In The Hot Seat – Ian Drinkwater

Team TMN chat with Ian Drinkwater, Director at Performance Communications Middle East, who talks about his current role and offers his thoughts on the PR industry in the Middle East.

Name: Ian Drinkwater

Age: 46

Nationality: British

Current job title: Director, Performance Communications Middle East

When did you first arrive in Dubai? November 2007

Where did you work prior? I worked for French car maker, Citroën, in the UK for 10 years, which was also where I kicked off my PR career. The in-house team was known as being the best in the industry, so I couldn’t have had a better start to my PR career.

What were your first impressions of the PR industry in the Middle East? Having spent so long in-house in the UK, coming to the Middle East to work agency-side was always going to be a total eye-opener. While in some ways the industry operated differently from my previous experience, the principles remained the same. While the general approach was far more conservative than it even is today, from day one I found the challenge of working in the region fantastically exciting and rewarding.

Has your opinion changed much?

Over the past decade the media landscape has evolved dramatically, as have client’s expectations. Today our clients are far more focused on digital and experiential opportunities, to supplement their PR activities. Looking at the fields we work in, the industry has become much more sophisticated and we are now able to propose and develop creative PR campaigns in a way that simply wasn’t possible then. The region’s PR industry has definitely closed the gap on those markets that many consider to be the global leaders.

Tell us about your current role… I co-founded sports and automotive specialist agency Performance Communications Middle East (then called Performance PR) in 2009, just as the financial crash really took hold in Dubai. It was actually the perfect time to launch, with set-up costs at a minimum. We started with no employees and just two Dubai-based clients. Today I manage a dynamic team that works across the region for some of the world’s best-known brands, in a range of fields including traditional PR, digital and events.

What challenges do you face? Running a business, every day presents its own challenges and these change on an almost daily basis. However, with the lines between the different sectors becoming increasingly blurred in today’s dynamic communications industry, convincing clients and potential clients that a ‘PR agency’ is often best placed to deliver creative solutions to a range of comms scenarios has become increasingly relevant. And it is also something that we are seeing happen more frequently.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? There are too many to mention, but I’ll highlight two. Firstly, that feeling of winning or retaining an account, and knowing that a major global brand has taken an active decision to place their confidence and trust in Performance. Secondly, seeing team members flourish within the company and beyond. It’s a great feeling to know that you have been able to have a positive effect on another person’s career.

How has clients’ expectations in today’s digital community influenced PR and marketing in the UAE? Over the past couple of years, there has certainly been a push from clients to work more closely with digital media and ‘influencers’. This has been one factor that has contributed to the need for an increasingly integrated PR/digital approach, which in itself presents an exciting opportunity for agencies who are able to react to address this.

How has social media in the region evolved to become an integrated part of the PR industry? We have seen a major change over the past few years as key media finally make the jump from print to digital. For example, five years ago there was only a relatively small number of quality motoring websites. Now, almost all print media outlets have launched their own websites and social media platforms. At the same time, we have found that there is an increasing recognition among clients of the need for closer collaboration between social media and PR teams, or in some cases, thanks to the skills they possess, that PR teams are indeed better placed to undertake certain social media activities.

What do you think of PR ethics in the industry today? Certain events may have outwardly given the industry a bad name, but my experience is that people work in PR for the right reasons. All PR professionals that I have dealt with have a genuine passion for communicating, are extremely hard-working, and purely want to do the best by themselves, their clients and their audiences.

Describe yourself in five words… Driven, professional, thorough, reliable, exhausted (three young children – enough said).

Who inspires you? Professionally, my inspiration has come from the extremely talented people I have been fortunate enough to work with over the years. None more so than the manager who first gave me the chance in the PR industry, and who taught me so much over the eight years I worked with him.

What’s your most overused saying? Probably ‘never assume’

Five things you can’t live without? Family, passport, photos, internet and junk food.

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing? Working in the travel industry in whatever role would allow me to travel the world as part of my job.

What’s your favourite form of media? I’m still quite old school, so love picking up newspapers. I’m also a huge fan of the BBC in its various forms. Having travelled extensively and lived in five different countries, I’m yet to find a media outlet that, for all its failings, delivers such a high quality and professional service.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in PR in the UAE? Do it! But be prepared to work hard and don’t rush things. Take your time to learn the job and gain experience – too many newcomers jump around in the early years of their PR career in the pursuit of ever higher salaries, but after three or four years they simply don’t have the skills to justify their next desired job title.