What makes a good agency an award winning one?

Andrew Tonks, Managing Director for Performance and Analytics at RBBi offers his thoughts on what makes a good agency an award-winning agency and touches on how they can benefit from awards…

“Like Hollywood, agency life is filled with an array of talent that has not been recognised by its peers. Whilst this lack of recognition is not necessarily a sign of quality, a few would argue that Brad Pitt or Glen Close are poor actors for never winning an Oscar – however, within the industry awards can actually bring benefits to both parties; the agencies and their clients.”

Having worked hard these past 18 months, driving digital performance for our clients and growing an amazing team of specialists, our recent wins have resulted in positive changes at the agency. Not only has it created new business, but it has also increased morale and exposure for our clients. In the case of an agency looking to gain industry recognition, there are a few areas of business that is recommended to focus on in order to build an award-winning environment.

The first area of focus should be passionate people. I strongly believe that the greatest asset that agencies have are its people. An agency can have a fantastic sales team and the best intentions for its clients, but if they don’t have a team to back them up they will ultimately fail. Building a team takes time, patience, trust and ultimately money. Once that team has been built, expect there to be competition to keep them with you. Investing in your team takes many forms one of which is training to ensure they have the knowledge needed to perform, but also trust them and allow them to truly take ownership of a campaign.

Secondly, agencies should focus on client relationships. No successful agency can be built without the input of clients consistently following through on your promises and genuinely caring about delivering results – this is the quickest way to build clients’ trust. A trusting client is more likely to give you the freedom needed to push the boundaries and react quickly, which will help deliver that extra bit of performance needed to make a campaign standout during an award submission.

And lastly, there should be a focus on regional understanding. Using regional insights effectively within a campaign can often be the difference between a good campaign and an award winning one. Too often campaigns are still run with little to no language expertise, especially Arabic. If you’re running campaigns in Saudi Arabia for example, it might be a good idea to actually have an Arabic speaker managing that work. Better still, someone who has experience in the market and a cultural awareness of target users.

Benefits of Awards

If you’re in the fortunate position to ultimately bring home an award, there are some benefits that your agency is likely to see in the subsequent months. An award win will raise the benchmark to help set a new standard for work internally as well as give your team recognition to help drive for further excellence. It can also help your agency stand out from the crowd during a pitch and give your clients visibility internally as well as within their industry.

Tips for awards submissions

In building a potential award-winning environment, the submission is another aspect that is fundamental to winning. I’m going to give a few tips on how you can improve your chances of possibly winning.

  • Demonstrate performance: It might be tempting to talk about the work done and how challenging it was to deliver on time, with a tight budget. However, most judges want to see results so be sure to fully communicate the change you brought and what return was realised.
  • Less is often more: Be truthful with yourself and only submit work you really believe is award-winning. Do yourself a favour, spend more time submitting less work and then invest that time in creating fantastic entries that give the best possible chance of winning.
  • Stick to the facts: Whilst it might be tempting to be a bit creative with the numbers, ultimately the truth catches up with you and most awards request you to sign a release form confirming the data is accurate. If it’s found you have submitted false work, chances are it will look extremely bad for you, the agency and not to mention, your client.
  • Be realistic, be on time: Manage an award submission just like you would any other project. We have learned this the hard way, with many late nights in the office working on an entry. Also, don’t underestimate the time needed to put something together that truly stands out.
  • Creativity: Remember that award judges are viewing multiple entries, sometimes even hundreds. Just like any other form of advertising, use your creativity to stand out from the crowd and complement your entry with a video or an infographic.
  • Creditability of awards: Keep in mind that not all awards have the same value – some are clearly created with the sole aim of making money. Before deciding to submit an entry, do your research and understand who is running the awards and why. What process will be followed and most importantly, who will be judging your work.

Is traditional media’s biggest strength also its bane?

Ravi Raman, Senior Vice President at Khaleej Times touches on the state of traditional media in the Middle East today, what they are doing wrong and what the newsroom of the future should look like…

“Journalists generated and reported on their communities, but could not be part of it – however, social media has changed all that from the way news is sourced to the way it is consumed today.

As consumers evolve, so does their expectations of brands – and with purchase decisions becoming more deliberate and value driven, brands need to constantly meet these expectations. Consumers are starting to seek more information on how the goods are produced. They are beginning to ask conscious questions like; is the brand ethically sourced and produced? Is it environment friendly? Or does it have social values? Consumers are expecting alignment of brand values with their own, so why should media be treated differently?

For a long time news media has operated in a walled newsroom with a clear separation between ‘church and state’ and even readers. With objectivity and independence, they practiced their profession in a ‘just the facts’ environment. Journalists generated and reported on their communities, but could not be part of it – however, social media has changed all that from the way news is sourced to the way it is consumed. News media is constantly mutating and evolving, forcing mainstream media organisations to pay attention. The internet is changing the news and in many cases bypassing the professional reporter.

Computers also play a key role in the media industry today as they are doing what traditional journalists used to do, like compiling stock reports, filing company announcements, reporting sports results and even weather and travel news bulletins. These used to be an integral part of traditional news, but are now automated and available online on a real time basis. Also, content aggregating platforms are now encroaching on the territory of publishers by influencing story selection and placement.

Citizen journalism, which started out as a public engagement has also gained enormous popularity in the media industry. Social networking platforms have given consumers the ability to transmit information globally, which has tilted the balance of power today. Not being bound by journalistic standards and norms has actually made these citizen journalists, whom are youtubers, bloggers or social media influencers more powerful. It could be argued that they voice opinions rather than truth however, citizen journalists are playing a vital role in news media, being present on the ground where a professional journalists cannot be. Traditional media is using social platforms for crowdsource comments, pictures, videos, insights and story ideas. It is also using it as an engagement tool, seeking readers to spend more time online and making them more valuable to advertisers. But is that enough?

Newsrooms today need to adopt a wall-less or virtual model, where readers are partners in the news conversation, not just passive consumers. So what should the newsrooms of the future look like?

Firstly, it would be made up of several tech savvy, socially connected journalists, who are capable, equipped and most importantly empowered to report, write and file stories on the fly. Better connectivity, artificial intelligence, analytics and easy access to social platforms will allow reporters to go beyond reporting and offer detailed analysis, as well as context and expert opinions on events as they happen. With smarter tagging, intuitive archival and retrieval systems they would be able to stitch together perspectives, links and inferences.

Secondly, the funnel approach of stories being filed, vetted, fact-checked, proofread, edited and then finally approved to be published will either be short-cycled or completely eliminated. Story filing deadlines are already disappearing with news and reports being on a continuous loop. Consumers today want to see and not be told, so video journalism is the new frontier, which requires a whole new scripting and storyboarding technique to ensure the story not only engages and entertains the audience, but is shared too.

The adoption of this newsroom of the future will require a large degree of trust and training. Publishers will have the fear of losing control of their title with copy errors and even fake news creeping in. However, the new reality is that readers are demanding faster, better and more engaging content – and a dynamic, fluid newsroom is the only solution that can deliver that.

Out with the old in with the new

Jacqui Hewett, General Manager, Tonic International, tells TMN what she thinks about the evolution of the region’s marketing industry from traditional to digital and offers some rules to help marketers through the transitional phase…

To say that we are spoilt for choice nowadays when it comes to marketing solutions is an understatement. In fact, the abundance of choice can be totally overwhelming for marketing professionals, especially when they are looking to transition from the traditional marketing space into the digital marketing space.

“Marketing plans now need to be multi-faceted, linked to real business deliverables and agile whilst always being consumer centric.”

Long gone are the days of the four P’s directly translating into a cookie cutter solution, agencies have been peddling with the usual suspects of below-the-line marketing (BTL), TV and some additional out-of-home advertising (OOH) support. Marketing plans now need to be multi-faceted, linked to real business deliverables and agile whilst always being consumer centric.

With this in mind, there are four rules of thumb that I like to focus on with clients that are making the sometimes-daunting transition from traditional to digital marketing much easier:

Keep it simple

Consumers have short attention spans and are spoilt for choice – just because you can use every new digital platform and technique to execute your campaign doesn’t mean that you should. I have a test that I run with clients and colleagues when we are crafting the big idea into an executional plan, if it takes you more than two minutes and more than two slides to explain the concept and how consumers will participate, the idea is too complicated. When an idea is too complicated, consumers lose interest – marketing directors need to encourage their agencies to design campaigns that are simple, engaging and responsive.

Measure the right things

We all know digital is exciting because it’s so measureable, this is one of the main reasons clients are shifting focus away from traditional into this space. However, too much of a good thing can have a negative effect and one of the most common mistakes clients make is to want to measure, investigate and analyse every single metric. This inhibits the process and usually translates into agencies spending more time explaining which metrics are important and which are not versus spending time optimising and adjusting the campaign based on the key result factors. Clients need to be thoroughly involved in setting up the measurement plan so that it links directly to their business key performance indicators (KPIs). They also need to ensure they understand clearly what metrics are significant and why, then focus their attention on those metrics.

Work with experts

The shift from traditional to digital marketing usually means that clients are learning new skillsets, techniques and mediums quite quickly. This can result in feeling a bit like a jack of all trades, master of none — take the time to select your agency partners carefully. You do not need to be ‘all knowing’ across digital, but you need to trust that the agencies you have supporting you are experts in their field. Look for partners who come recommended for solving your particular problem, ask for specific case studies and client references, and understand from them what kind of results can be expected prior to launching.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Even writing the word ‘fail’ is scary — especially when your marketing investment usually represents a significant portion of the company’s revenue. The advice here is ‘NO’ to bet it all in red, and hope for the best. What clients need to do is test, test and test! Set aside testing budgets not just at the beginning, but also across your campaign so that you have the flexibility to explore different techniques whilst isolating any loss of opportunity. If you don’t give your campaign and your agency the ability to seek out new ways of doing things, eventually growth will stagnate.

In conclusion, change is good and evolving your marketing strategies will only ever reap rewards in the long run. Embrace the change and don’t be afraid to ask questions — the digital space is here to stay so marketing directors need to understand and benefit from it.

You have eight seconds, use it wisely

Gail Livingstone, Chief Operating Officer, ME Digital Group, which owns and operates various websites including ExpatWoman.com and Cobone.com, offers her thoughts and gives a few principles on how brands in the Middle East can attract and maintain the attention span of consumers in today’s fast-paced society…

“We’re living in a rushed, fast- paced, cluttered world and we want everything to be now! Gone are the days of waiting and anticipation —­ we want the whole TV series now, the up-to-the-second news now and the old phrase ‘patience is a virtue’ seems to have been forgotten. “

If you’re older than 40, you may remember waiting for that lusted after bike, ordered from a printed catalogue and waiting months for delivery, or having to wait a whole seven days to watch the next episode of your favourite TV show. Those days of waiting, anticipation and delayed gratification are definitely gone, whether you’re a millennial or older.

We want our ordered online products to arrive today or at the very latest tomorrow. We want to watch that box set in a binge marathon today. We want what we want and we want it now. Even the NBA has been considering shortening basketball games due to decreasing attention spans, which at eight seconds, is less than that of a goldfish! So if you’re a brand trying to get your message across to your attention deficit consumers, how on earth do you capture their limited attention span in the first place, much less retain it all under eight seconds?

It’s a challenge to grab the attention of consumers today and there is no magic recipe to attract them, however, there are a few key strategies and principles that will help and can make it easier to get them to listen to what you have to say:

  1. Be real, authentic and transparent with your brand communication — don’t try and be something you’re not. Consumers will see through the act and disconnect from your brand. If they trust you and believe in you and what you are telling them, they’ll keep coming back.
  1. It might sound like a well- worn cliché, but your communication needs to be relevant and interesting to your target audience. Learn as much about them so you can even ask them what they want, listen to them — do not make assumptions like, ‘millennials don’t read, or let’s only use images in all our communications’. Dig deeper and gain insight on all your consumer types.
  1. Context, channel and messaging are key — you have to tailor the context of your messages for your target audience, on the channel you are advertising on. What works on Facebook will not work on Snapchat. A cookie cutter approach is never going to work. That means each element of your topline campaign is going to have to get the bespoke treatment for omnichannel presence.
  1. Tell your consumers a real story about your brand or something totally related, as this is one of the best ways to make an emotional connection with your consumers. Make it personal and relatable.
  1. Learn to embrace change and take risks. Brands cannot afford to stand still in this ever changing landscape and what worked last year, last month is probably not going to deliver the same results today.

The core principles of marketing and advertising are still in force today, they just need to be packaged and served in the way that is current for today and tomorrow. It often seems it’s all about hitting those mega numbers, but what’s the point of having thousands of Facebook followers if none of them, or a miniscule percentage, engage with your brand or make a purchase? We have a mass of data and consumer insights available to us as marketers, but behind all those figures are real people, with real lives, real pressures and real desires and that should never be forgotten.

In the famous words of Don Draper, from the TV show, Mad Men, ‘advertising is based on one thing, happiness’. Are you making your consumers happy? If not, it’s time to rethink and get back to the drawing board- Now what is the modern equivalent of that saying?

Great content, super design, but where’s your audience?

James Pardoe, CEO at Grow sits with TMN to discuss why websites fail to engage with the right audience and how to boost traffic…

“Focus on the niche traffic sources where your target audience resides. Don’t be tempted to jump head-first into all the digital mediums out there.”

What is more important: An amazing website or huge quantities of traffic?

Okay, that was a trick question. The answer is both and neither.

An amazing website with no traffic is just as useless as tons of traffic with a bad website. Or perhaps you have an amazing website AND high traffic, but your site still isn’t delivering the results you’d expected?

That’s because there’s a third and equally important element that you’re missing − targeted audiences. Perfect the trifecta and your company will experience substantial and measurable growth in a matter of weeks. It doesn’t matter if you’re B2B, B2C or B2H, the result will be the same.

Easier said than done, I know. It takes time and money to optimise your website, generate traffic, and ensure that traffic is highly targeted.

The usual approach is to say “okay, the website is good-enough, let’s focus on the marketing”. But, before you go down this route, I suggest you measure your website’s performance. Below are the key metrics you should look at to measure visitor engagement and know if your site is indeed ‘good-enough’: (you can access this data from Google Analytics and other site statistics platforms).

Conversion rate

The percentage of people who achieve a set objective – for example, contact you (general), make a purchase (eCommerce), or generate more than one impression (media). For lead generation or eCommerce sales, 1% is minimum. 3% is good and 5% is great, whereas for media, the conversion rate varies wildly depending on the objectives.

Bounce rate

The percentage of people who leave your site without going deeper into the content. Again, this varies by industry, but generally speaking 60% is high, 40% is average, and 30% is great, the lower the better.

Time on site

1 minute is minimum, 3 minutes is good, and anything more is great. Media sites see higher time-on-site and higher bounce rates than usual, because people spend longer reading articles and often leave after reading just one.

If any of those metrics are below par, I suggest you look at improving your website first. Here’s why:

If your site has a conversion rate of 0.5%, you only need to increase the conversion rate by half a percentage to double the performance of your website. Consider what kind of impact that would have on your company. Any investment you make in achieving this will be minimal compared to the investment required to double your traffic and achieve the same result.

Quality or Quantity? Both.

Once you’re ready to tackle your traffic, you need to ask yourself which is more important: Quality or quantity? Of course, we want both. But consider this: 10 high quality visits that convert is far better than 1,000 that don’t.

So my advice would be to focus on quality first. How? Consider your traffic sources − where do your target audiences hang out online? Where do they hang out in real life? Look at ways you can use digital marketing to reach them. For example, let’s say you know your target audience frequents the malls often. You could use geotargeting to only display ads to people who are currently at the mall.

If Google is your biggest generator of quality traffic, then look at Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques to increase your exposure to quality visitors.

Scaling Up

Once your site is converting and you’re generating quality traffic, you’ll have a clear idea on where to focus your resources and scale the numbers. Use Google Analytics to get real data on your best performing traffic sources (consider the above engagement criteria for each traffic source). The source with the highest levels of engagement is where you should focus your efforts.


If you can’t have one without the other, where do you start? Take baby-steps to improve each aspect gradually. Reap the rewards of each small improvement and re-invest into achieving larger improvements down the line.

Focus on the niche traffic sources where your target audience resides. Don’t be tempted to jump head-first into all the digital mediums out there.
By using real audience data to inform your strategies, any investment you make into marketing to these channels is a safe bet and your business is on the clear path to growth.

How to get noticed – It’s easier than you think

Ivan Isakovic, CEO and Art Director, Al Karam Creative Solutions elaborates on the need and impact of clean design and how it can bring in the bucks…

“Good design is not just a pretty face – it structures and organises the data, while highlighting key facts that will direct the reader’s attention toward all the relevant information that they need…”

People are visual beings and are subconsciously attracted to clean and concise design. Good design is not just a pretty face – it structures and organises data, while highlighting key facts that will direct the reader’s attention toward all the relevant information that they need, without having to painfully sift through a mass of unsystematic data. What most businesses fail to understand is that an initial investment of appointing an experienced designer can drastically increase your chances of getting recognised and creating an impact.

An essential characteristic of effective design is to avoid excessive detail and clutter. While relevant images and rightly placed icons definitely make for more appealing reading material, the overuse of images could easily make a professional document look like a cafeteria menu, which is not something that any potential client or reader would even glance at. Too many unnecessary and haphazardly placed visuals will only distract and confuse the reader, making it difficult for them to pin-point exactly what they’re looking for.

Another important factor while appointing a designer is confidentiality. For example, commissioning someone to design your business plan would involve handing over confidential information and facts about your business to a complete stranger. You should always be sure that your hard work is in safe hands. Most start-ups understandably would want to save every possible penny, but opting for a less-expensive alternative could put your business and goals at risk of being exposed in an unprofessional and unethical manner. I always and strongly recommend that all businesses, start-up or not, should only appoint reputed and established designers/agencies to handle such confidential data.

What I have noticed is that most businesses often pay very little attention to the design of the one document that defines the core and foundation of a brand, its investor-proposal. With the massive sea of companies flooding the market today, how does one make sure their brand stands out? The hunt for the right investor is hard enough and making sure your agency or organisation gets recognised is another challenge by itself. How can you increase the probability, if not make sure that your proposal catches the attention of a viewer amongst the rest?

What most people fail to understand is that just like any other branding material, a well-designed business plan (yes, that is a thing!) is essential when it comes to creating a name and image for your brand. When an investor has to shuffle through dozens of proposals in a day, each one with massive amounts of data cramped into a few pages, it is quite likely that yours may go unnoticed if it too looks like an uninteresting printed word document.

Nice presentation shows dedication, attention to detail and commitment to the idea. Appointing a professional graphic designer to develop your business plan will ensure that all crucial information about your brand is communicated to your targeted audience through a well-presented document. A visually appealing and to-the-point plan will engage the reader with your brand, with all relevant data presented in an orderly manner. This facilitates smooth flow through all the content that you aim to put across while spotlighting important facts.

So don’t take the easy way out by selecting a cost-effective designer without any research. Securing the right investor is key to a successful business and investing in an experienced designer with a clean track record will not only ‘face-lift’ an ordinary investor-proposal through concise design, but also ensure client-designer confidentiality.

In all honesty…

Tanaz Dizadji, Founder and CEO of insydo talks to TMN about biased content and how ‘undercover’ reviews make for honest opinions…

“Press releases are like the tip of an iceberg and honest opinions come from exploring beneath the surface of every business.”

People are savvy and know the difference between impartial content and everything else out there and this was the main reason I decided to launch an authentic digital guide for residents and tourists of the city. To accomplish this, we felt we needed to spend a year in ‘stealth mode’ before officially launching, testing numerous businesses undercover, completely off the marketing community’s radar.

Undercover reviews across several categories result in a trust-worthy opinion on Dubai’s top businesses and services. I believe Dubai is craving honest and independent content and to produce completely impartial and unbiased content, freebies are an absolute no-no. This will ensure that the reviewer does not get influenced by any external factors and voices his/her true opinion on the product or service experienced. Working incognito to assess every featured business – whether that is a dining spot or the services of a painter, allows for authentic opinions based on the same treatment that any regular customer would receive and this is an aspect that should never be compromised, no matter what.

People respond strongly to unbiased recommendations because they trust them. Giving readers and users an all-round holistic review that highlights the good and bad aspects of an experience as well as tips on how to get the most out of a each business, allows them to filter their search and identify a place, product or service that best suits their needs.

Another key factor for fair reviews, particularly when your scope includes different categories of businesses, is to ensure that each one is judged in comparison with other contenders in the same field and supported by relevant KPIs (key performance indicators). After all, you can’t compare a food truck to a fine-dining restaurant. By determining the right KPIs for each category, the reviewer is able to assess every business in a fair manner and benchmark it against the competition.

Testing out every business is a vigorous process that requires time and attention to detail, so it is challenging, especially if one does not rely on press releases for reviews. Press releases are like the tip of an iceberg and honest opinions come from exploring beneath the surface of every business.

A question that I get asked the most is, “How do you decide what to include amongst the city’s best?” In a city as dynamic and diverse as Dubai, sifting through a mountain of choice is no easy task. It is physically impossible to list every business or service in the city – we’ve only got emoji-heart-eyes for the top contenders. Impressions matter most when shortlisting businesses and services for an anonymous first-hand review. It is essential to always stay informed – whether through traditional media, word-of-mouth recommendations, social listening, search volume data and most importantly, consumer feedback, comments and rating. Many of the city’s favourites tend to fly under the radar, in spite of high quality standards and a fiercely loyal customer base. Dubai is an ever-changing city with people that are strongly influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations, which should play a key role in how you explore.

So, how does a business make the cut? Hunting down the top contenders in every field, without the influence of marketers, brand managers and PRs, requires a lot of filtering. While I am open to PRs and marketers pitching their businesses and clients for reviews, I don’t guarantee acceptance to every business. There should be a vetting process and only businesses that make the cut are tested out incognito. Even in cases where featured businesses wish to secure more exposure through our platform, the original review is never tampered with. Once a business has been selected, anonymously tested and featured, brands are allowed to add digital content to their existing page. This feature gives brands the opportunity to market themselves without influencing the authenticity of the review.

I believe in giving the residents of Dubai a complete picture of what to expect and a true reflection of what people love most about the city, and I think the best way to do that is to put an end to freebies and half-honest opinions.

Is your press release lacking interactive content?

Josh Baker, Business Development Specialist at markettiers discusses the increased need of video content and how to generate maximum engagement through a press release…

“It is not enough to just use carefully curated video content, without using a press release. The two pieces of content should complement each other and give the end user both options of a visual experience as well as a simulating read simultaneously.”

Since we launched our Dubai offices, roughly four years ago, PR in the Middle East and more specifically the UAE has considerably changed and undergone intense evolution.

A few years ago, the marketplace was heavily dominated by agencies winning PR retainers and projects with clients almost on a one-pronged approach. PR plans were dominated by a series of press releases as part of the output and many agencies were (and still are) tasked with delivering a minimum number of press release content as part of their scope of work. Typically, there were not as many people accompanying this with video content.

Placing video content and live streams along with a strongly worded press release ensures that an agency’s PR strategy is as broad and engaging as possible, while capturing a wider and more targeted audience.

In today’s world, audiences like to read content that is accompanied by stimulating videos, as is very evident with the recent growth of visual social media channels. They enjoy and get more involved with a brand through textual information that is paired with interactive video content, giving them the most hedonic, energetic and emotional experience.

This does not mean that written content is dead or is even fizzling out. In fact, we always say to our clients that it is not enough to just use carefully curated video content, without using a press release. The two pieces of content should complement each other and give the end user both options of a visual experience as well as a simulating read simultaneously.

Each video produced to go along with a press release should be strategically thought out and curated, so the finished product is not interpreted as an advertorial piece. The video needs to fit with the news agenda and should be carefully developed to include statistics and figures that will play along as the press release reads.

So why do clients like seeing news worthy video content? Their target audiences can visualise the product or services and also because media outlets are happy to feature video content – If you look at most stories now on websites, you’ll find plenty of video content. Websites like it because it increases dwell time on their site, which in turn means they can charge advertises more to have their banner ads displayed for increased engagement and a longer lasting impact. Most clients today like to see their product or service in both written and video content format.

Video content creation should always have a flexible approach. Having worked with government entities and corporate clients as well as consumer brands in the past, we have learnt that each client has different needs and content creation should always be in sync with the brand’s goals.

When working with broadcasters, video content gets the editor listening to you. They are more drawn towards your news and it builds their interest to work around your proposal to best suit their agenda. If well written and well shot, more times than not, the article will get featured and produced in the right manner.

Your social media reputation actually counts!

Jeremy Nicholls, Group Business Development Manager at MCG Group, talks about how social media platforms have evolved to become an integral part of how candidates portray themselves…

“Personal branding is paramount in the digital age to ensure you are giving off the right impression. Make sure you are happy with yours.”

In the eight years that I have been recruiting, the industry has changed and evolved in many ways, especially in the use of social media to advertise jobs, promote your brand and headhunt suitable candidates for vacancies. When I started recruiting in 2009, Facebook had 200 million users and compared to its current level (1.7 billion), was very much in its infancy. Linkedin was even smaller at 40 million (now 106 million), Twitter was just a toddler at three years old and Snapchat hadn’t even hit the online shelves of the app store.

In today’s digital world we are far more connected and accessible then ever before. Social media has its supporters as well as its detractors, but no one can deny that it has made the world smaller by allowing us to interact with people we historically didn’t get the chance to. It also encourages us to promote ‘brand me’ and if done correctly can have some great benefits on a professional level.

If managed incorrectly however, it can lead to embarrassment (pictures of those cringe-worthy 90’s haircuts) or even disaster with many reports of people losing their jobs based on social media faux pas’.

In my current position, I meet a lot of clients, I always try to be as prepared as possible ahead of meeting someone new and one of the first things I do is review their Linkedin profile − I’d be lying if I said I don’t look them up on Facebook too. I try to find out about the person (do we have any mutual connections, where are they from, where did they study, what are their interests) so I can discover common grounds to help me build rapport and develop a good relationship. Your social media profiles are the ‘you’ you decide to show the digital world. When you are in the situation of looking for a new job the important question to ask yourself is, ‘Is this how I want to project myself to a potential future employer?’

I’m a firm believer of ‘first impressions mean a lot’, when starting any relationship, be it personal or professional. If a potential employer’s first impression of you is based on the ‘digital’ you, it’s crucial that you are comfortable with how you present yourself and it’s suitable for the job or career of your choice. A wise person once said ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and your profile picture can tell a story all on it’s own. What we are never able to control is another person’s opinion, what we can control is how we manage that opinion: is a picture of you in fancy dress at the Rugby 7’s a suitable image you wish to promote? It may well be, depending on industry, etc. but it could also be taken the wrong way.

Employment itself in many ways has become more casual − this can be seen in dress code (remember the power suits in Mad Men?), flexible hours and home working. But what is important to remember is when a company employs us, we represent them as an ambassador of their brand.

When applying for a position, know the company. Does it have the sort of culture that represents something which will engage you and allow you to thrive? Do your research, look at its website and social media accounts (if any) and try to speak to people who work there now or in the past. If you think it looks right for you, consider the way your social media accounts present you and whether your digital appearance is in line with the company. Your picture, your groups, your posts. All of these things can potentially be taken into consideration for your application. Most recruitment agencies would be able to help advise you on how to best present yourself, while keeping the said client in mind.

If you are active on Linkedin (which I recommend), ask former colleagues or clients for recommendations, which will act as additional references for you. Put plenty of detail into your profile, consider it as an extension of your CV. Never be afraid to add your hobbies and interests. All of these are an insight into you outside of work and shows you as a real person.

In 2017 it’s important to remember your social media reputation actually counts! When you apply for a job, employers have the ability to look you up online. Personal branding is paramount in the digital age to ensure you are giving off the right impression. Make sure you are happy with yours.

It’s not the boogieman, it’s self-censorship

Michael Jabri-Pickett, former Head of Digital Operations at The National, talks to TMN about self-censorship in the media industry and how it can effectively be tackled in the UAE…

“Censorship may come in many forms, but what disappoints most people when the subject is discussed is that there is no grim-faced man walking around the newsroom with a red pen reading over reporters’ shoulders pointing nervously at computer screens or gesticulating at an editor’s page proof demanding a story be cut or killed. What happens is much more subtle. What happens is self-censorship.”

The first question I was invariably asked when anyone learnt I was a Journalist at a newspaper in the UAE was a simple one, “How do you deal with all the censorship?” my response was straightforward, “there is no censorship, or at least none we would think of as what traditional censorship – whatever that looks like – might entail.” Anyone who has read any UAE-based news website for more than a few weeks will laugh at my denial, but truth is – as Lord Byron wrote, “stranger than fiction.”

Censorship may come in many forms, but what disappoints most people when the subject is discussed is that there is no grim-faced man walking around the newsroom with a red pen reading over reporters’ shoulders pointing nervously at computer screens or gesticulating at an editor’s page proof demanding a story be cut or killed. What happens is much more subtle. What happens is self-censorship.

Decades ago, my journalism world was black and white, but I failed to understand the desperately needed nuanced approach essential to survive in a newsroom. Papers are closing, financial resources are evaporating and staff layoffs are constantly happening. If you are a journalist in 2017, finding a way to keep the job you love is an increasingly difficult challenge.

All of which means there are reasons why self-censorship exists. It is not that the boogieman is hiding in plain sight – it is the nervous, gentle soul holding out hope that the profession he has cared so much for will somehow improve. You may believe self-censorship is never right, but you must concede there are legitimate reasons why it exists. The editing process at a newspaper is without mystery, I think. Once a reporter has written his story, it will be edited and edited again and proofread and proofread again. There are several pairs of eyes that look critically at a story before it is published.

Imagine this, a veteran journalist with eight years reporting experience in Dubai puts together a story. He has ten points he wants to include in his article. The reporter knows before he writes a word that two of his points will never be allowed to remain, so he doesn’t even include them. Then the first editor to see the copy takes out another two, the next editor removes one, a proofreader drops one more point because he just isn’t sure and doesn’t want to ask anyone and the next pair of eyes in the chain nixes another one simply because he wants to do his job with a certain amount of zeal. A great story with ten points is published with three. Not a proud moment, but a regular occurrence.

Some might claim I have failed to point out that the reporter and the editors in this hypothetical scenario are simply using their knowledge gained from years of experience in the region. This unfortunately is the standard response intended to silence critics. I will acknowledge that on some occasions certain stories should not be published, but I came across too few colleagues who were willing to discuss the issues.

Newspaper journalists in the UAE know their industry is dying. Many senior newspaper journalists in the UAE know this is quite possibly their last chance to do a job they love in a country that is safe and prosperous. No one wants to leave, so the temptation is to protect what they see as the interests of the UAE. As a result, a newspaper journalist will remove from a story anything that he thinks might not help the country. He will act on his own.

It is human nature to protect your job and self-censorship may be self-preservation. What goes against the fibres in a journalist’s being, however, is the absence of a debate. Discussion leads to ideas and thoughts inspire change. This is how we avoid self-censorship, and I believe this is how we move forward.