2016 – Rise of the boutique agency

Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, Founder and Managing Director of TishTash, talks to TMN about the rise of the boutique agency and the new culture in the PR business…

“Whilst many of the big global agencies are reporting one of their worst years ever in 2016, boutique agencies such as ours are reporting record growth…”

When I started my career, some 18 years ago, the agency world order went something like this: Fortune 500 brands were matched up by global agencies with offices across the world − brands who could not afford global agencies would team up with mid-size agencies with key market presence and small, boutique agencies would cater mainly to local businesses and the very occasional big brand projects.

What a difference a decade has made! Five years ago, when I set up TishTash, the order was starting to crumble. And today, big brands are increasingly making the move from the ‘titans of the industry’, with established local offices and vast resources, to startups. So, whilst many of the big global agencies are reporting one of their worst years ever in 2016, boutique agencies such as ours are reporting record growth of over 50% year on year, as well as a doubling in team and office space.

To me, this is not at all baffling. It’s a reflection of the evolving industry and environment at the present: clients’ appetite for social media, influencer partnerships, SEO and content creation is high, and whilst they may not move as fast as they’d like or need to, they certainly expect that their partner agency does.

In my view, at this point in time, a boutique agency presents several intrinsic qualities that can turn it into the right partner for a big, global brand.

The skill set

First off, I feel that today the divide between marketing, media, social and public relations is blurred. Moreover, clients are looking for a communications partner that has all these expertise (and then some) in one room, and knows exactly how to optimise it to their brand’s benefit. Most boutique agencies in the region handle everything (beyond the regular PR scope) from crisis management and media training to media lists and pitching, and even stuffing goodie bags at events. We can prep the CEO for his big broadcast interview and we know what it takes to pitch to Gulf News or Zahrat Al Khaleej. We can assess the timeline for campaigns and the expected results, or the likelihood of collaborating with an influencer. We can do it all, because we do it daily. This mix of strategic thinking and hands-on, practical knowledge makes our workflow better than in most other agency setups, and importantly, drives greater results for our clients.

The client approach

In our agency, for example, we focus only on getting the job done, well and fast. This focus is a necessity. With a small team and lean structure, we can’t fill our day with status meetings. This approach works for clients too as they like to partner with someone who gets their business, is quick to respond and can deal with a myriad of tasks.

Growing solely by word of mouth and referrals, it turns out that size matters less and less even to the biggest of the clients. What they value most is the team they deal with daily. They value knowledge, honesty and passion. That’s not to say that it’s not tricky to scale up to carry out a global assignment!

The culture

I believe that a smaller agency’s culture defines itself quickly, from the fabric of the founder and the core team. Boutique agencies such as ours encourage young individuals to hone their skills in PR in a fun and nurturing environment as well as give the team an opportunity to learn first-hand the ins and outs of running a business. That’s why for us being knowledgeable, hardworking, resourceful, entrepreneurial, open and honest are not empty words.

The team

With a small but strong team, the workflow is direct and effective: there’s no room for things to get miscommunicated or fall through the cracks. Also, a smaller work place fosters a tight knit team that works smarter, faster, better. Clients of all sizes value a fast moving, seasoned and dedicated team that works at their side.


I don’t have a crystal ball to foresee the future of PR agencies, but based on my experience of running one in the last five years, I think a new culture is shaping up, and we should get ready for even more transformations and disruptions ahead.



The evolution of the PR Industry

Isabel Tapp, CEO and Founder, AllDetails Middle East offers her thoughts on the evolution of the PR industry in the region and how PR agencies can adapt to the enormous changes today…

“I strongly believe that all good PR firms these days need to be integrated – incorporating a mixture of PR, marketing and social media as a bare minimum. Of course, this goes hand in hand with traditional specialisations of crisis communications and media relations.”

To put it simply, just as communication evolves, so must PR. I have been working in public relations and marketing my entire life, representing some of the world’s most prestigious brands and the way we worked a decade or so ago, is not the way we work now. Of course, the core principles of traditional PR remain the same, but as we have seen a rapid move to the digitalisation of the communications industry, thanks to both the internet and social media, our practices and strategies have also needed to move forward.

As the owner of an agency that specialises in public relations, I have made a conscious effort over the past few years to approach my recruitment process differently. Instead of solely looking to hire people with an extensive background in agencies, I am looking to hire a team with individual skill sets from a variety of backgrounds – I have qualified journalists and ex-editors forming the core of my senior management team, as well as staff experienced in graphic design, digital marketing and event management. It is because of this wide and varied skill sets amidst a relatively small team that we are able to call ourselves a multi-service communications agency or a hybrid, as I like to refer to us.

I strongly believe that all good PR firms these days need to be integrated – incorporating a mixture of PR, marketing and social media as a bare minimum. Of course, this goes hand in hand with traditional specialisations of crisis communications and media relations.

The principles of PR remain the same, but the change comes in the form of control and direction, by constructing communications strategies for clients that centre on content, both creation and distribution. This incorporates public relations, social media and marketing across traditional and new media and is something that all should be involved in, from the Communications Director to the junior account executives, each person bringing with them a fresh idea and different sense of perspective. The underlying motto does not change – ‘understand your audience’, this is the foundation for great content creation.

I have seen a greater need for having creative and innovative thinkers as part of a team – people that are up to date with current media and global trends, but also possess the foresight to see what is just around the corner and then construct creative strategies for clients in order to capitalise on these new developments. This is effective from not only a public relations point of view, but also a sales and marketing one – ultimately, what all clients want is more sales.

Content creation is key. Having good storytellers at the core creates good stories, whether this is through a traditional press release, social media or curated content for thought leadership – this is the reason why agencies should employ a multi-lingual team. With good content, amplifying it to the target audience is much easier and the creation of avenues for distribution / publication subsequently opens up. The great thing about the skill of storytelling is that with digital PR there are no creative boundaries – you can now engage in ways, which I would once have never imagined possible and that I think, is rather exciting.

We are witnessing a time-lapse view on changes to communication thanks to the rise of social media and the internet – it is now up to agencies to adapt and adapt quickly. For example, traditional print media which was once the core of public relations outreach, is now complemented online by a supporting website which also runs the content. This marks the change in which the world is now digesting information – thus, the internet is immediate.

By constantly adapting our skill sets, agencies are able to work in such a way that tactics of traditional public relations such as press release distribution, reputation management, event coordination and crisis communications are still valid, but now we need to understand SEO and measurable digital tactics too, in order to ensure that our clients get the maximum return on investment. Social media influencers are a great example of where PR teams have had to learn relatively quickly to understand and build contacts with an entirely different form of media altogether. These digital influencers can have just as much brand authority, sometimes even to a greater reach and engagement than traditional media and should not be ignored.

In my many years of working in PR, there has never been a more exciting or challenging time for communications professionals. Adaptability and flexibility must surely be the most important characteristics of any PR professional in this time of change and instantaneous information.

Transparency and trust of sponsored posts

Dubai-based restaurant review website, FoodSheikh who works under an anonymous principle for unbiased dining experiences and reviews, talks about the transparency and trust of sponsored posts by bloggers and PRs in the UAE…

I’m no media expert – when asked to do an op-ed piece, I had to google it before I said yes. There have been a few times in my life when I wish I had googled something before saying yes.

Where there is media, there are adverts and sponsorships. The two are inseparable and reliant on each other. Without one, the other will not survive. So, this is not an exploration on the morals and ethics of sponsorship. This is a brief exploration into the transparency and trust of sponsored posts, specifically in the ridiculous foodie world.

“Hospitality bloggers accept free meals, products or cash to review or promote restaurants and hotels. So what? As consumers, we are not being exposed to anything newit seems it is only the PR and media people that take the most offense to this practice.”  

To quote Garth from comedy film, Wayne’s World, “It’s like, people only do things because they get paid and that’s just really sad.”  He was of course, dressed head to toe in Reebok.


In a recent survey done (admittedly, with a small sample size of 200 people) through FoodSheikh, an overwhelming 92.5% of respondents answered that it is either ‘quite’ or ‘very’ important that bloggers inform their communities if they have received a payment of sorts for the post. In a similar survey done by contently.com, two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realising that a brand sponsored an article or video.

However, it seems some bloggers don’t have the courage to let their community know there is a sponsored post incoming or they try to hide it as if it’s a dirty word or concept. They need to embrace the freebie or acknowledge the payment and be very clear about it. A casual “I was invited to…” doesn’t cut it and neither does the ambiguous “I had the opportunity to visit…” The community deserves more than that.

So, transparency is key – if a blogger is going to accept free meals or trips or cash for a specific content, they have a moral responsibility to clearly inform their community. In the future, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a legal responsibility too. 


I then asked what level of trust do you have in the opinion of bloggers who have been paid to write about an experience or a product.

My apologies to PR companies and bloggers alike out there, but, here’s the thing. Sponsored content has a trust issue. With every sponsored post that is uploaded, the credibility in bloggers diminishes. In the book, The Content Code, Schaefer interviews 50 media content leaders to ask what made their content soar above the rest. There was just one theme that every leader mentioned. Trust. Never, ever, jeopardise trust, they said. Without trust, you’ve got nothing. You’ve got no voice, no credibility, no influence and eventually no sponsors—because products and brands won’t be associated with those attributes for very long.

Sponsored blogging started to emerge properly around 2005/2006 and in ten short years, according to contently.com, over 54% of people already don’t trust sponsored content, in just ten years.

Foodsheikh ran a similar survey and found that a significant 72.5% of respondents had a ‘very low’ or ‘low’ level of trust in the opinion of bloggers that wrote sponsored posts. On the surface, it’s clear that sponsored posts struggle with credibility.

However, scratch that surface a little and it becomes a bit more complicated. Variables such as, how much of a blogger’s content is sponsored, what kind of sponsorship it is or how long someone has been following them and ultimately what the content is, all play a part in determining credibility. If a blogger’s posts were always positive with posts like ‘the best ever’, ‘amazing’ and ‘a must visit’ it would bring the credibility into question.

So, to summarise—if you’ll excuse the pun—we are crystal clear on transparency. Transparency is mandatory.

However, trust, it seems ‘can’ be earned. It just ‘cannot’ be bought.

FoodSheikh received no compensation from The Media Network for this article. Unfortunately.

Online, offline and somewhere in the middle

Hannah MacDonald, Founder, CitiSpi offers her thoughts on the marketing industry in the Middle East and how bridging the gap between offline and online platforms can serve as marketing strategies today…

Dubai’s food, leisure and entertainment scene is exploding with choices and so many options to select from. This has created a competitive landscape that has become fierce with operators working hard to capture the attention of would-be customers to gain their patronage.

“Now more than ever, operators are relying heavily on an integrated marketing platform that combines online and offline marketing and communication strategies – strategies that are built on the fundamental requirements to first know your target audience, so be clear on what you want to tell them and finally, recognise the best way to get that message across.”

Interestingly, while food, leisure and entertainment operators are selling offline experiences, being able to capture the attention of customers in an online environment has become an imperative part of their business strategy. Now more than ever, operators are relying heavily on an integrated marketing platform that combines online and offline marketing and communication strategies – strategies that are built on the fundamental requirement to first know your target audience, so be clear on what you want to tell them and finally, recognise the best way to get that message across.

By putting in the time and energy into getting your baseline right, you are putting yourself in good stead to bridge the gap between an offline and online experience. In fact, this is a trend we are not only witnessing, but also a part of – watching and experiencing the incredible rise in the use of platforms that combine online and offline experiences. It’s a trend I see continuing well into the future and one that I think will become more prominent. So, we are constantly looking at ways to harness the power of communications and maximise reach by combining online discovery with offline socialising – bringing together like-minded people to get Dubai’s residents and visitors to socialise smarter.

I think all forward-thinking businesses in our sector are looking to find a happy medium and balance somewhere in the middle of online and offline environments where we are able to successfully cut through the marketing noise. If you take the food and beverage sector as an example, there are numerous companies pushing places to eat and various promotions in and around town. However, with so many choices, it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you. Add to the mix the ever-increasing fame of influencers, who are changing the marketing and communication paradigm and you end up with a lot of competitive clutter to cut through.

Because of the shift, we see an opportunity to embrace this change and to pursue collaboration opportunities that are meaningful and relevant – engaging influencers who your target audiences relate to and who you can help facilitate active social engagement. It is a great way to bridge the online and offline environment, to cut through the competition and bring people together. In doing this, we can make socialising smarter, accessible, exciting and affordable – by bringing people together and closing the gap between offline and online socialising, which is my vision at CitiSpi.

When you can do this well, authentically and consistently, consumer’s confidence in your brand grows exponentially. Marry this with a relentless effort to continually find out more about what your customers will respond best to when they’re somewhere in the middle, and you’ll find your happy medium.

Three obvious reasons your press release got ignored

Fida Chaaban, Chief Communications Officer, KBW Investments offers her thoughts on the reasons why press releases get ignored and gives easy to follow rules on how to avoid this…

Communications professionals, your client’s worthwhile news is being sidelined because your overall messaging – whether or not the client has imposed this on your conceptual development – is often convoluted or incomplete.”

Having spent a decade and a half as a Journalist and as someone who’s still actively engaged in the media space, here are three of my no-brainer aspects to avoid when dealing with the press.

Although this piece is very opinion-based and has no established metric to draw on, I am able to confirm that many of my journalist friends and former colleagues agree with me on the following points.

Communications professionals, your client’s worthwhile news is being sidelined because your overall messaging – whether or not the client has imposed this on your conceptual development – is often convoluted or incomplete.

Currently, as the Chief Communications Officer at KBW Investments, I deal with a wide range of our portfolio companies and I can assure you that despite the very huge difference between heavy machinery (Raimondi Cranes) and hospitality (Novotel Expo Sharjah), these three rules have held true for all our messaging efforts.

I’m going to use some examples from press releases that people have sent me in the past as good benchmarks to land the right type of press attention. (And for those wondering why I’m not using bad examples as the “don’t” list, it’s because I don’t think naming and shaming is productive.)

Jargon and fluff

If I open up a press release and I can’t figure out what it really means in the first four lines, I’m gearing up to hit delete. Remember that an editor’s job is to process the information you’re sharing and regurgitate things of interest with some decent rounding out of the material. Your client’s “vision” followed by a whole slew of industry-specific descriptors is often very alienating. Take it down a notch! The journalists who specialise in this specific type of reporting will use the jargon (if and when) it’s appropriate in the generated coverage. Don’t alienate the rest of your mailing list by imposing it on the already-overextended media in the actual release. CompareIt4Me avoids inaccessible language and chatter particularly well. Despite being a startup that works in the financial space, the company uses very accessible language that journalists with elementary financial literacy can process.


It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get coverage in a B2B or a mass title, print, web or both. Images are always appreciated by editors who have neither the time (and often lack the resources) to source a visual for your piece. Try as hard as you possibly can to ensure you are providing the media with proper resolution images in landscape and in portrait formats. Another quick tip, don’t send the extreme high resolution set in an email, instead offer the Editor a clean download link for larger shots. But your “client doesn’t like pictures”? Then your client doesn’t like big glossy coverage. You are more likely to get nice placement if you supply relevant, solid imagery. Mojo PR once pitched a businessperson to me during my time as EIC of Entrepreneur MENA. They supplied stellar bio images that ultimately landed the client the cover of Entrepreneur Qatar. This was a cold-call pitch from an account executive I had never dealt with and she really delivered in spades.

Self-serving spam

An ongoing barrage of press releases about your client’s social calendar and public appearances is both ridiculous and ineffectual. Let me be clear, no one cares. Let me be even more clear, such memos start to give the media the idea that your client is desperate for attention and increasingly irrelevant – quite the opposite of what your objectives are, I’m sure. While I know that some clients just won’t take no for an answer, save yourself from the spam folder by pushing back as much as you can. As a Journalist and Editor, some PR people were marked spam by me after the third time I received nonsense of this sort. Your client visiting their own offices in Bangkok, for example, is not press-worthy (even if you have high resolution imagery and even if a whole list of dignitaries was present). Your client presenting an award internally to one of the company employees also qualifies as an immediate delete, so do all the do-gooder press releases like ‘We donated X amount of money to the worker’s association’ – you get the idea. In this regard, I have numerous good examples. Based on my experience, the Four Seasons never communicates unless they have a pretty relevant announcement, although hospitality editors might have a different view of this. Similarly, financial institutions like banks – except for one that I know of – by and large, communicate with restraint and relevance as well.

Editors reading this may be thinking that I forgot to mention frequency, length and coherence, in addition to a slew of other unattractive communication “don’ts”. For the purposes of length, I restricted this list to three easy to avoid rules of thumb. Feel free to tweet your opinions at me @Fida and I look forward to hearing from you.

Are PR Professionals in Danger of Extinction?

Heidi Myers, Marketing Director, Meltwater EMEA, gives her thoughts on how today’s PR professionals cope with the growing popularity of social media and the different outlets opened up for communication…

“I do not believe that PR will become extinct but the PR professionals of today need different skill sets. He/she should be able to navigate the world of digital media, be adept with social media monitoring tools, understand the mindset of millennials who dominate social media and be able to provide new measures to justify ROI.”

With the growing popularity of social media and the various outlets it has opened up for communication, the PR profession is going through a sea-change. PR is no longer a one way communication, for news that you post, there are hundreds of comments from end users in split seconds. How will today’s PR professionals cope with all of these changes and how will they measure the impact of stories that go viral?

I do not believe that PR will become extinct but the PR professionals of today need different skill sets. He/she should be able to navigate the world of digital media, be adept with social media monitoring tools, understand the mindset of millennials who dominate social media and be able to provide new measures to justify ROI.

Here are my top three tips on staying valuable both in house and in an agency:

Offer credibility and strategic counsel

With the increasing number of posts from citizen journalists, one of the main concerns that journalists and the public have is the credibility of their source. This is where a PR professional can make a difference. Provide well-researched stories with statistics and comments from industry leaders that you have access to. Foresee a crisis before it happens and counsel clients on the proper response to contain the social media storm following a crisis. Become the trusted counsellor of your clients and the credible point of contact for media and the public.

Offer value added services

Step up your efforts to become the expert communicator. Provide value added services like training for in house communications department on how to manage social media, crisis communications and media training for top management, blog management, social media monitoring tools and analysis of big data to help companies dig out valuable data regarding consumer engagement and influencer management.

Step up on the creativity and relationships

Creative stories still see the light of day and today with the help of social media, they can go viral, creating a much stronger impact. Tell authentic stories with a human angle. People still buy people. Be sure to keep in touch with your contacts. In today’s connected world, there are so many ways to keep in touch and also to create new contacts online.

With the right approach, PR professionals can succeed in today’s digitalised world.

Under the influence

Farah Souhail, Marketing Manager at Meltwater, talks about how to make influencer marketing work more effectively….

Influencers are people that drive knowledge and opinion, they also have an ‘influence’ over their followers, hence their title. Influencers on social media pop up more and more every day and brands across the GCC as well as the wider MENA region have teamed up with many of them in an attempt to deliver their messages more effectively. However, identifying the right influencers and measuring Return On Investment (ROI) remains an area of struggle for many brands, both regionally and globally.

From a marketer’s perspective, there are a number of ways in which you can master influencer marketing; setting targets and understanding your influencer’s brand rank highly among these. Here are ten of the things that I believe marketers can do to master influencer marketing and ensure that they not only choose the best influencer for their brand, but utilise their skills and knowledge in the optimum way.

Define your goals

Define the objective(s) of your influencer outreach program. Are you looking to:

  • increase brand awareness?
  • generate leads/boost sales?
  • position yourself as a thought leader?
  • reach a new audience?
  • remain relevant among your target audience?

Defining your short term and long term goals will help you select the right influencer, design your campaign’s content, as well as the methods to track and measure the success of your influencer marketing strategy.

Remember – Influencers are brands too!
It is essential for marketers to understand that influencers – those who are on top of their game – are brands too! Influencers have a loud voice, a substantial audience and create high quality content which can inspire people to communicate and engage with them. They understand their follower base, what they are interested in and how to impact with them. Approach your influencer as a partner and brief him/her about your campaign objectives, timing and message delivery to ensure optimal alignment and control.

Authenticity and consistency should be key
As a marketer you have a story (narrative) that you want to communicate with your audience. Influencers are people who can narrate your story. Today’s media is in the control of the consumers and people online are not interested in the brand as much as in the people that they engage with. To attract your influencer’s audience and to achieve the desired behavioural response, your influencer’s content needs to be authentic, consistent and able to create an emotional connection. Immerse your story into the lifestyle of your engager and think of ways to create a meaningful content that has a lasting impact.

Ensure that you team up with the right influencer for the right campaign
Selecting the right influencer is an art that today’s marketers need to master. Don’t just look at numbers when considering an influencer. Go for people that are not only likeable and trustworthy but have a social proof, are able to drive engagement with their followers and are an authority in their field.

While influencer marketing often involves social media engagers, there are other types and categories for you to choose from including:

  • family and friends
  • industry experts
  • bloggers/vloggers and product reviewers
  • journalists and media professionals
  • celebrities

Your message, branding guidelines, tone of voice and campaign goals should be your compass when selecting the right influencer and remember, sometimes the less-obvious influencers can be a better fit for your brand and campaign objectives than those with the highest followings.

Don’t go for quick wins
To be liked and trusted by your influencer’s followers you need to connect your brand with the influencer’s lifestyle and overall brand image. Teaming up with your competitor’s influencer or randomly appearing on the timeline of your influencer’s followers via a tweet or a post will not have much of an impact in todays short memory span. Forge long term relationships with your influencer and help them to think strategically too, in order to help build consistency and trust. Think of ways to launch creative, memorable campaigns that help you engage more effectively with the audience to reap the desired ROI.

It is also important to see things from the perspective of your brand/influencer. As influencer marketing is a lot more personal and targeted than some forms of marketing, this point of view is invaluable when it comes to planning your campaign. A few things to take into consideration from this perspective would be:

Try to identify the right influencer for the right product and the right platform
Brands should not just look at numbers when selecting an influencer. There are other, more important factors that should determine who is the right influencer for your brand. Things to consider include:

  • influencer’s hobbies, interests and lifestyle
  • influencers that believe in your product or service
  • the platform(s) the influencer is active on

An influencer with a massive following on Facebook may not be the right engager if the majority of your audience happens to be on Twitter. Similarly, an influencer who pursues an active lifestyle and is known for his passion for outdoor adventures and technology may not be the right person for promoting a male moisturising product. Such an influencer may very well use a moisturiser in his daily life, yet his brand (lifestyle) and the content he creates may not be the right fit for your product.

Reciprocity should be key
As a marketer you need to help influencers give back to their followers. Think of ways you can add value to the influencer’s audience. Find out about your influencer’s hobbies and interests and those of their followers. Employ these insights to create ‘bespoke’ influencer content that resonates with their audience. Influencer content types that allow for reciprocity include:

  • special offers and discounts
  • access to exclusive events and positive experiences

– these could; include; movie premieres or product launches –

  • competitions and prizes

Work with influencers to create engaging, memorable content
Appearing randomly on an influencer’s timeline will not benefit anyone. Consumers are smart and can see immediately whether a post is organic or is pushed for commercial reasons. Approach your influencer as a partner with whom you can brainstorm and bounce ideas on how you can best deliver your message. Remember, your influencer understands their audience, what inspires them and how to engage with them effectively.

Always allow for creative freedom
Good influencers understand branding and are good at creating engaging content. Tell your influencer about your campaign, message and delivery guidelines and he/she will know how to deliver your message in the right way – the way that resonates with their followers. A highly polished image that doesn’t reflect the influencer’s lifestyle and personality will quickly be seen as an advertorial.

Make sure you define your campaign ROI
Brands are advised to define what they are aiming to achieve from an influencer outreach program before hiring an influencer. Many techniques have been used in influencer marketing to help brands measure their ROI, such as page views, demand generation and lead conversation that result in an increase in sale and impact revenue.

Define your campaign goals and matrix; then communicate that with your influencer so that everyone is aligned. Keep these points in mind and ensure that your influencer marketing campaign stays on-brand.

The write stuff

Angela Boshoff Hundal, Founder, Head of Copy and Creative Director at Scribe tells us why the art of copywriting should be embraced, rather than dismissed

“The value of carefully constructed and expertly crafted written language seems to have shrunk, which means that we’re all seeing (and getting) more and more emails, push notifications, SMS messages, marketing collateral and other written content containing atrocious spelling, shocking grammar and bad vocabulary.”

“You creative types are so misunderstood,” a man at a dinner party once said to me when I revealed that I was a copywriter. “What is it exactly that copywriters do again?”

It’s a fair question, and I don’t think he was being nasty or sarcastic when he asked it. He did look genuinely perplexed, which is why I didn’t mind explaining to him – and the rest of the dinner guests, who had all turned towards me like flowers to the sun – what exactly a copywriter does. “It’s simple really,” I said, smiling as broadly as I could. “We write copy for a living.”

“Ah!” a woman exclaimed, evidently enlightened. “What are you working on at the moment?”

“Are you working on any books?” someone piped up.

“Scripts?” another asked.

“Not at the moment…” I responded, deflated.

“Oh,” came the reply. The silence was awkward. You could almost hear their inner chatter: I thought copywriting was more exciting than that. What happens next?

Look, I know it’s hard for some people to get their heads around. I’m doing a job that they may never even have thought existed until they met me. What’s so special about copywriters anyway? I mean, everyone can write, right? Wrong. The truth is, people who go around claiming everyone can write are the same ones that send text messages like “c u l8r” or write sentences like “your the best writer”. They would breezily pop an apostrophe in the word banana’s and not see what they’ve done wrong. Apostrophic bananas are a copywriting catastrophe. (As is using the word ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ in the sentence above.) These are the sorts of typos that keep copywriters – or protectors of the written word, as I like to call them – up at night. Our fear of errors makes us read and reread an article five times and then once backwards (that is an actual proofreading technique, by the way) to make sure we haven’t used hyphens instead of en-dashes, or that we’ve not drafted our copy with incomplete comparisons or in passive voice. Not sure what I’m on about? That’s okay. It’s probably because you’re not a writer.

One of the hardest parts of my job is getting people – even very experienced professionals with fancy degrees – to wrap their heads around the fact that copywriting is a skill that took time to learn, or that it requires hard work and dedication to pull off. Many don’t realise that someone had to sit down and write whatever it is that they read that morning, from the words on their shampoo bottle to the cooking instructions on the back of the packet of oats. Hopefully, a writer even crafted the text message that popped up to alert above-mentioned people to the fact that the driver from the chauffeur-driven car service was downstairs to take them to work. Those words were created with conviction and determination. It took time, effort and probably rather a lot of coffee.

Aside from knowing our semicolons from our umlauts, copywriters are crucial to helping develop a brand’s style and tone of voice. That’s just one of the reasons why we like to be included in a project from the very beginning, instead of being squished in right at the end like the last passenger on the Tokyo subway train at rush hour. Our input is valuable and can impact the way people view and interact with a business on a direct level. Yet many companies still aren’t quite convinced of our worth. I have a theory: I believe that because the modern world is a very visual place, many businesses are bias towards the visual arts (which are VERY important, make no mistake), which means they might overlook copywriting a little. While most corporations wouldn’t ask one of their existing employees to “quickly design something”, many believe that they can get someone to bash out a bit of copy because they don’t think – or maybe they don’t know – that writing requires the same amount of skill. A writer shouldn’t be expected to just “quickly-write-something-up-because-it’s-short-and-won’t-take-time”. If I had a Dirham for every time I heard that statement I’d be a very rich woman.

On the topic of money, it’s a sad fact that many are quick to judge even a reasonable copywriting fee. If you’re someone who thinks that the cost of good writing is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad writing. A 2013 Global Lingo study revealed that people take spelling very seriously, with three quarters (74%) of web users paying attention to the quality of spelling and grammar on company websites, and more than half (59%) of people saying they would avoid doing business with a company that made obvious spelling or grammar mistakes.

Once upon a time, bad spelling and poor grammar would have been intolerable, but the lazy everyday communication that’s come about as a result of the hectic lives we lead seems to be spilling over into corporate communication, too. The value of carefully constructed and expertly crafted written language seems to have shrunk, which means that we’re all seeing (and getting) more and more emails, push notifications, SMS messages, marketing collateral and other written content containing atrocious spelling, shocking grammar and bad vocabulary.

So, fellow protectors of the written word, it’s up to us to teach one and all about the value of our work. If people don’t get it, we need to hammer away at our keyboards until they do. So, Montblancs at the ready and laptops open. Let’s use the power of well-crafted copy for the good of us all.

Media branding for Generation Z

James Pass, Managing Director and Creative Principle at JPd, offers his thoughts on future marketing audiences and how to effectively target them…

 “It’s time to be brave enough to tell your story and be ready for an open conversation with your audience.”

With 34% of the UAE market under 24 years old, it is time to realise that what we know about Millennials is no longer enough. Generation Z, those born after 1995, are expected to be the largest group of consumers by 2020, and they portray a whole new set of characteristics and demands. The true characteristics of this category are still being observed and analysed by marketers, and while there is some quite contradicting data, there are still a couple of trends we can underline to prepare your brand for the dynamic consumer of tomorrow.

So what is Generation Z all about? Generation Z are an independent, confident and quite honest consumer group. Young customers have characteristics such as short attention spans and the ability to multitask, – they’re also constantly online. They save money rather than spend, care for the environment, make decisions based on the recommendations of friends and reviews online, and see adverts as a thing of a past. This new consumer is no longer looking for a “YOLO”-style ad campaign or a direct sale, they require a more inspiring, honest and engaging way to communicate with a brand. The market is changing drastically and as a branding agency, we need to be keeping an eye on all the new trends that Generation Z is bringing us today.

When it comes to media segment, there are two essential brand elements we would recommend that you look at: authentic story and social responsibility.

It’s time to be brave enough to tell your story and be ready for an open conversation with your audience. Gen Z is the most bold and confident generation so far and they will connect with brands that have things in common with their own identity and thus help them to express themselves. Companies that embrace a softer side and move away from institutional identities in favour of more personable characteristics, young customers will relate to more.

Generation Z wants to connect with brands on an emotional level, and they won’t speak to a faceless company. It’s time to determine what your company is really about– why it exists in the market and how it benefits the community. This will help you to focus on the right digital platforms and messaging. There are many ways you can open up to your consumer: engage on social media, reveal behind-the-scenes, ask for opinion, replace staged photos and replicated messages with more spontaneous and honest stories, and so on. Just think of it this way: do not push marketing strategies too hard, you will need to co-create with Generation Z, treating them as your partner, not a target audience.

Your social responsibility activities are another tool that can help build your story. Generation Z was born and shaped by a world of risk; from news on global warming to recent financial crises. They see a problem and they aim to fix it. According to recent research, six in 10 of consumers between 16-20 years old prefer to buy products from a company that helps to shape a better world.

As an entrepreneur, I strive to follow my personal beliefs and value them above any financial gain. Following the humanitarian trend from Generation Z, I would encourage companies to think of various ways in which they could utilise their internal resources to make a difference. Be it an Earth hour, paper recycling, being more selective on a client range – would you partner with a company who runs animal testing? – or offering pro-bono or barter services to non-profit organisations. Companies should remain creative and think of different external and internal activities true to their band to contribute in a simple way.

Print is not dead but, perhaps, the traditional publishing houses are.

Harry Norman, Managing Director, FlipFlop Media, gives his thoughts on how traditional publishing houses in the UAE will need to evolve in order to keep print media a relevant commodity…

“Print is not dead, but it has changed massively in the last five years. The days of high page rates and paid subscriptions are coming to an end. It is not that print doesn’t offer value, it’s that the publishing houses in the UAE do not understand what this value is.”

At the start of every year, a number of media-heads begin to hammer the final nails into the newspaper-shaped coffin that is print. The continued shift towards social engagement, content marketing and online advertising routinely rings alarm bells for the publishing industry and, if certain sources are to be believed, job cuts, the closing of publications and empty order books are spelling the end of print media in the GCC.

What a load of rubbish!

As a media house that utilises print platforms, we at FlipFlop Media have never seen a better commercial pre-book than now, taking in to consideration all of our prior publishing experience. At no point have any of our clients or readers declined collaboration because content is not dynamic or topical enough and, ironically, it is our digital platforms which presently require the most attention.

The reason for this success is simple. Print is not dead, but it has changed massively in the last five years. The days of high page rates and paid subscriptions are coming to an end. It is not that print doesn’t offer value, it’s that the publishing houses in the UAE do not understand what this value is. I repeat, print is not dead, but perhaps, ‘traditional’ publishing houses are.

When establishing a company that deals with print media, it’s important to understand the need to a) stand out and b) offer real value.We believe that diversification is key to this, and we currently find ourselves committed to being the only Business to Government media group that offers a new niche focus as well as value for our partners. Using a print platform as a vehicle for engagement within public-private partnerships, allows for the undertaking of activities that not only bring about real RoI for the client, but also drive forward the sectors that each of our publications is focusing on.

A prime example of this would be how SMEs are struggling for growth and so, working with the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, we created the Knowledge Series so that CEOs could better understand how they could grow their businesses. The key here was diversification and shifting away from what was traditional and dwindling, to where the need is and where we – and our partners – want to be.

Using the influence of print media and connecting the dots for clients can put publishing houses in the unique position of assisting in both powerful marketing activities and effective business development. Providing genuine value is also key as spending from clients can, and will, double (at least) from each contract if they’re carried out effectively.

We have print platforms – and we love them. So much so, that we invest massively into the design and quality of every page. This offers readers a visually rich, immersive experience of thought-provoking content and premium branding that a mobile or computer screen simply cannot provide.

As long as media houses can offer this kind of real value to clients, then print platforms will thrive. Perhaps consumer publishing and newspapers are on the final goodbye tour, but they should be leading in the digital arena. If not, then maybe they should regret having focused so much on commerce and so little on content.

Just like when a king passes and new monarch is declared, the print industry is not dead but is seeing a change of order. When we launched Future Cities we started with ‘as your industry changes, so must your dedicated media platforms.’ We have welcomed the change, and suggest that you do too.