Are celebrity endorsements a good thing?

With Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman fronting new campaigns for Emirates and Etihad respectively, we want to know – do celebrity endorsements help brand image?

“NO” says Roger Hawa, Managing Partner and Strategic Communications Director, Republique Dubai

RogerHawaIt’s become so popular to see celebs tweeting and raving about brands they endorse that it has become increasingly hard to stop the cynicism from creeping in.”

Although I would usually take the pro side in a debate such as this today, I have decided to probe the perils of such endorsements. In todays’ world, celebrity endorsements don’t just take the form of adverts. Celebrities are also paid to tweet and post about the brands they endorse and this has added yet another dimension to this type of marketing. Thanks to social media, we now know what these celebrities had for breakfast, as well as what they did the night before. It’s become so popular to see celebs tweeting and raving about brands they endorse that it has become increasingly hard to stop the cynicism from creeping in.

So why aren’t celebrity endorsements necessarily a good thing? There are far more reasons than we would care to admit…

Celebrity overexposure: It would appear that certain celebrities will slap their names on almost anything and everything. David Beckham, Nancy Ajram, Amitabh Bachchan immediately spring to mind, with each personality far more recognisable than the numerous brands that they endorse. Because of this, marketers run the risk of consumers remembering such celebrities rather than the brands that they are supposed to be endorsing and this dramatically lessens the impact of supporting each brand individually and creatively.

Celebrity downfall: Stars, we are told, are only human and therefore are capable of making mistakes and creating a few scandals. I doubt anyone will ever forget the Tiger Woods scandal? And sadly for his sponsor, we also remember the brand he was associated with at the time. Again, in today’s highly wired social world, these scandals now travel a lot faster with a much higher reach and frequency, making damage control for brands much more difficult. So just as famous personalities can bring business in instantly, they can just as easily take it away.

The celebrity may eclipse the brand: Some celebrities are really popular and, although they might bring in immediate awareness and wide recognition to the brand, they can also outshine the brand/product. There are two brands – the personal brand as well as the product itself – that are then at play through this approach and the two will be fighting for the same eyeballs and hearts. Sadly for marketers, consumers tend to fall for the celebrity in this type of competition.

Celebrity brand matching: It is crucial for a brand to choose a celebrity that best matches the values and attributes of the brand being endorsed, or the consequences can be disasterous. An example of mismatching was the use of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in a recent Balmain campaign. This was definitely a subjective choice, but in my opinion matching a timeless and successful fashion house with a much ridiculed and controversial couple is highly questionable. This is a brand that prides itself on taste and class… can we say the same things about these two endorsers?

I’ll end it on that note.

“YES” says Olga Kudryashova, Head of Strategic Planning, Cheil Worldwide

 OlgaCollaboration, such as that between Pharrell Williams and adidas Originals, not only elevates the brand image, but builds a unique, undeniable bond between the brand, the endorser and the people”

Across many languages, there is a saying: “Tell me who your friends are and I can tell who you are.” If we look at celebrity endorsers as “friends” of the brand then there is no doubt they can have an imprint on a brand’s image – adding a premium touch, fueling ‘talk-ability’, strengthening credibility and more. The difference between now and the pre-social media age is that today celebrity endorsements, as a marketing tool, can be exploited at more depth and a larger scale.

To thrive in the so-called human era, brands need to build more trusted connections by adopting behavior that is more human than institutional. Getting closer to consumers is impossible without being genuine, interesting and relevant. The days of “fans” are gone. Friendship is what counts now. This shift is very clear, especially in social media and messaging apps. The popularity of friends and family groups is growing rapidly. The new players in the messaging business, such as Line, allow you to add celebrities to your friends list.

But the success of an endorsement, and consequently its impact on the brand’s image, depends on how genuine the friendship appears to the consumers. The moment people feel the relationship is fake they stop believing. Influencers can be considered a new form of endorsement. But their credibility fades away if people realise that they are saying nice things about a brand or a product just because they are being paid for it. How believable can a friendship between a haute couture fashionista and Shoe Mart be realistically? The same applies to product placements. While Aston Martin and James Bond have a life-long affair, the producers are obviously paid a fortune to feature a Sony smartphone.

The secret of an effective endorsement at all times has been the personality fit. Friendship is about common values, about knowing and complementing each other, sharing the social context. If the connection between the brand and the endorser is deep-rooted and obvious, a broad arsenal of tools is available for that brand to tell the friendship story and create talking points around the brand in the circles of its endorser.

It is worth noting that a new form of “friendship” between brands and celebrities is evolving that does not require any proof of authenticity – collaboration. Rather than endorsing the final product as it goes to market, celebrities are invited to co-create value at a much earlier stage. Collaboration, such as Pharrell Williams and adidas Originals, not only elevates the brand image, but builds a unique, undeniable bond between the brand, the endorser and the people. In these instances, it can clearly be seen how celebrity endorsements can help boost a brand’s image.

Do rebrands really work?

Following two tragic disasters in the space of six months in 2014, Malaysian Airlines has confirmed a rebrand is underway in a bid to rescue its ailing reputation. We ask, can rebrands truly be successful or are they simply seen as calculated cover ups?

“YES” says Kate Walkom, Media Executive, UM MENA

KateWalkom“How to rebrand a tragedy of this magnitude is a heavy burden to bear for Malaysian Airlines, but it is a necessary one”

Yes. If Malaysian Airlines can masterfully regain the trust and confidence of the public through due diligence, supported by visual reference to the new brand promises in the form of a well-done rebrand, this will determine future success for the company.

A brand is not just a name. It is a promise. A reassurance; A responsibility; A principle. A core set of values that are signified by a sub-conscious emotion. Unfortunately for Malaysian Airlines that subconscious is negatively charged and at the time of the incidents was only further exacerbated by poor crises management. This negative subconscious surrounding the brand is the reason a rebrand is necessary.

Delivering on the promise made is critical to any brand. Rebranding can be merely cosmetic. The core values and strategic pillars that underpin said rebrand will need to be cohesive and deliverable across the board consistently to make it successful. No airline can, or should, guarantee safety as it’s not wholly deliverable as a promise. But they can make the promise to do all they can and use tactics to reinforce this through the process of rebranding. It’s marketing 101. It’s B2B as well as B2C. It is also internal corporate structure, equipment, training and assessing key safety and security issues as part of the process of recovery. Go back to basics. Assess the market. Clever restructuring, re-positioning and a strong communications program coupled with segmented marketing and a timely refresh is all part of the process of rebuilding trust and confidence, especially in an industry like aviation.

Malaysian Airlines. Google it. The search results are not pretty. A re-think is absolutely necessary. A rebrand is part of that process. I agree that it is one way for the airline to distance itself. People may still perceive a cover up. But that is why timing is critical or it will simply be only vanilla icing to mask a bitter taste.

Rebrands are often successful. We see it every day by way of celebrity and multinationals. But at what cost? By this I don’t mean financial costs. What we have here is two consecutive and devastating tragedies with over 500+ lives lost. That is the cost. How to rebrand a tragedy of this magnitude is a heavy burden to bear for Malaysian Airlines, but it is a necessary one should they wish to continue.

The airline needs to show both accountability and responsibility in order to pay respect to the lives lost. Think of the seven stages of grieving; denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance and hope. Malaysian Airlines needs to perform some thorough research and heavily weigh in how they should re-brand. Are they simply bargaining with the public through this re-brand? Or can they intuitively time the exact moment when the public is open to acceptance and hope to provide the same by way of re-brand? That is the question we are yet to have answered. The airline has the opportunity to triumph if it can promise what it delivers (and yes, the whole world is watching).

“NO” says Ross Bethall, Director of Strategy, Cicero & Bernay

 RossBethell1“The fact that a brand is made up of so much more than a visual identity means that merely changing a logo will never be sufficient.”

Plain and simple: rebranding efforts that rely on changing visual identities don’t work. And they never will work.

From a strategic perspective, a rebrand does nothing more than alter the look and feel of the brand. It does not change the substance that makes up the brand – the brand’s ‘personality.’

To illustrate my point, imagine having a work colleague you really dislike. Perhaps they are lazy, mean-spirited or have a selfish personality. If this person has a haircut and shows up to the office with a smart new wardrobe, they may look totally different, but their personality remains the same. It’s just their outward appearance that is new.

The same holds true for brands. Regardless of changes that might be made to a brand’s visual identity, it’s their personality that is the most-important aspect that needs addressing. This entails going far beyond how the organisation is presented on business cards, the side of delivery vans and even airplane tails.

One of my favourite examples of a rebrand ‘fail’ concerns the UK’s Royal Mail; the country’s national postal service. For two years, the organisation tried to change its name to ‘Consignia’ in an effort to shift perceptions away from it being just being a mail delivery company. The rebrand result involved a new logo and a new name, but the company’s poor customer service, shabby outlet interiors, increasing prices remained unchanged – negative attributes that led to a continued erosion of customer loyalty.

Make no mistake, I have worked with – and currently work with -exceptional, award-winning graphic designers who have successfully developed corporate looks for organisations, products and service. I have also seen visual identities refreshed successfully in order to breathe new life into the look and feel of the brand, with the brand personality remaining essentially unchanged. Their identity was merely updated.

Effective rebranding is a successful understanding of what constitutes a brand’s personality. It is a complex set of characteristics and emotions that come together to form a distinctive perception among customers.  This perception – the ‘brand experience’ – is an emotional connection that develops from such factors as organisational goals, culture, the uniqueness of the product or service, its relevance to customers, trust, employee behaviour, product quality and other touch points… to name just a few. The fact that a brand is made up of so much more than a visual identity means that merely changing a logo will never be sufficient. Only rebrands that cut to the core of brand personality can be successful. Visual rebrands alone cannot work.

Can anyone pick up a camera and be considered a photographer?

With high-quality cameras readily available on the market, we ask – is it possible for anyone with an SLR to be considered a photographer despite length of experience and qualifications?

NO says Sean McEwan, Photographer and Owner,

SeanMcEwan“Before I even bought my first SLR years ago, I had swamped myself with books and magazines and did not look up from them for a long time”

If you think picking up a camera makes you a photographer then you might want to consider a reality check.

I can’t argue that it isn’t one of the many steps you’ll need to take on the very long journey that will lead to you becoming a photographer, but you must understand that a Digital SLR is just a tool that takes time to learn, very much like learning a language with new jargon. More importantly you must learn an understanding of ever-changing lighting conditions. Light is everything in photography, without wanting to state the obvious, without it there would be no photography (or even people). Using a camera with the intimate knowledge of how it works will allow you to work in unison with light, later on, when you have your own flash lights particularly, you really do need to understand how the two relate together.

Before I even bought my first SLR years ago, I had swamped myself with books and magazines and did not look up from them for a long time. I had what I call ‘The Bug’, it’s an addictive all consuming need to use and translate your visual perception – how you translate what you see into photos. It’s easy to spot a potentially great photographer – they’re the ones who will harass you with a million questions. That insatiable need for knowledge is very powerful and over rules some random need for a nice camera, which in many cases is just another show of materialistic gadget-ism.

I have seen many people over the years getting too heavily involved over the brand of camera that they use – usually either Nikon or Canon. Just make the choice then please move on, these days most SLR’s seem to be equally good. I use Nikon because all the controls on their system are second nature for me to find now and I’m a loyal customer.

For me, a proficient photographer must be able to have an all round ability to analyse varied environments/scenarios/subjects you want to photograph as well as have an understanding of how to translate it via your camera(set to manual) into the photograph you want. These skills don’t come over night the moment you buy a camera.

YES, say Alin Constantin, Photographer

Alin“A passion for photography is what drives good photographers and it’s that passion that makes us exceptional at our work”

Anyone can be a photographer, with the right drive and mentality. I picked up my first DSLR camera around three years ago, while I was working for a content agency at a large music concert in Dubai. The photography bug grew in me straight away, and I was instantly addicted to being behind the camera (which made perfect sense as I hate being in front of it). The key to excellent photography is practice, not infinite industry experience or qualifications.

Learning photography on the job, and learning by doing is how great photographers hone their craft. I remember thinking to myself, upon buying my first mid-range DSLR, a Canon 60D; How difficult could this photography business really be? It’s just point and shoot, right? And while I realise now how wrong I was to just try leaving the camera in Auto and hoping for the best, my experience gained through this ‘trial by fire’ attitude has gotten me where I am today. The more photographs you take and the better you understand your camera, they better you become – take this from someone who now has experience!

There are many things that I wish someone had taught me when I first picked up a camera, things like:

  • Learn to shoot in Manual Mode
  • Shoot in raw, not JPEG
  • Photography Is an expensive profession
  • Mastering photography won’t happen overnight

You will note that none of these points involve putting as many fancy titles or qualifications on a CV as possible. They simply require time, patience and a few practical skills. A passion for photography is what drives good photographers and it’s that passion that makes us exceptional at our work.

Making contacts is always a good thing in this industry – my first real big break was working for a private yacht party at the Abu Dhabi Formula 1, where I made a lot of contacts, resulting in being asked to do events for various promoters. Since then, I’ve worked with brands like Alshaya, Adidas, Top Shop and Miss Selfridges. And all of this work came from being passionate about my work and having my skills recognised. Yes, experience does help, but experience is not a replacement for an eye for photography or the willingness to work hard to hone your skills.

My own photography has continued to go from strength-to-strength, leading to my own business, Dubai Event Photography, which I started in January 2015. I’m still learning new techniques and ways to shoot every single day, and because of this, I’m still getting better. In the relatively short three years it’s been since I first decided to become a photographer, my lack of qualifications is not something that has hindered me, and is definitely not something I regret.

Should dress codes be strictly enforced?

After the heelgate debacle at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, we ask, is it appropriate for event planners to turn away guests due to them not strictly adhering to a specified dress code?

“NO” says Mehdi Mabrouk, Journalist, Mediaquest Corp

MedhiMabrook“Nobody should have the right to dictate what you should wear, even if it’s just for one night”

Certain dress codes are quite restrictive and unpractical, from heels to colours or even the entire theme of an event. As an event planner or even a host, you want people to attend your function, have fun and talk about it. So turning away guests if they do not follow a set dress code is a risky business. Unless they are explained item-by-item, in social functions, dress codes can be vague and interpreted differently by each person, depending on their background and sense of style. For example, summer chic can mean one thing to one person, and something completely different to someone else.

Dress standards are also different for men and women. At a formal or gala event, men are expected to wear a suit or tuxedo and the only difference between male guests are the colours of their ties and the style of their cufflinks. Women, on the other hand, are told that they can go with the traditional little black dress and a pair of stylish ballerinas; but in reality, they are expected to rock their best gown with their highest pair of Louboutins, and to be honest, this is just not fair. In the end, everyone should be able to enjoy an event without constantly thinking about how they look and how the rest of the guests, or the organisers to be more precise, perceive them.

But there are many other factors to why a dress code can sometimes be a bad idea. As a journalist, I get invited to a lot of events after working hours and I do not always have the time to change beforehand. In my opinion, hosting an event at 7pm is not a smart idea when people tend to finish work around 6pm. Traffic jams, fatigue and strict dress codes are only a few of the reasons why people tend to bail on certain events that take place at this hour. As a host, you want your guests to come as they are and express their identity through their style. But dress codes are about uniformity, which can alienate certain people because they feel like they do not fit into the glamorous image our society is enforcing. Not everyone is a model and not everyone looks good in a three-piece suit.

Style is about being able to express yourself through clothes and accessories; it is about showing your uniqueness and standing out. Nobody should have the right to dictate what you should wear, even if it’s just for one night.

Allowing everyone to wear comfortable and appropriate clothes is something event planners should seriously think about, because after all, the more creative the outfits, the more publicity the event will get. 

“YES” says Ellie Rebecca Keene, PR & Communications Manager, Pragma

EllieKeene“The dress code is put in place for a reason and that reason should be respected”

Working in the nightlife industry, I can see both sides of this argument. But let’s take one issue out of the equation before I explain why I agree – there has to be some leeway if someone genuinely can’t comply with the rules – if they had a medical condition, for example. Obviously door staff need to have a certain amount of flexibility rather than just seeing things in black and white, and dress codes need to offer a certain level of practicality so that they don’t alienate our audience – we don’t want to annoy our guests before they’ve even left the queue at the door. There were some older ladies involved in ‘Heel- gate’ in Cannes this year who were wearing fashionable flat shoes, this is acceptable in my opinion – turning up in Havaianas, however, is not!

Generally speaking, the dress code is put in place for a reason and that reason should be respected. The purpose of a dress code is to set a venue or event up with a general feel or theme. An event organiser has decided this for a purpose, whether it is to keep the event formal or have a themed night, such as Ahlan’s recent White Party, for example. It’s important for guests to feel comfortable of course, but going to a formal event and standing with someone in flip flops and a pair of shorts would make me feel uncomfortable for them.

No matter what the venue – a club, a restaurant, a boat – it’s just an empty shell with some pretty lights and fashionable décor. It’s the guests who provide the ambiance – so if they turn up less than engaged with what you’re trying to achieve, it has a knock on effect on the night as a whole. As organisers we put a huge amount of effort into every last detail, not to mention a large amount of money into great quality hospitality for our guests. If you do RSVP, it’s surely a sign of respect to abide by the rules.

Are viral campaigns a viable form of marketing?

Given the overwhelming success of viral campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Choose Beautiful’, or the spectacular failures of those such as the McDonalds #McDstories, we ask: Can viral campaigns really work as a cost effective form of brand building?

“NO” says Nagham Akileh, Associate Director – Social Media, OMD

NaghamAkileh“I don’t believe marketers can engineer virality. It’s better for brands to focus on authentic storytelling”
If you start with the objective of creating a viral campaign, then nine times out of 10 it won’t go viral. If you take a look at what has gone ‘viral’ from brands, a lot of them have either had some sort of media or PR push to make them spread. Truly viral advertising means a brand does not pay for its distribution. So technically they can’t be considered as ‘viral campaigns’.

There’s a lot that stands in the way of a brand that wants to achieve ‘viral’ status. For one thing, online behavior is simultaneously very predictable and unpredictable. People will share, for example, cat videos or emotional stories that courage and show optimism. However, no one really knows which of the thousands of cat videos will appeal to people the most and get shared, or which emotional story will command people’s attention. There are also all sorts of bizarre things that catch people’s attention and go viral, like The Dress. Memes are another example, from the early days of the O RLY owl to Doge to Leonardo Di Caprio with a water gun. While they all have something in common, nonsensical origin stories, no one really knows which of the thousands of silly things online will end up becoming a meme and why. If we did, everything would go viral.

The second major challenge for a brand to go ‘viral’ is cutting through the noise. Millions of minutes of video content are being uploaded online every day, along with millions more GIFs, images and articles. Brands are not just competing with others in their category, they’re going up against everything online. The odds that a campaign is going to go ‘viral’ are slim at best.

Marketers also tend to overlook the source of virality. A lot of viral online content starts from sites like Reddit and services like Vine and Tumblr, before they make their way to mainstream social networks (and then die on 9gag). So, unless one of the guys on those sites pick up on your content and think it’s awesome enough to share, your slim chance of going viral just got slimmer.

I don’t believe marketers can engineer virality. It’s better for brands to focus on authentic storytelling and storydoing to add value to consumers while achieving their brand objective, using resources at their disposable for measurable success. There’s nothing wrong with pushing something online with media investments or PR to help a great idea catch on, but let’s not call it ‘viral’ because it isn’t.

Now, can we please erase this word from our buzzword dictionaries?

“YES” says Ramzi Haddad, Managing Director, Carat UAE & Lower Gulf

Ramzi“I really believe that all consumers living in the urbanised jungles of this world are no longer impressed with what advertisers do.”

What are we propagating here? Very simple: It’s great if you can make a campaign go viral, but you have to make it good. Brands tend to over think ‘viral’ videos by trying to build in super complicated messages about their product and end often end up communicating them in a super un-inspiring way. In order to say yes to viral, you need to understand that the value of entertainment needs to be higher than the product message you are building into it. Oh, and Mr. Brand manager, what you think is fun and entertaining is going to have zero value to your audience.

The proof in this comes from companies like LG who are successfully using viral videos to drive new product features, like their super thin LED – done in such a surprising way, using a realistic surveillance camera style that really makes you think twice about what you’re seeing. It also makes you want to press that share button and make that video go even more viral. Who remembers seeing the press ad for that campaign? Nobody! Because LG made the viral element the main comms vehicle and it has paid off.

I really believe that all consumers living in the urbanised jungles of this world are no longer impressed with what advertisers do, especially when they do it repetitively. The novelty wears off pretty quickly on almost all ad messages out there no matter how ‘glitzy’ they are, whether they are on the biggest mediums or the smallest. If online time is such a personal time that takes up almost one whole day a week for the young and restless audiences in this region, then the next question to advertisers should be: what content is worthy of winning those young and restless eyeballs’ attention?

Just think – is this good enough to get a million views on YouTube, on the first day?

So yes to viral. It’s like skateboarding for me. I don’t usually do it but I will always stand up and applaud a good trick.

Is journalism a pursuit of passion?

Is writing professionally a calling, or is it something that you do purely because it’s part of your job description? 

No – says Dominic Beesley, Features Writer, Motivate

DominicBeesley Writing isn’t some kind of sacred calling, something that only the chosen few are good enough to do.”

There’s not really much of a debate here – I mean, you can write and get paid for it. So it’s a job. Maybe not the best job to get into, but it is a job and not a calling. I studied Creative Writing, so university was basically three years of people telling me over and over again that publishing is a dying industry, paying less and less each year.

I don’t want to boast here, but it’s a skilled job. Not everyone can write. Well, everyone can write, but not everyone can write (imagine that last ‘write’ in bold and italicised, and possibly underlined). And there’s a difference there. Writing is the one thing you learn at school that you have to do at least once every day, especially in the age of Twitter, WhatsApp and whatever else is out there. How often do people ask you to recite the seven times table? Or explain how an oxbow lake forms?

Not that that means everyone’s the new Charles Dickens these days. One look at social media is enough to prove that. Unfortunately not everyone knows that there’s a difference between definitely and defiantly. Any writer will tell you there’s a skill in writing a perfectly crafted sentence, and they’d be proud of it. Just like a mechanic would be proud of a carburettor, or a footballer might be proud of a really great kick. Probably. I don’t know much about cars or sport.

But writing isn’t some kind of sacred calling, something that only the chosen few are good enough to do. It’s still a job. You can’t just lock yourself in a Parisian garret and slave over your next Pulitzer Prize-winning work. You’ll need money, eventually.

You can’t always write what you want, when you want to. Instead, you might have to write something you don’t want to, on a topic you find incredibly dull, all while putting your heart and soul into it. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about the history of blu-tack – if your editor’s asked for 1,200 words on it, you’re going to have to write it or fear their wrath. And then there are the deadlines. Douglas Adams once said, ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’ And while it might be witty, it’s not the best attitude. Sure, he’s a great writer and all, but it’s still a job. He’d definitely be fired.

YES – says Judy Cogan, Lifestyle Editor, Friday Magazine

Judy-Cogan“The career part, the publication part – they are just the steam above a boiling pot of desire to play with words.”

I was seven when I announced I wanted to be a journalist. I put down my pencil, looked up and felt the words fall out of my mouth. And that was that. Colouring in had already blended into scribbled words and a string of stories and poems laced with imaginary wonderment followed. I embraced early milestones – a poem I wrote read out in school assembly, my first article being published in a local newspaper aged 17. My appetite to tell stories evolved from the time of swimming lessons and slush puppies and carried on through my journalism degree and into adult life.

As a journalist I’ve written about topics I don’t find very interesting for a demographic I don’t fall into. Praise is often thin on the ground with column inches and bylines being the most lucrative currency in a lowly paid profession.

It’s not always an easy gig. The journalists who gently swerve into PR jobs lured by higher salaries are indicative of this. Yet the ones armed with an innate desire to keep going do just that.

Hurdles noted, writing still doesn’t feel like a job and often doesn’t look like one to outsiders. I was asked by a woman I interviewed for a national newspaper fresh out of university “So what’s your real job, love?” I was stumped. “This is my real job,” I finally replied and she roared with laughter. Did she think I was there for the fun of it? The fact is I guess I was and I still am now. Much like the many editors who don’t have to write any more, but still make time for it.

When I was asked to write this piece I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. It’s another deadline pushing up against all the others, but the opportunity to write something new was worth the headache. I wanted to do it and that’s the calling right there, the one you can’t quash.

A reporter friend of mine gave me his view yesterday; “I don’t think (writing) is a calling, more of a craft that you have to devote yourself to out of desire.” But that’s the difference between a hack and a writer, the difference between seeking and succumbing.

The truth is writing is a vocation, defined as;“a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.” That much is true, but the career part, the publication part – they are just the steam above a boiling pot of desire to play with words.

In a New York Times article from January this year and aptly entitled ‘Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?’ by Benjamin Moser, the author concluded: “Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.” And I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Should social media be an extension of your job title?

With social media becoming an ever-important corporate tool, should employees be conscious of their personal profiles and portraying a positive image on behalf of the company – or is this considered beyond the call of duty?

YES, says Laura Pardoe, Partner, Grow Digital Services

LauraPardoe“An employee’s social media page could potentially lead to a better job opportunity elsewhere, making it in their interest to keep a clean, professional profile at all times”

Should social media should act as an extension of your job title? Absolutely – especially if you work in a predominantly client-facing role. People trust their peers, and a negative personal post from a social media page could affect this and reflect badly on a company/employers image. In business, it is imperative that customers are made to feel completely looked after and at ease, so that they can trust a company completely.

I am a firm believer in acting responsibly on social media, posting only relevant content to the corresponding platforms. For example, content relating to socialising is not relevant to LinkedIn given that it is a business platform, so here particularly employees should act responsibly and focus more on content for the business industry.

Living in a Muslim country especially, social media can have a negative effect on a company’s reputation – if an employee is seen drinking alcohol, for example, or participating in political debates. Despite the individual having their own views, an observer of such behavior on a social media platform may in fact associate the employee with the company they work for. In this way, employees essentially act as brand ambassadors on social media, and should update their profiles accordingly – similar to wearing appropriate attire to work; social media pages should be respectable. Imagine a client of a company stumbling across an unsuitable comment on an employees social media page? That could result in a potential loss of business, and people will always relate negative experiences to others ten times over.

An employee has the option to turn their profile settings to private to ensure that their personal life does not conflict with their professional one, and this should be an important and common practice, as many people research one another online before meeting in person.

Another important factor to consider is that talent scouts often browse social media for new candidates for employment. This means that an employee’s social media page could potentially lead to a better job opportunity elsewhere, making it in their interest to keep a clean, professional profile at all times.

Smart and intelligent posts on social media will only act in an employees favour. For example, speaking about something meaningful or inspirational can have a positive effect on others by increasing the trust or respect. Clients will feel more at ease and in the right hands when they can see that a company’s employees are honest and respectable, and not representing themselves entirely differently online to how they act professionally. It is essential that a company has a policy to ensure that unhappy employees do not flaunt their complaints on social media, and that there should be an open HR initiative to maintain honest communication at all times.

NO, says Melwyn Abraham, PR and Social Media Manager at Matrix PR

MelwynAbraham“Employees should be able to build their own individual identity without having to follow the company brand culture”

Today, most businesses – as an integral part of their marketing and PR strategy – have invested in making their brand appear social through various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They not only share the ‘what’s new and trending’ but also present a human side of the business through their employees and behind the scenes images and posts.

The reason social media has managed such deep penetration is because it affords the users space and a profile to voice and share their individual opinions, thoughts, emotions and life with friends, family and the public, if desired.

Do people represent their companies through their social media profiles? Maybe. But should social media be an extension of a person’s job title? Surely not. And here is why…

It’s Personal. Someone’s personal profile is exactly what the name suggests – a personal profile. What makes it personal and genuine is that one is not paid to post anything on it and others trust the opinions and thoughts shared to be the private views of the individual. The moment you take away the genuinity of a person’s profile and turn him into a company spokesperson, his profile loses its credibility.

A person is not defined by his job title or the profession he is in. So if I want to post updates about my trip to the dentist and how I think my dentist needs a dentist himself, I should be able to do so without hesitation.

I agree that companies do run the risk that a section of its target audience may judge them by the social media profiles of their employees. But companies can also protect their brand image by issuing guidelines to the employees with regards to content that they can post on their social profiles regarding said company, or prevent employees from posting anything about the company at all. Companies must not ask employees to use their personal profiles as a marketing tool. Such measures can even break office hierarchy and relationships, moving focus away from real roles and responsibilities. The bottom line benefits maybe big but they cannot come at a cost of losing credibility.

Social media must not be allowed to become the bell to Pavlov’s dog. True and honest feedback of people’s experiences with the brands they interact with will only help brands become better and understand their audience better. If every personal profile were to become a marketing platform the social media system itself would collapse.

Employees should be able to build their own individual identity without having to follow the company brand culture. Employers can gain increased leverage over employees and their social media accounts, which can even extend to their friends and families. Educating employees to exercise common sense by sharing tips and guidelines about using social media is more important.

We are after all, what we share.

Are content creators cashing in on tragedy?

Do content creators take advantage of tragic events to promote their own content, or are they simply using them to highlight pressing issues?

YES Says Salwa Andraos, Senior Account Manager, LiquidThread 

Salwa“It is no longer a question of whether or not content creators are cashing in on tragedy, but rather, of how they are doing it”

Unfortunately, yes, most content creators nowadays are cashing in on tragic events to promote their own content. Whether we like it or not, this is the truth of the matter. It is no longer a question of whether or not content creators are cashing in on tragedy, but rather, how they are doing it.

Content creators fight the daily battle of staying timely and ultra-relevant; and newsjacking – capitalising on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success – is one way of creating a twist that grabs the public eye when it is widest open. As trending topics change and attention spans get reduced every day, it is often easy for pieces to get buried under an avalanche of new content. So, if you want your content to get noticed, then you might as well take advantage of content that’s already getting noticed – be it good, bad, happy, sad, ugly or tragic.

I’m all in for newsjacking with the purpose of creating and promoting your own content; brands, producers, filmmakers and content marketers have been doing it for years – and successfully at that, more often than not. However, this requires heightened sensitivity and responsibility – characteristics that some content creators have failed to demonstrate, especially when it came to their take on tragic events.

Take, for instance, MH17 Strikes Back, the game that was released on the heels of one of the worst air disasters in modern history. Trying to cash in on the terrible tragedy, the game appeared just hours after the Malaysian Airlines’ flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Shockingly, it allowed players to fly a passenger jet through a war zone, avoiding missiles and returning fire on the enemy – as I mentioned, appalling.

Locally, we’re still trying to wrap our heads around how to benefit from tragic and trending topics while treading the line of cultural and social sensitivities. And in this regard, hats off to the young Saudi generation that has succeeded in doing just that through sheer satire on YouTube.

In the wake of a Saudi woman being caught driving and getting severely punished for it, Alaa Wardi, a Saudi-based artist and comedian, along with his team re-wrote Bob Marley’s classic, No Woman, No Cry, to protest the ban on women driving in the kingdom. Dubbed “No woman No Drive”, the music video played a dual role by, one, highlighting a pressing issue and, two, driving audiences to download more of Wardi’s music & videos.

At the end of the day, content creators are going to cash in on tragedy. Let’s just hope they go about doing it with class, intelligence and sensibility.


NO, Says Faris Al Jawad, sub-editor, Gulf News

FarisAlJawad“To say that the content managers’ sole aim is to cash in on tragedy seems cynical and unfair” 

Bad news is good news, so it’s been said. ‘Small earthquake, no-one dead’ isn’t going to sell newspapers or get web hits. ‘Mass disaster, thousands perish’? Now, that’s more like it. Watch your figures rise! This may be the traditional view of content managers; cashing in on tragedy, whooping as body counts rise, hoping that things get worse before they get better. And I’m sure for some organisations there’s an element of truth in this cliché. The bigger the catastrophe or disaster, the bigger the headline, and in turn the bigger the sales/likes/shares.

However, in my opinion, to say that the content managers’ sole aim is to cash in on tragedy seems cynical and unfair. Some might say that it is idealistic, but the idea of sharing and communicating the causes and consequences of tragedy, to me at least, suggests a possibility of educating readers, and perhaps in turn creating change or prevention of future tragedies.

Take the latest horrors that occurred in Gaza last summer. With social media forums such as Twitter and Facebook, readers/viewers had minute to minute updates of the situation from civilians on the ground in the warzone. Consequently, people were seeing a side to the conflict that perhaps they never had before. The victims of the horrors were able to share their voice. Could it not be argued, that, without the widespread circulation of this content, perhaps the war would have dragged on for longer and on an even more severe scale? The massive public outcry from around the world against the brutal bombing and killing of innocent civilians in Gaza surely put some pressure on the Israeli government to end the conflict.

Reportage on tragedies sparks discussion, analysis, and potentially development. Recently Friday magazine ran a story about the documentary India’s Daughter, which focuses on the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi, and the backward, sexist and brutal attitudes towards women that are ingrained in parts of Indian society. This story is undoubtedly tragic in every sense. The Indian government decided to ban the documentary across India. Is this the right course of action? Are they being noble by banning the film? I say absolutely not. Fundamental changes need to be implemented in India’s education system. Reportage on the problems and horrors that are occurring is vital to these changes. In order to make a positive development, we must understand the root of the cause, and reporting on these tragedies, honestly and ethically, is a step in that direction.

It is, of course, the responsibility of content managers to balance their duty to inform and educate society while respecting the privacy of individuals. Inevitably there are some who violate this moral code, however, there are also many who honour it.

Have publications reached their plateau?

Has the publication market in the region become saturated in certain areas or do we have room for more? Two journalists offer their opposing views…

“NO” says Robin Amlôt, Managing Editor, CPI Financial
“Good-looking, high quality content targeting the right readership will always find a market and will always find an advertiser willing to support it in order to reach that audience”

In a varied career in media I have spent time in all forms: magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and online. The search for a profitable audience is the key to all media outlets. Without an audience that can generate revenue to pay for content and content delivery, media does not exist. Having said that, how big an audience do you need? We all want to reach decision-makers. That is true of both B2B and B2C magazines. The decision in question might be which investment banks to choose to help your company carry out an IPO or it might be what fashion boutique from which to purchase the next cocktail dress, etc.

No commercial media owner, whether corporate or individual, chooses to publish a magazine other than to make money so it is fairly safe to say that the industry at large does NOT believe that the market is saturated – as the continued growth in the number of titles on offer attests. However, this is not ‘steady state’ growth. As some titles are born, others die. As publishers, journalists, art directors, ad sales and circulation managers we are only as good as a combination of our last issue and our next issue.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter is renowned [blamed?] for the term ‘creative destruction’ as a metaphor for capitalism. Creative destruction is inevitable in the media industry as titles fail, titles survive and new titles are launched. Advertisers want to reach their chosen specific set of decision makers. Does your title provide them? Does a new title do a better job of reaching them? Where will that ad spend be allocated? Who, ultimately, will provide the funds to settle the print bills and the staff salaries?

Good-looking [ideally], high quality content targeting the right readership will always find a market and [again, ideally] will always find an advertiser willing to support it in order to reach that audience, providing that the publisher is able to ‘tell the story’ properly and explain the benefits of the publication in terms of the decision-makers it reaches.

There is no such thing as ‘a plateau’ in terms of publications because such a statement assumes that all the publications that have existed will continue to exist. Look back 20 years [an arbitrary number]. How many of the titles then in existence are still with us. How many of those published now will still be in existence in 20 years’ time? And then there’s the small matter of technological change. Should we indeed be discussing ‘publications’ at all or should we now be thinking of ‘brands’ rather than titles and considering the brand as an entity that exists in more than one medium, that our readers ‘consume’ both online and offline? But I guess that’s another discussion entirely…

“YES” says Nick Rego, Senior Editor, AskMen Middle East
Another fitness magazine, perhaps another publication about home decor, or maybe just recycled celebrity news combed from various blogs. The thirst for original and expressive content is very real, but there are few publications that truly understand it”

It’s easy to glance through the news rack at your local grocery store checkout and have the various publications all blur together. While there are certain key topics that will almost always be covered by several publications, it seems that if you buy one magazine, you’ve bought them all, at least in terms of content.

There are several publications both new and old in the region that seem to think it’s a good idea to launch a new magazine or name every year. Another fitness magazine, perhaps another publication about home decor, or maybe just recycled celebrity news combed from various blogs. The thirst for original and expressive content is very real, but there are few publications that truly understand it. The print market is very competitive, and I find that more and more publications are trying their best to figure out how to reach out to readers in an already saturated market. There doesn’t seem to be much differentiating one publication from another, and it seems that in the end it’s just a matter of which branded magazine you prefer over another.

On a rare occasion, I will thumb through a publication and find an interesting and relevant local story buried amongst other stories that don’t always speak to the regional audience. As a publisher, the question to ask is whether or not people actually value a particular publication or not. There’s no point in putting out a publication just for the sake of it, or just because you see a competitor doing it. Focus instead on quality content and publications that resonate with different kinds of audiences, rather than just going for a cookie-cutter mould in the hopes that someone will like what you publish.

There seems to be too many publications at times all clamoring for the top spot – endless rows of celebrity magazines, fashion spreads and fitness publications to name a few, all adorn our local shops, but hidden between all of them are the niche publications that recognise the need for truly original content and insight. I’m certainly sure there are plenty of publications who are going to be sticking around for years to come, but in doing so need to realise that they have to continue to evolve with current trends in order to try and stay relevant to a whole new always-connected audience.

Is it all about the award win?

Do awards mark the be all and end all of a great agency? Two PR experts fight their metaphorical corners…

“YES” says Radhina Almeida Coutinho, Regional Director, TRACCS UAE

RadhinaCoutinho“Awards are an agency’s armour – proof that the work it does is outstanding, effective and industry leading”

If there ever was an event that proved the case for awards, we all watched it last month. From films, to directors, actors to cinematographers, the title “Oscar-winner” opens doors, delivers contracts on desks and changes the course of careers.

While the industry produces thousands of films each year featuring several thousand brilliant actors, it’s only a chosen few that rise to the top. Arguably this is due to the strength of their performances, and canny choice of scripts – but there’s no denying that once that hallowed title of Oscar-winner has been achieved, the opportunities to shine again increase ten-fold.

Awards matter. They bring visibility, attention and longevity to work done in the creative field; they commend impressive results and reward innovation. In a crowded communications landscape where clients and consumers are constantly bombarded by great work and campaigns, they help agencies stand out above the rest.

And awards should matter. An award-winning agency gets called upon to do more interesting work. It’s a fact of life – success breeds success and having a few awards under your belt as an agency or a PR practitioner gives you the opportunity to work on more challenging and rewarding accounts.

It’s often said that awards are an agency’s armour – proof that the work it does is outstanding, effective and industry leading.

But to me, I think awards matter more because they push people to think bigger and better. To challenge the norm, look for different solutions, structure campaigns so that they not only create a big bang but translate into concrete, measurable outcomes.

Most industry awards place a great deal of emphasis on impact – which, as an agency, is something clients value too. So creating an award-winning PR campaign that captures headlines and delivers real value is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The trick is to focus on results as much as the creative aspect. Big ideas and bigger stunts may produce great headlines but they are an expensive business, and if clients don’t see them translating into results this can lead to problems. No client wants to be slapped with a big bill just so that its agency can take home another shiny trophy.

Agencies that make award-winning campaigns that work for their clients, give the limelight to clients’ products and services rather than their own creative efforts, and develop innovative and impactful campaigns will always have something to be proud of.


“NO” says Alisa D’Souza, Public Relations Director, Blue Apple Mediacom

AlisaDSouza1“If you win an award, it’s all too easy to wear it as a badge of honour and let your work take a backseat”

When considering whether award wins act as the mark of a great agency, there was no question that I would strongly advocate the ‘no’ side of this particular debate.

Awards don’t define the success of an agency. Awards, especially in this part of the world, hold little significance. So at our practice, we prefer to focus on the job at hand and give our clients tangible results rather than superficial recognition.

Our strength as a boutique PR agency lies in our ability to deliver what we promise. We would rather propose eight out of 10 and surprise you with 12, than promise 14 and give you two. A realistic approach is what we offer and real is what we are! We genuinely believe in our relationships with our clients and the media, and this is so much more important than one which takes focus off the real task at hand.

When I walk into an office I don’t want to see a wall adorned with shiny medals, trophies and plaques. I want to feel energy, see creativity and a positive vibe. If there is no soul, no award can make up for it. While PR is often viewed as a superficial industry with a lot of glamour-driven air-headed bimbos, what PR needs is a juggler. And no I’m not talking about a circus! A good PR professional is someone who can juggle a million different tasks and still wear a smile at the end of a hard day.

To shamelessly lift a quote from Shakespeare, “All that glitters is not gold.” What looks good from the outside does not necessarily glisten from within. That is precisely why awards do not guarantee a successful agency.

If you win an award, it’s all too easy to wear it as a badge of honour and let your work take a backseat. Most winners of such awards don’t feel the need to go the extra mile, because in their mind, they have already reached the final destination.

Need I say more?