes. I also believe that PR will continue to strengthen its strategic role in businesses, where it has become the leading communication method for impacting the bottom line.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in the PR industry in the UAE?

To thrive in the PR industry, you absolutely must be a positive people person. There is no room for negativity, pessimism or comfort zones in our world, and you also have to be ok with waking up to a whole new set of challenges every day. This is true of the global PR industry, but in the UAE we also need to add cultural sensitivity to the mix. To succeed in the UAE’s PR industry you have to understand the make-up of this country and the values of the people who live here. It is important to remind yourself where you are and develop a deep understanding and appreciation of the UAE’s unique culture.

MEED appoints new Oil and Gas Editor

Dubai-based senior management media brand, Middle East Economy Digest (MEED) has appointed Indrajit Sen to the role of Oil and Gas Editor. With a Masters degree in English, Indrajit previously worked with Gulf Property as the Senior Sub Editor and most recently with Oil & Gas Middle East magazine as the Deputy Editor. In his new role, he will provide accurate insights about the regional oil and gas markets and contribute analysis articles while representing MEED and delivering sessions at conferences and seminars.

“Oil and gas has fuelled the ascent of the Middle East and it is the energy sector itself that is playing the crucial role of securing the region’s future,” says Indrajit. “It fills me with pride to cover this market and deal with numerous important stakeholders as part of my job. I consider it my privilege to be able to practice real journalism for a key economic sector.”

CNBC to launch Middle East Headquarters

CNBC is set to launch new headquarters for the Middle East in Abu Dhabi in Q1 2018. The global business and financial news network will begin broadcasting from the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) studios and will see ten new appointments to build a new team ahead of its launch. The new headquarters will anchor its daily global business news programs while the network also establishes an on-the-ground editorial presence locally as well as across the region.

The Road Ahead For AR And VR In Marketing

Sunil Kumar Singh, Managing Editor at Mediaquest Corp touches on the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in the Middle East’s marketing industry…

“There’s a lot of noise on whether the disruptive digital technologies, namely Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are just another buzzword bandwagon or are they something marketers should actually be paying attention to.”

Before I go deeper into it, let’s get a quick overview of what exactly AR and VR are. In plain terms, VR is an immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality that offers consumers a 360-degree digital environment in a 3D world. This is most commonly experienced through specialised glasses or head-mounted displays.

AR, on the other hand, refers to the integration of the real-world environment that is augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated images or sensory input such as sound, video or graphics. While VR offers a more immersive experience, AR lets users experience the world around them and adds additional digital elements. A widely known example of this technology is the Pokémon GO application.

Improving customer journey

Many of the most valuable brands globally have created some form of virtual or augmented reality experience for their customers or employees. The AR/VR ecosystem is being used by brands to deploy new experiences and thus to improve the customer journey.

IKEA, for instance, has deployed AR technology in its marketing strategy by developing a table as part of its concept kitchen that suggests recipes based on the ingredients on the table.

Beauty specialist Sephora, leverages AR allowing customers to see what they might look like with different shades of lipsticks or types of eyelashes before they actually buy the product.

Some time back, Mercedes had deployed 360-degree VR in its marketing strategy by showing off its latest SL model with a virtual drive on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Many other automobile brands, such as Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Porsche, KIA, Lexus, Chevrolet and Honda too have been using these technologies not only in designing their cars, through these technologies, potential buyers can check out the latest models or test drive the cars.

Travel and tour operators to are applying VR to immerse potential travellers into destinations. Expedia for instance, is bringing the VR technology into the booking experience that will enable travellers to use VR to choose the right hotel room for them.

Enriching brand experience

Immersive technologies such as AR and VR can be the new gold standard for brand experiences. While the focus of VR is on experiences and emotional engagement, AR is more commonly used for product trial and utility. In both cases, they can create fully immersive environments as well as deeper brand associations in the minds of consumers.

In case of the retail sector for instance, AR and VR offer a number of solutions for customers. For one, they allow customers to make more informed buying decisions as they visit stores, which can increase the buyer conversion rate. AR/VR offer retailers many solutions such as pre-plan shopping trips, brand differentiation, information delivery, in-store engagement, product customisation, experiential product activation, group entertainment experiences, live streamed VR lectures and events, virtual stores and at-home try-on and training workshops, among others.

So far so good, It’s safer to conclude that both VR and AR have the potential to offer viable ways for brands to engage emotionally with consumers as well as to help brands increase ROI. While brands in many industries are gradually waking up to new opportunities, a full-scale mass adaptation of these technologies is still far away.

However, as consumer expectations are evolving, in order for brands to leverage such technologies for the fullest advantage, these technologies must be implemented strategically with pre-defined marketing objectives. The application of AR/VR must establish an emotional connection with consumers not only to enhance a consumer’s brand experience, but also strengthen brand loyalty and drive social media engagement. Or else, AR/VR risk ending up as a mere entertainment tool.

After all, staying relevant has always been harder for technologies!

The Content Hub launches specialist divisions

Dubai-based content creation agency, The Content Hub has launched two new specialist divisions, The Yachting Hub and The Wheel Hub. Founded by Sam Richomme who most recently worked as CEO of Lux Media Group and Damien Reid who most recently was contracted by Lux Media Group to contribute for Edgar, Altitudes and Yachts Emirates, the two divisions will offer publishers and marketers ready-to-publish content packages that can be used on all communications channels including print, web and social media. The Yachting Hub will focus completely on yachting and yachting lifestyle while The Wheel Hub will focus on motoring and automotive content.

“Between the devil and the deep blue sea, the media industry’s growing need for immediate and top quality content are at odds with the industry’s continual drop in editorial budgets,” says Sam Richomme, Founder, The Content Hub. “The Wheel Hub and The Yachting Hub caters to the needs of today’s publishers to cover all their media channels in one go, with affordable and immediate access to content produced by media professionals who are experts in their respective fields.”

Damien Reid, Founder and General Manager, The Wheel Hub continues, “The Wheel Hub represents the changing face of media and a solution for time-poor editors who in many cases are either a one-person shop, or worse still, are forced to juggle multiple titles on their own. In 90 seconds, an editor will receive long form and short form text to suit both print and online layouts, 15 to 20 images all resized and colour-corrected to suit, pic captions for every image, headlines, sub-heads and pull quotes. We even include a 60-second, Instagram-friendly video with all the hashtags for their social media. There are no contracts to sign, no chasing late payments through accounts departments and no VAT paperwork issues as the PayPal process is as simple as ordering a home-delivery meal.”