Tom Paye, Editor at compareit4me.com, tells TMN about how he started his career in media and what he thinks about the industry in the Middle East…
Name: Tom Paye
From: United Kingdom
Current job title: Editor, compareit4me.com
When did you first arrive in Dubai?
About 21 years ago, when I was just a kid.
Where did you work prior?
I’ve only ever worked in Dubai since coming back from university in the UK. Before joining compareit4me.com, I was a freelance journalist and before that, I’d worked at some of the region’s major publishing houses, including ITP and CPI Media Group.
What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
I think the first thing I noticed about publishing here was just how well small teams can put together high quality titles. My first job here was as an intern and soon after a Staff writer, at a small editorial agency and that company is still going pretty strong, at the time, I was fresh out of university with no real-life experience and I had these grand ideas about working in a big newsroom full of journalists getting big scoops on the latest stories.
But when I turned up, we were just four writers and a designer in a small office! That sort of brought me back down to earth and I came to realise it’s possible to put together pretty good magazines with just a few solid team members. It was a bit of disillusionment, but the heads of the company really put a lot of effort into training me to not only write great stories but also to project manage multiple magazines. It was nothing like I expected but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Has your opinion changed much?
Well, I continue to see great magazines produced by tiny teams, so not really. That being said, I’ve worked on weeklies and dailies since then and so I’ve been part of more traditional newsrooms too. I guess now I’m pretty much in awe of the breadth of print media in this region – there’s something to fill every niche and these titles are produced by teams ranging from just a few people in size to full-on publishing houses.
Tell us about your current role…
As Editor at compareit4me.com, it’s my job to pretty much handle all the written material that the company puts out. That includes creating relevant and high-quality press releases, guiding the executives on their written feature responses and looking after Your Money, the blog section of the website dedicated to personal finance. I also handle the company’s Twitter account, but that’s mostly because I’m on Twitter all day anyway.
What challenges do you face?
I think the biggest challenge is continuously coming up with relevant PR content that editors (and their readers) will find useful. Luckily, we enjoy really good relationships with the media here and our editor friends are always happy to provide us with a few pointers on the type of content they need from us.
I really subscribe to the view that, if you’re going to send something out to the press, it had better be worth reading. That means providing timely, relevant content that’s actually newsworthy not some small bit of company news that no one outside our office cares about. Keeping up that standard all the time is quite difficult. It can be so easy to just put out some inane announcement just to get something out there. I’m trying not to do that. And if any of my journalist friends are reading this and I don’t live up to the above, feel free to send me a snarky email!
How do you overcome writer’s block?
For me, the quickest remedy is to simply step away from my desk for 15 minutes, grab a coffee, have a look on Twitter and just mentally disconnect from the story. Nine times out of ten, I’ll come back to my desk with a fresh idea and that will help me get going again.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Where to start! I love the range of stories that I cover – from car reviews to in-depth analysis on the finance industry. I also love the office atmosphere – people are always playing pranks on one another, skateboarding around the office, playing ping pong or just coming up with ridiculous games.
I think the most important thing from a long term job satisfaction point of view, is that the service is genuinely useful for people in the Middle East. We’re actually saving people money on their financial products – honestly, I’m not just saying that because I work here. I had someone come up to me at GITEX this year and she told me about how our mortgage comparison portal had helped her find a home loan and that she wouldn’t have found such a good mortgage without the service. It’s immense when you hear people explain that the company you work for has helped them achieve big life goals.
How would you rather be contacted at work?
No preferences, really – shoot me an email or give me a call.
What do you think of the media ethics in the UAE?
I don’t think that media ethics are very different here to anywhere else in the world. The majority of journalists and publishing houses I’ve come into contact with here are simply looking to get to the heart of a story and to then relay something informative and entertaining to their readers. Of course, you hear stories of bloggers or whoever trying to exchange coverage for freebies, but they stick out like a sore thumb on both sides of the media industry.
On the other side of it, I think we’ve all been in situations where a certain brand may be trying to buy good coverage with their advertising dollars. And to be honest, who wouldn’t be tempted to just allow it, given the struggles in the print industry? But again, I think that, these days, this is pretty uncommon – even publishers that might have indulged in this practice before now want to bring the reader’s trust back. And so they’re doing things like selling native advertising where the content is marked as sponsored. In my experience, journalists and publishers have been working hard to reconcile the coverage-advertising struggle and we’re starting to see a reasonably ethical balance come out of that.
What do you think of publishing houses in the UAE?
I think they do an incredibly tough job with dwindling resources, but that they are really important for the local economy. No big international title is going to cover the UAE in the detail that residents and business people here want, so it’s down to the local publishing houses to offer proper reporting, comments and analysis on what’s happening here.
Unfortunately, as we all know, ad spend on print titles is on the decline, so that has put the traditional publishing business model in jeopardy. There have been a couple of high-profile closures this year and that’s never good to see. That being said, there are publishing houses looking for new revenue streams and new business models, and from what I can see, this is starting to pick up some of the slack. Hopefully we’ll see more out of the box thinking that allows publishing houses to continue distributing high-quality regional content.
If you can change something about the media in the UAE what would it be?
Adding to the above, I think smarter media selling is needed to ensure the survival of the local media industry. Brands want to go through local media to reach targeted, local audiences, but the traditional advertising format simply doesn’t provide enough of a return on investment. The thing is, media companies here have these fantastic assets in the titles they carry and these can be incredibly valuable to advertisers. Advertisers and media companies just need to work out, between them, how to maximise that value without compromising the integrity of the media.
How would you describe yourself at work?
I’m pretty chilled, I guess. I turn up, get my work done and try to be part of the team. I like to think I’m pretty helpful – if anyone needs something doing, I like to put myself forward if I can help.
Describe yourself in five words…
Charming, good looking, super-smart, rich and none of the above.
What’s your most overused saying?
Five things you can’t live without?
My iPhone, my MacBook, my Fiat 500, my dogs and my wife (to whom I’d say these are in no particular order!).
If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be a struggling freelancer, working from home, taking the dogs for long walks and occasionally getting work done in between PlayStation breaks. I wonder why I struggled?
What’s your favourite form of media?
I love, love, love magazines. My wife is a magazine designer, so between us, we have hundreds of titles stacked up around the house. We actually did a clear out a few months ago and still ended up keeping boxes of magazines. If we’re out and about, and we see a magazine, we’ll pick it up and analyse it – its design, the quality of its paper, the copy and the brands advertising in it. There’s something so nice about a properly done magazine.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in the media industry in the UAE?
I’d say be prepared to work really, really hard. When many of us started out six or seven years ago, the whole media revenue decline thing wasn’t being felt that much. Sure, we’ve all worked really hard to get to where we are, but now things are even tougher and organisations are a lot leaner, meaning everyone has to work that much more. If you’re not put off by that, then, for god’s sake, enjoy it. If you love creating things, there are few more rewarding jobs to be found anywhere in the world.