In The Hot Seat – Natalie Johnson

The Y Project’s Founder, Natalie Johnson tells TMN about her role and what she thinks about the PR and marketing industry in the Middle East…

Name: Natalie Johnson

Nationality: British

Age: 28

Current job title: Founder, The Y Project

When did you first arrive in Dubai?

In September 2013, which feels like a lifetime ago.

Where did you work prior?

I worked in three different agencies in the UK – one very traditional, one an integrated advertising agency and one solely digital. When I first moved to Dubai, I was with DABO & CO (now Edelman DABO) for just under two years before taking up roles in marketing for CrossFit and fitness company, InnerFight, and most recently working with hospitality company, Bull & Roo.

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

It was very different to the UK! I had been working in a digital agency before I made the move and when I arrived here, traditional print media was still king.

Has your opinion changed much?

Absolutely – we’ve seen a total shift change as the region continues to play catch up with progressive markets elsewhere in the world. Brands and agencies alike are becoming much savvier about digital and its role within the marketing mix – and we’re seeing some fantastic video-led content as well as some stand-out social-first campaigns.

Tell us about your current role…

I founded The Y Project with a mandate to work on projects that I found truly exciting – both so I was completely fulfilled, but also so my clients would get the absolute best out of me and the talent I choose to work alongside. Fast-forward almost one year and The Y Project has remained true to this ethos – with a key focus on developing creative online-first campaigns that ensure cut-through.

What challenges do you face?

As a start-up, the biggest challenge is fulfilling every single role of the business – from the creative and strategic to finance, HR and business development. I’ve called upon some amazing people to help assist and have learnt so much about sourcing talent, business forecasting and Excel formulas, as well as what I absolutely suck at. Rule number one: know what you don’t know and never be afraid to ask for help!

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Realising true business objectives for clients – a creative campaign is a wonderful thing, but it’s meaningless unless it drives bottom line.

How would you rather be contacted at work?

Email, WhatsApp, Instagram and I’m quite partial to the good old-fashioned telephone call as well!

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

The penetration of social media, growth of influencers and closure of magazines and newspapers in the region has meant that clients and agencies alike are now placing a core focus on digital. Only a few years ago, most agencies had small, separate digital teams, whereas now many have developed unified integrated content and communications teams – with a focus on delivering holistic strategic campaigns that drive business objectives both on and offline.

What role has digital media played in redefining the relationship between PR professionals, journalists and bloggers?

It has ensured a more tailored approach to communications as well as one that is mutually beneficial. However, this only applies to those PRs considering how they can best help and assist journalists and bloggers create the most stand-out content i.e. those that ask questions such as: Can we provide them with a specifically shot video purely for the purposes of their publication? How can we bolster this with a social-led edit? Should we shoot something in portrait to supply them with content for Snapchat or Instagram Stories? And of course not forgetting, how can this best be represented in their offline publication? etc.

How has content marketing influenced consumer behavior today compared to traditional marketing?

Content marketing can be much more readily targeted to relevant consumer groups and in markedly more cases, individual consumers. As a result, consumers feel much more aligned with, as well as an emotional connection to, brands taking advantage of this fact i.e. even something as simple as targeted language rather than dual-language posts on Facebook ensures that Arabic speaking audiences see Arabic language posts. 

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

Despite great leaps forward, there is still some way to go. Some agencies still adopt the separate ‘PR’ and ‘social media’ teams model – why isn’t it yet integrated across the board?

Describe yourself in five words…

Not afraid to break the rules.

What inspires you?

People with big goals and a strategy in place to achieve them.

What’s your most overused saying?

‘Many thanks’ – it’s an affliction.

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career?

There have been so many amazingly exciting things – too many to mention, but I think it’s probably my first successful pitch under The Y Project – that was pretty special.

Five things you can’t live without?

Phone, laptop, charging devices for said phone and laptop, orange juice (obsessed), dog (equally obsessed).

If you could have one work wish granted, what would it be?

For my entire Inbox to be readable on a single screen…

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A professional Ice Skater. I skated from the age of five until I was 16, training five times a week and competing across the UK.

What’s your favourite form of media (i.e.; TV, radio, print)?

Right now, podcasts. TED (of course) but also the likes of S Town and Undisclosed. My first experience of working on one was the ‘InnerFight Podcast’ when I was handling the gym’s marketing – and I’m looking forward to incorporating the medium in relevant future projects.

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

Embrace it and soak up the opportunity to work with some of the best brands in the world, as well as learn from some of the top global communications talent who have come armed with a wealth of knowledge from their home markets. And don’t be afraid to colour outside of the lines to continue to push the market forward.

Mahitab Hosny joins House of Comms

Integrated communications agency, House of Comms has appointed Mahitab Hosny to the role of Account Manager. With experience in the PR industry and having been UAE for over 20 years, Mahitab graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in public relations from the American University of Sharjah and most recently worked with DABO & Co, where she was an integral member of the consumer team offering her expertise in F&B, hospitality and fashion. In her new role, she will join the team as bilingual Account Manager to work across House of Comms’ Arabic and English portfolio of clients across the Middle East.

“I have an immense passion for PR and love working on fun consumer brands,” says Mahitab. “House of Comms has built a very strong name in the market and has an incredible reputation and roster of clients. I am so happy to be working on some amazing brands at such a reputable agency and to be joining at an exciting time as it expands it’s offering with digital and experiential capabilities.”

Alexandra Williams joins IHC

IHC Integrated Communications has welcomed Alexandra Williams to the role of Associate Director at the Dubai office. With eight years of experience in PR, digital analytics, crisis communications and strategy, Alexandra previously worked at Weber Shandwick, Kuala Lumpur as an intern where she worked on technology and B2B accounts including Microsoft and Google. She most recently worked at Grayling, UK as the Associate Director, where she worked on a portfolio of PR and digital clients including HSBC, Coca-Cola and Skype. In 2013 she moved to Dubai to oversee and take the digital lead at DABO & CO. In her new role, she will be handling IHC’s delivery of PR, digital and experiential marketing as well as supporting the continued expansion of the agency’s integrated offering at the Dubai office.

“With a strong PR background and advanced digital capability, IHC focuses on elevating brands through superior content, integrated communication and creativity, so Alex’s appointment is a natural fit for us,” says Ian Hainey, Managing Director, IHC. “Since inception, we have used a winning mixture of marketing techniques to maximise brand awareness and lead generation for clients. Bringing Alex on board will definitely help our clients enjoy an even higher multiplier effect on their communications investment.”

Alexandra adds “I am delighted to be joining such a strong team at IHC and am very much looking forward to exercising a multitude of marketing techniques in my new role. Ian and the team have strong brand names under their belts. I am excited to expand on this.”

Edelman completes acquisition of DABO & CO

Edelman has completed its acquisition of DABO &CO, expanding the company’s presence in the Middle East region. The completion sees the launch of a new co-branded entity – Edelman DABO – which combines the consumer public relations and digital capabilities of both companies. The co-brand will also see the launch of Edelman DABO Experiential which builds upon DABO’s creative events management division. The company now has a roster of over 50 clients in the Middle East.

“The communications marketing landscape is evolving at a pace where yesterday’s innovation horizon is reached at a speed that was unimaginable even a couple of years ago,” says David Bran, President and Chief Executive Officer, Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. “Our focus on building our leadership position requires us to be one step ahead of our clients’ evolving needs. DABO & CO has been consistently able to deliver high levels of creativity in consumer communications and experiential activations, making it an ideal addition to our existing business in the Middle East.”

Lucy d’Abo, Managing Director, Edelman DABO Experiential, adds “We are delighted to have completed the acquisition process and to have revealed our new brand identity as an Edelman company. In terms of both strategic vision and cultural fit, it was clear that Edelman represented the best partner for us and everything we’ve experienced to date has reinforced that view.”


David Brady joins DABO & CO

DABO & CO has appointed David Brady as Group Account Director. Having previously worked at London-based strategic marketing and communications consultancy, freuds, David brings a wealth of knowledge and will be working with clients that include Nike, Yas Waterworld, d3, Miral and WWE.

In his new role, David will apply the experience he’s acquired from 14 years of planning and implementing integrated consumer brand campaigns in the UK, across DABO’s diverse client list.

“I wanted to join an agency that could offer its clients a truly integrated approach to PR and DABO & CO is the clear choice for me in this region,” says David. “The acquisition by Edelman can only strengthen its position, making this a very exciting time to start working alongside some of the most creative and strategic talent in our industry.”

2015 SABRE Awards EMEA winners announced

The 2015 SABRE Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Awards were held on 21 May, 2015 at The Roundhouse in London. Over 650 PR professionals from the EMEA region attended the ceremony to celebrate the winners, selected from 2,400 entries.

Among the agencies to have won were Roche Lebanon with Memac Ogilvy Public Relations for their Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, Al Baik with TRACCS for their Park it Right campaign, Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange with Weber Shandwick for their The DGC-X-Factor! How DGCX Transformed its Regional and Global Profile campaign and Canon with DABO & CO for the Canon Cabast trade show. UN Women with Memac Ogilvy Public Relations – Dubai, were also nominated as finalists for the Platinum Sabre award for Best in Show for their campaign, The Autocomplete Truth.

Global agency Weber Shandwick won five awards in total on the night, with Memac Ogilvy winning three. Ketchum was presented with four awards for its clients, and Burson-Marsteller and Edelman (including Elan and DABO & CO) won three.

Edelman to acquire DABO & CO

Communications marketing firm Edelman today announced it plans to acquire independent communications agency DABO & CO. The combination of Edelman’s United Arab Emirates operations with those of DABO & CO will encompass 150 employees with a broad range of expertise from corporate to marketing to digital. The agency will offer creative, planning, research and event management capabilities across the region.

Edelman UAE opened its first office in Abu Dhabi in 2008; it now has an award-winning team of 85 consultants across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, working for UAE-based organisations as well as numerous multinational companies.

DABO & CO has grown over the past ten years to become a creative communications and experiential marketing business; it now has a team of over 60 staff and represents many world-renowned brands.

“Globally Edelman looks to invest in firms that are committed to reshaping the focus of the communications marketing industry, and DABO & CO demonstrates this vision through its highly-creative, client-centric approach,” says Matthew Harrington, Global Chief Operating Officer, Edelman. “As the industry develops in the Middle East, this partnership will position us to create engaging and innovative communications programs that support our clients’ needs.”

“We are excited to partner with Edelman as we believe this acquisition will unite two of the leading players in the market to create a regional powerhouse,” adds Camilla d’Abo, Managing Partner, DABO & CO. “Not only will our clients benefit greatly from this, it also constitutes a compelling proposition to brands seeking a new integrated approach in the region.”

DABO & CO Founders win at Gulf Capital SME Awards

Lucy and Camilla d’Abo, Founders of integrated communications agency DABO & CO have been named joint Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2014 Gulf Capital SME Awards, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the UAE small and medium business community. In addition to the entrepreneurial sisters’ success, DABO & CO were Highly Commended in the DHL People & Culture of the Year award – an acknowledgement of the company’s ongoing focus on talent and nod to the positive work environment it has created.

“As we celebrate DABO & CO’s 10th anniversary this year, we are extremely proud of what we have built and of the amazing people that have contributed to the success of the company,” says Camilla d’Abo, Managing Partner, DABO & CO. “We hope that our win will inspire other small and medium business entrepreneurs to follow their passions and to explore the array of opportunities that are available within the UAE.”

Lucy d’Abo, Managing Partner of DABO & CO adds, “It is an honour for us to have won the Entrepreneur of the Year award, alongside all of the other inspirational individuals that take pride in building successful businesses.”

Now in its third year, the Gulf Capital SME Awards recognises the success of companies committed to growth and innovation in business across the UAE. A total of 11 award category winners were lauded this year, with accolades including Gulf Capital Business of the Year, Emirati Business of the Year and RSA Startup Business of the Year.

Winners of the MEPRA Awards 2014 announced

The winners of the MEPRA Awards 2014 have been announced. Celebrating the achievements of the Middle East’s PR industry over the last 12 months, a record-breaking 161 entries for this year’s MEPRA Awards were whittle down to 17 winners.

MEPRA Agency of the Year was awarded to Weber Shandwick MENA, while Memac Ogilvy Dubai won the Best Campaign award for The Autocomplete truth initiative and Mubadala won the In-House Team of the Year. A total of 10 agencies and organisations won for their creativity and execution, with Weber Shandwick, Memac Ogilvy and Hill+Knowlton Strategies winning multiple categories.

The winners were selected by a distinguished jury of marketing and communications leaders from across different sectors and organisations. The jury selected entries that exemplified best practices from across five categories – issue identification, research, strategic approach, planning and execution. Entries were received from across the region, extending to Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, as well as the UAE.

“The judges noted the quality of the entries this year, and they were impressed by how well the winners had managed to convey the underlying issue, the depth of research undertaken, the thought behind their strategic approach, the amount of planning which went into the winning campaigns and the quality of the execution,” says Carine Duvignaud, General Manager, MEPRA. “This year’s award-winning campaigns, agencies and organisations prove that the region has moved beyond what is traditionally viewed as a function that only embodies media relations to a profession that adds real value to the bottom line in terms of reputation building, issues awareness and incremental business.”

The full list of winners for the MEPRA Awards 2014 is as follows:

Sectors & Services 

  • Best Consumer Goods Campaign – Memac Ogilvy PR Tunisia – Delice
  • Best Consumer Services Campaign – House of Comms – Bounce: The Free-Jumping Revolution
  • Best Consumer Services Campaign (Highly Commended) – Hill+Knowlton Strategies – WWE Riyadh Tour 2014
  • Best Corporate Reputation & Image Campaign – Weber Shandwick MENA – The DGC-X-Factor! How DGCX Transformed Its Regional and Global Profile
  • Best Corporate Social Responsibility & Environmental PR Campaign – Blue Rubicon – Action on Diabetes Ramadan


  • Best Government Communications Campaign – Hill+Knowlton Strategies – Inspiring a Sporting Generation – Qatar National Sports Day
  • Best Health Car & Services Campaign – Memac Ogilvy PR Dubai – Break Away from Psoriasis
  • Best Business to Business Campaign – Weber Shandwick MENA – Credit Where It’s Due! Raising Understanding of S&P’s Role in Regional Capital Market Development
  • Best Internal Communications Campaign – ENEC – 123 Tarkeez


  • Best Integrated Campaign – Memac Ogilvy PR Dubai – The Autocomplete truth
  • Best Launch Live Event/Stunt – DABO & CO – The Launch of Nokia Lumia 1020: Reaching New Heights
  • Best Use of Media Relations – Mojo PR – ICAEW
  • Best Use of Social Media & Digital PR – Atlantis the Palm
  • Best Use of Sponsorship – Hill & Knowlton Strategies – ‘Winning the ultimate World Cup battle of the brands for Adidas’

People and Agencies 

  • Agency of the Year – Weber Shandwick MENA
  • In-House Team of the Year – Mubadala
  • Best Overall Campaign of the Year – Memac Ogilvy PR Dubai – The Autocomplete truth
  • Dave Robinson Award for Outstanding Young Communicator of the Year – Becki Willis, Hill+Knowlton Strategies
  • Dave Robinson Award for Outstanding Young Communicator of the Year (Highly Commended) – Rijosh Joseph, DABO & CO

Media figures dominate Arabian Business Brit List

Media leaders have dominated the second edition of the Arabian Business Brits List – a study that lists the top 50 most influential British expatriates in the UAE.

While MBC Group’s CEO Sam Barnett has landed the top media spot, ranked 4th most influential Brit, Starcom MediaVest Group’s CEO John Antoniades isn’t far behind in 5th place. John Brash, owner of Brash Brands has also made the cut, ranked 17, Motivate Publishing’s Managing Partner Ian Fairservice comes in at number 27, while BBC Middle East Correspondent Mark Lobel snagged the 30th spot. Other notable media influencers who have made the top 50 include television and radio personality Tom Urquhart, DABO & CO Managing Partners Camilla and Lucy D’Abo, Face to Face agency owner Chris Bell and Francis Matthew, Editor at Large, Gulf News.

To see the full Arabian Business Brits List, click here