In The Hot Seat – Richard Fitzgerald

Richard Fitzgerald, Managing Director and Founder of Augustus tells us about his current role and his views on the ever-changing media industry… 

Name: Richard Fitzgerald

Age: 33

Current job title: Managing Director and Founder of Augustus

When did you first arrive in Dubai?

June 2, 2012

Where did you work prior?

I was Regional Social Media Director at Mindshare MENA until 2015 and then I had one year at Brndstr, a creative technology start up.

What were your first impressions of the publishing and media industry in the Middle East?

I was impressed with the pan Arab scale of TV and surprised with how much was spent on print versus actual media consumption. I was excited by how digital was being consumed and the appetite for social media all-round. Also, although it took some time to get used to doing business in a new region, and with different nationalities, it was clear from the start that I had entered an established and growing industry. It wasn’t the dark ages.

Has your opinion changed much?

Seeing how much the industry has changed in the past five years makes it a very exciting place to be for the next five. Although I know more about the industry, my impression is similar, I think the same forces that were keeping print so established are at play for TV now.

Tell us about your current role…

Augustus is a ‘new media’ company, one I have created without a template. It’s a hybrid between a publisher and an agency, designed for the ‘always on’ social media word. My role at times is like running three businesses − media, data and content: Editor of Lovin Dubai (the media side), sales for Brandwatch, a social media listening software (the data side) and Social Media Director for some of our clients such as INFINITI and Lavazza Middle East (the content side).

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

We are telling the story of a changing country, a changing region, and we are doing it in a changing industry. It’s super exciting to be part living and working in this region, and also to be in the digital media industry.

Also, when we sit down at the end of the month and see that the company grows bit by bit, it gives us a sense of achievement.

With the on-going battle between digital and print media, who are you betting on and why?

Haha, well my money has actually gone into a bet on a digital only company. In terms of a winner, I wouldn’t celebrate or cheer for one of the other. Print media will continue to play a role, whether it’s books, magazines or newspapers, no one would like to see print media abolished. I think a lot of the pain points come from the digital transformation of traditional media companies, so it’s a lot easier if you are digital only.

What is your opinion on native advertising?

The way we see native advertising is one of three things − 1. Native display, 2. Sponsored content, 3. Sponsored social.

The Lovin Dubai platform allows for sponsored content on the website, that would be labelled as such, and also on Facebook, where we tag all sponsored content with the Facebook branded content handshake.

Advertising is effective if it reaches people. For me, native is the best way to do this, because it’s the best mobile format available, and that is where most media is being consumed at the moment. Whether it’s more effective than other methods or mediums, often depends on the execution. We have seen very effective native advertising and not so effective.

What are your thoughts on the pricing of print advertising, digital advertising and sponsored content? Is this bound to change in the near future?

It’s difficult to compare price points across mediums as you are usually paying for the audience and the format.

I do however believe the sponsored content and native advertising will be valued higher in the future. Branded content is very expensive in the US and UK, as compared to the MENA region. That will change when established brands enter the market and educate the industry on this form of advertising. We are starting to see that with VICE coming to the region, and I expect Buzzfeed will enter within the next 18 months, especially that they have an IPO on the horizon.

What are the steps that you’ve taken to grow Lovin Dubai, from when it just launched to the established name that it’s now?

We had a good start in September 2015 with the support of the Lovin Group from a tech point of view. From then on, we have relentlessly tried to capture what’s happening in Dubai on our platforms. Growing the team with key individuals has been important and so has ‘graduating’ from our Astrolabs co-working space in JLT to our own office. The acquisition of 7DAYS social media profiles certainly helped with our brand awareness.

What advise would you give PRs and marketers of the region? Do you think they’re lagging when it comes to coping with digitalisation?

I’ve been much more exposed to the PR industry at Lovin Dubai as I was within a media agency, and I’ve been impressed at how established the PR industry is. I’ve noticed that it’s much more like London PR, that I was previously exposed to. In terms of lagging behind, I wouldn’t say so, it’s like any business − if it wasn’t established initially as a digital only PR agency, there is going to be some repositioning, both internal and external, required. I’m sure that’s the case for PR agencies in any market, just as it is for any other type of agency in this region.

What is your PR pet peeve?

I think it’s probably seeing it from our point of view. With a small team, the opportunity cost of attending a single event is probably three to four articles on the site, that really helps capture what we are trying to achieve and give the readers something of interest.

I’ve always worked with clients, and usually when doing client service for social media, the exchange is clear, you both know what the end goal is. However, giving coverage in a traditional way may actually harm our product. We love working with PR agencies that understand the Lovin Dubai platform and what readers like, whether it is lists, unique stories about their clients or strong visual content.

What is your preferred social media platform?

Twitter. I’ve always liked it and think that it gets a bad rep. I don’t think it’s the best however, but I like supporting the underdogs.

Facebook is easily the most sophisticated platform we have seen built on the internet. It’s such an advanced and strong platform, that it’s very hard to see a media world without it.

How do you and the team at Lovin Dubai always stay on top of things?

In two ways − we have a key focus on discovering relevant content that captures what’s happening. We also have shift work, whereby the editorial teams work at different times throughout the week to cover every waking hour in Dubai.

Describe yourself in three words…

I’m going to have to use the Augustus brand values, which are; Tenacity, Ingenuity, and Velocity. So that would be tenacious, genius and fast.

What is your most overused saying?

Hmm… I’ve caught myself saying ‘the reason is’ a fair bit lately.

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

I would probably be working within advertising in a role related to social media.