In The Hot Seat – Hussein M. Dajani

Hussein M. Dajani, Chief Operating Officer at Hug Digital tells Team TMN about the challenges he faces working in the digital industry in the Middle East and the rewards of effective management…


Name: Hussein M. Dajani                   

Age: 36                                          

From: Beirut, Lebanon               

Current Job Title: Chief Operating Officer – Hug Digital

When did you first arrive in Dubai?
My journey in Dubai started in 2004, when I was a Senior Account Executive with Leo Burnett, working on the Dubai Holding group of companies. Leo Burnett gave me an amazing opportunity to interact with and understand the people behind Dubai’s amazing success.

Where did you work prior?
I have over 15 years of experience with multinational agencies such as JWT, Leo Burnett, and TBWA. I’ve also worked on the client side for Virgin Mobile as well as Red Bull, across the Middle East and Africa region.

What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
I was still young and easily impressed when I moved here. Back then, outdoor billboards were considered an innovation and moving from Saudi to Dubai felt like jumping 20 years into the future in a time machine. I remember when 7Days newspaper came out and its size was innovative by comparison to the other big, bulky newspapers on offer. That was the golden era for the media industry over here. 

Has your opinion changed much?
Yes, very much so and for various reasons. One being, I have changed but also, consumers’ behaviors have changed, media consumption has changed. Yet the media industry didn’t evolve with these changes and so now it is starting to pay the price.

Tell us about your current role
When I first joined Hug Digital, I was in charge of uplifting the agency’s social offerings across the region. Six months down the line, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the agency, where I now report directly to the Chairman and CEO. I’m responsible for maintaining relationships with clients, expanding the agency to new markets and elevating offerings from digital, innovation, research, social, and content. It’s like wearing many hats at the same time.

What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge I face is finding the right talents, recruiting them and retaining them. The new generation is so different from my generation when we started working. They don’t have the “mojo” for work and they aren’t ready, nor do they want to go the extra mile.

Another challenge faced by the whole region – financial, political and economical instability. When Saudi suffers, the whole region does, and so far Saudi is witnessing the biggest hit as a result of overall negative market sentiments.

A third challenge I face is convincing clients to go digital, regardless.

Lastly, staying updated with the latest trends, innovations and breakthrough’s happening in digital, which is one fast-paced industry, is a challenge. But you’re either ahead of the game or you’re a follower. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing staff happy at work and witnessing the agency grow. Managing the reputation of an agency isn’t an easy task, but it is definitely rewarding when you hear positive news, even from strangers. That’s when you know that you are doing the right thing.

On March 25, 2016 we celebrated the sixth anniversary of Hug Digital. We are now in four markets (Dubai, Cairo, Jeddah, and Trivandrum), employ 13 different nationalities and have a local, regional and multinational roster of clients. It is really rewarding to be part of something small that is growing by the day. 

Work calls via landline, mobile or both?
What’s a landline? Work calls are either on mobile, Skype, Gtalk or Whatsapp.

Describe yourself in five words…
I can do so in two: Happily Dissatisfied.

What can’t you live without?
My wife, my mobiles, water and my Apple TV.

If you could have one work wish granted, what would it be?
More transparency, ethics and honesty in the industry. I would like the communication industry to return to its glory days. 

What is your favourite form of media?
Digital all the way. Unfortunately, TV to me has just become decor, radio is for passing time when in the car and not on the phone and print, oh dear, CO2. I honestly can’t remember the last time I held a newspaper or a magazine.