In The Hot Seat – Joe Lipscombe

Joe Lipscombe, Content Director at Memac Ogilvy tells TMN about his current role and what he thinks about the media industry in the Middle East…

Name: Joe Lipscombe

Age: Too close to 30

From: England

Current job title: Content Director

When did you first arrive in Dubai?


Where did you work prior?

I was predominantly a freelancer from 2010 to 2012, working across a myriad of publications and websites. My favourite, oddly enough, was Cosmos (The Science of Everything, not the gossip mag), which was based in Australia. I was a cosmology correspondent writing about all things planets, stardust and interstellar explosions – you know, standard stuff!

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

I’m not sure it’s fair to summarise the Middle East media industry in one broad statement – that would be like asking, What are Americans like?” There are far too many nuances and unique differences between each market here, which is part of the reason it’s so exciting to work in a regional organisation. My first impressions of the UAE’s media industry, at least, were similar to what they are today. Like any market, there remains a very broad spectrum of talent, but given the size of the market, it’s perhaps a little more obvious here than in some other places. I think its biggest issue is the young and talented journalists of the GCC vastly outnumber the older, more experienced journalists, which means mentors and true experts are hard to come by. For every Frank Kane, Mustafa Alwari and Robert Chilton, who truly knows their way around a paper or magazine, you’ve got a swarm of really talented journalists without access to these types of people. That’s not to say we don’t have incredibly talented journalists, communicators, designers and editors in the GCC – we absolutely do, but it does mean we end up seeing them come and go in waves. Once they’ve learned all they can from this market, they try something new elsewhere.

In terms of the industry itself, the good is its resilience in the area of print. By the same token, the bad is it has struggled to really announce itself in the digital area.

Has your opinion changed much?

That’s probably my general opinion (I’m struggling to remember my real first impressions).

Tell us about your current role…

My role is super fun. My partner, mentor and good friend Sami Moutran, the Director of Memac Ogilvy (MO), came to me with a vision of building a content studio that lives inside MO PR. When the digital world sprang to life, and platforms that allowed everyone to become broadcasters became the norm, reaching people through public relations completely changed. The goal of PR has always remained the same, but the methods needed to achieve it have matured. With that in mind, we needed to evolve slightly and begin offering new services at a higher quality. So we began building the content team, which is my baby, essentially. We focused on hiring people with more specialised backgrounds in writing, creation and production. Then, we placed it into the workflow process alongside our client servicing team, Voilà!

What challenges do you face?

Nothing extraordinarily different to anyone else in the region. As an agency there are some common challenges, and then some not-so common challenges you can’t predict. The three day-to-day challenges I face are making the most of our resources, trying to provide the best value for our clients and maintaining the high standards set by Memac Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) across the region (and Ogilvy globally).

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I could be quite predictable here and say when you see the impact your work has on people’s lives. Some of the stuff MO has done in the last two years has been truly transformational for people all around the world, from globally recognised campaigns such as UN Women’s Autocomplete Truth, to locally important ones such as RTA’s Back-Off Radio. But for me, I’m an ideas man, and to this day the most rewarding part of my job is sparring with my colleagues on new creative ideas. I especially enjoy being part of the creative process with people from other disciplines outside of PR, too. We’re a fully integrated agency, so we work closely with our activations and experiential partner, Geometry Global, as well as the digital marketing and advertising teams from Ogilvy One and O&M. So, you’re always working with talented people from different backgrounds, and with different skills, which means you’re always learning. The final rewarding part is travelling around the region and meeting clients and colleagues from other countries. Mark Jackson, Regional Head of Technology at MO and I recently ran a regional workshop on storytelling, which gave me the opportunity to meet people in other offices, and see what they’re up to. It’s incredibly beneficial (especially for someone without a communications or marketing background).

How would you rather be contacted at work?

Carrier pigeon would be cool or a puppy with a note.

What do you think of the quality of media publications in the region?

I’m a consumer first. So like any consumer, some things I love, some things I hate. I’m a huge fan of Edgar magazine, I think Robert Chilton, Editor-in-Chief of Edgar, has done an excellent job over there. Living in the labyrinth of glossy magazines in the UAE, you can really see the difference between the pretentious and the good. Edgar is an audience-first publication, which I like. Otherwise, though it’s biased to say, I still love picking up Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East purely because of its art. Steven Castelluccia, Art Director of Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East, is without a shadow of a doubt the best Art Director in the country today, which is why his covers appear everywhere from Cover Junkie to Adweek. He’s a genius!

What role has the rise of digital media played when it comes to content creation in the UAE’s media industry?

The digital space has influenced change in every aspect of content creation, from how you create it, where you put it, when you put it there and how you then analyse its performance. The biggest change the digital era has given us is that of consumer behaviour. We put it this way, the consumer used to be a dog. You could generally feed it what you wanted, when you wanted, and it would be very happy and loyal in return. Today, as consumers, we’re more like cats. Everyone thinks it can tame a cat, but in reality they don’t answer to anyone. Their loyalty can’t be easily bought, and they are as fussy as you can imagine. Therefore, we have to totally change the way we approach content creation. We have to use a number of methods to find out exactly what they want, how they want it and when they want it. Then we have to create something that’s as compelling as absolutely anything else available online. Because today, you’re not just competing with your industry rivals, you’re also competing with House of Cards, Game of Thrones, cats playing piano and anything else that lives in the same space as your content. That’s what digital has done, it’s created a level playing field for universal content wars. It’s actually awesome.

Have cultural differences in the UAE played a role in its media industry versus other regions?

Only in a good way. My Arabic Content Manager teaches me so much about the delicacies of the Arabic language, and my Regional Director, Saada Hammad, teaches me so much about building relationships in the Arab world. We have rising stars from Canada, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and pretty much anywhere else, so we are blessed with an ever-relevant point of view on the industry.

How has digital media changed the relationship between the PR and media industry?

Well, there’s a question that could open up a can of worms. Both professions are working their way around new ways of operating in the digital space, so the collaboration between the two is changing as a result. I think we’re getting there.

Describe yourself in five words…

I wouldn’t dare. Better to ask my boss.

What’s your most overused saying?

“Is it lunchtime?” probably. Tied with “I disagree”.

Five things you can’t live without?

Radiohead, a tennis racquet, cat videos, vino (can I say that?), trolling jargon-lovers on LinkedIn.

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

With my instant likeability and good looks? An influencer, obviously.

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

Documentaries. My dream has always been to make documentaries. So much so, our cat is named after Louis Theroux, Louis Theroux Lipscombe The Cat, to be exact!

How do you see the media and PR industry changing in the UAE in the coming years?

If I knew that, I’d be a millionaire.

Arab News welcomes new Columnist

Saudi Arabian daily newspaper, Arab News has welcomed Frank Kane to the role of Columnist. With over 25 years of experience in business journalism in the UK, Frank has worked across various titles including The Financial Times, The Telegraph and Sunday Times and most recently in the UAE as Senior Business Correspondent at The National. In his new role, he will write a bi-weekly column on regional business affairs that will be published on Mondays and Thursdays on the Arab News portal.

“I am happy to have Frank Kane join Arab News as a regular columnist,” says Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief, Arab News. “He brings experience and an informed opinion.”