In The Hot Seat – Nidal Abou Zaki

Team TMN chat with Nidal Abou Zaki, Managing Director at Orient Planet Group, who talks about his current role and offers his thoughts on the PR industry in the Middle East.

Name: Nidal Abou Zaki

Nationality: Lebanese

Current job title: Managing Director at Orient Planet Group

When did you first arrive in Dubai?

I arrived in Dubai in the early 90s.

Where did you work prior?

Soon after college, I joined Al Iktissad Wal Amal Group as business editor for almost a year. Right after that, my career in public relations began when I joined as Corporate Communications Manager at the Dubai World Trade Centre, where I worked for nine years, which opened a lot of opportunities for me to sharpen my skills.

What were your first impressions of the PR industry in the Middle East?

Back then, PR did exist, however it was at an infancy stage and there were very few agencies, which were often just a small service area mainly provided by advertising firms. It was almost an unknown field and Public Relations employees were not the communications professionals that we know today.

Has your opinion changed much?

The developments in the PR industry in the Middle East in the last 25 years are simply incredible. PR back then was not even valued as a career option, but this has changed over the decades, and many companies have highly understood its role in ensuring their visibility across all media, especially in the region where communication is bilingual. But more importantly, PR has grown to meet various aspects of a company’s communication needs and has become more integrated to include reputation management, as well as branding and marketing strategies.

Tell us about your current role.

My role as the Managing Director of Orient Planet Group, is to strategise and drive the vision of the company. My attention constantly goes to sharpening the skills of the team that will help them to focus in achieving clients’ goals.

What challenges do you face?

Overall, there has not been any challenge that we could not overcome. In fact, the industry itself is fast growing and all we need to do is keep pace with its speed.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

As client partners, we share the success that they have achieved, when their business goals have been met through our assistance, that is a very rewarding experience for me. When they send appreciation notes for a job well done, it gives me more drive to keep doing what we do best.

How has clients’ expectations in today’s digital community influenced PR and marketing in the UAE?

There is no doubt that traditional and out-of-the-box PR campaigns are still very much relevant today because clients’ expectations do not change. However, given that digital platforms are more prominent and widely available, some clients have the tendency to focus more on these strategies. It is important that we can strike a balance between these areas – when digital platforms can deliver and when there needs to be more attention given on traditional PR.

How has social media in the region evolved to become an integrated part of the PR industry?

With the rapid growth of social media platforms and the active engagement of people online, it became inevitable for companies to integrate it in the PR industry and many of our clients recognise the value of having a second advice from a PR perspective. If companies want to reach out and communicate to these online audiences, they need to be strategic, innovative and interactive, which is why it is important to integrate it in the PR industry.

What do you think of PR ethics in the industry today?

It gets more challenging as our communication channels and platforms keep evolving, we need to ensure that ethical standards need to be maintained and not just kept in a bookshelf. The proliferation of fake news is global, and it is important that PR professionals maintain quality and high standards to define a clear line between our work and those that have wrong intentions.

Describe yourself in five words

Focused, Oriented, Spiritual, Creative and Organised

Who inspires you?

UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. His vision and mission for UAE is commendable which is what inspires me the most.

What’s your most overused saying?

When you do a job, it must be perfect. Either do it perfectly or don’t do it at all.

Five things you can’t live without?

My family, laptop, mobile, gym, and access to the latest news

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?

I would have been a journalist as I am passionate about writing. And to keep that passion alive, I still write on various subjects every now and then.

What’s your favorite form of media?

Every form of media has its own value and purpose and I appreciate them individually.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in PR in the UAE?

Determination and hard work is all that takes to become a good PR professional. Sometimes, it can be very challenging, so it is important to be sensible, flexible and street-smart rather than just follow the book.