In The Hot Seat – David Barnes

David Barnes, new Associate Director of Digital Data at PHD UAE, tells us about what he feels makes a successful marketing campaign and how he can see the media landscape changing in the UAE in the coming years…

Name: David Barnes


From: Kent, England           

Current Job Title: Associate Director – Digital Data

When did you first arrive in Dubai?
February 2016

Where did you work prior?
Before arriving in Dubai, I was working as Data Director at MEC in London.

What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
Refreshingly positive! The first thing that hit me was the positivity and passion of the PHD office here. On the industry as a whole; I had been told that the Middle East was ‘behind’ or ‘less progressive’, however I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived to find that the work is on par with – if not ahead of – what I had experienced in the UK. 

Has your opinion changed much?
I am now in my eighth week at the company and am delighted that the passion and positivity I saw from the agency when I first arrived wasn’t just an illusion! It is embedded in the PHD culture. Every day I am impressed by my colleagues’ drive to make a difference and ensure that our clients are future-ready and ahead of the curve. 

What challenges do you face?
Firstly, the term data is quickly becoming overused in the media industry. People have started using ‘data’ as the answer to all of their problems, even though it is rarely that simple. Data on its own is useless; it must be collected, stored and managed in the correct manner before it is ready for any analysis, which can then in turn be acted upon. Often brands know that they have data, they just don’t know how it is stored or what they can do with it, so it’s my job to help map out a realistic data strategy for them to achieve their business goals.

Secondly, the people in charge of a brand’s data and the people in charge of the marketing do not often connect, so another challenge is educating both parties on the benefits of collaboration.

Lastly, brand metrics within digital have to be improved. I see this as one of my key challenges; as it is a problem within the media industry as a whole. It is no use measuring a campaign with a brand objective purely against reach and frequency, or even worse against clicks. We have to be able to measure the actual lift in real brand awareness metrics from our online advertising, which is a real challenge. In order to fairly attribute digital activity in justifiable metrics we need to relook at the last-click methodology as a whole as well.  The user journey is so complex nowadays that we simply cannot give all the credit to the final thing that happens before a conversion.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Unlocking that one insight that becomes the seed for the rest of the campaign to grow. Often, the most creative of campaigns have a simple idea at the heart, which has been unlocked through clever use of data. Today’s marketplace is so cluttered that one small piece of data can make all the difference.

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in media in the UAE?
Be passionate, proactive and creative. Keep your finger on the pulse while pushing the boundaries. Also, don’t forget to work hard and play hard.

In your opinion, what makes a marketing campaign successful?
Relevance. To me, a marketing campaign can only be successful if it is perceived as relevant by those who see it. Data plays a huge role in enabling a campaign’s relevance from the outset of the original idea, right through to delivery and optimisation. One application of this is creative versioning. Any data source ­– from weather, location, time of day to recent online user behaviour – can be used to create tailored versions of a brand’s creative for different users to make it specifically relevant to them on a personal level. These tailored messages will increase the relevance of the campaign to the user and they will therefore be more likely to see the brand as providing a solution to their needs.

Another point I want to mention here is measurement – without correct KPI setting and measurement, we cannot deem any campaign to be a true success.

How do you see media changing in the UAE in the coming years?
Firstly, I see that the growth of ecommerce will provide us with data to become a lot smarter in how we do business, we can then build models based on propensity to purchase, cross-sell online purchasers and exclude users who have already purchased, etc. There is often a difference in the kind of people who visit a website and those who actually convert, so ecommerce will allow us to optimise our campaigns to those more likely to convert, which will directly impact sales.

Another development is CRM becoming more closely aligned to marketing. The first step in deciding who to market your campaign to is understanding your existing audience; CRM data allows us to do this. We can become really advanced with CRM data and use it for tactics such as cross-selling, upgrading and excluding etc.

I would also like to see the lines blurred between online and offline so that we can measure the impact of one on the other and stop looking at them as separate entities. This area of online to offline attribution is going to be a key focus for me and something I hope I can help crack in a region where so much purchasing happens offline. We have to be able to measure our online campaigns in a manner that reflects this habit of researching online but purchasing offline.

Lastly, artificial intelligence (AI) is also something that really excites me and that I think the media world needs to get its head around. So much of what we do in digital is based on basic historic actions (what sites did a user visit, what did they search, etc.) but the past doesn’t always dictate the future. The media world needs to take advantage of the major leaps and bounds within the AI landscape in order to better predict what users are likely to do. PHD is already experimenting in this field which is really exciting.

In The Hot Seat – Hussein M. Dajani

Hussein M. Dajani, Chief Operating Officer at Hug Digital tells Team TMN about the challenges he faces working in the digital industry in the Middle East and the rewards of effective management…


Name: Hussein M. Dajani                   

Age: 36                                          

From: Beirut, Lebanon               

Current Job Title: Chief Operating Officer – Hug Digital

When did you first arrive in Dubai?
My journey in Dubai started in 2004, when I was a Senior Account Executive with Leo Burnett, working on the Dubai Holding group of companies. Leo Burnett gave me an amazing opportunity to interact with and understand the people behind Dubai’s amazing success.

Where did you work prior?
I have over 15 years of experience with multinational agencies such as JWT, Leo Burnett, and TBWA. I’ve also worked on the client side for Virgin Mobile as well as Red Bull, across the Middle East and Africa region.

What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
I was still young and easily impressed when I moved here. Back then, outdoor billboards were considered an innovation and moving from Saudi to Dubai felt like jumping 20 years into the future in a time machine. I remember when 7Days newspaper came out and its size was innovative by comparison to the other big, bulky newspapers on offer. That was the golden era for the media industry over here. 

Has your opinion changed much?
Yes, very much so and for various reasons. One being, I have changed but also, consumers’ behaviors have changed, media consumption has changed. Yet the media industry didn’t evolve with these changes and so now it is starting to pay the price.

Tell us about your current role
When I first joined Hug Digital, I was in charge of uplifting the agency’s social offerings across the region. Six months down the line, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the agency, where I now report directly to the Chairman and CEO. I’m responsible for maintaining relationships with clients, expanding the agency to new markets and elevating offerings from digital, innovation, research, social, and content. It’s like wearing many hats at the same time.

What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge I face is finding the right talents, recruiting them and retaining them. The new generation is so different from my generation when we started working. They don’t have the “mojo” for work and they aren’t ready, nor do they want to go the extra mile.

Another challenge faced by the whole region – financial, political and economical instability. When Saudi suffers, the whole region does, and so far Saudi is witnessing the biggest hit as a result of overall negative market sentiments.

A third challenge I face is convincing clients to go digital, regardless.

Lastly, staying updated with the latest trends, innovations and breakthrough’s happening in digital, which is one fast-paced industry, is a challenge. But you’re either ahead of the game or you’re a follower. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing staff happy at work and witnessing the agency grow. Managing the reputation of an agency isn’t an easy task, but it is definitely rewarding when you hear positive news, even from strangers. That’s when you know that you are doing the right thing.

On March 25, 2016 we celebrated the sixth anniversary of Hug Digital. We are now in four markets (Dubai, Cairo, Jeddah, and Trivandrum), employ 13 different nationalities and have a local, regional and multinational roster of clients. It is really rewarding to be part of something small that is growing by the day. 

Work calls via landline, mobile or both?
What’s a landline? Work calls are either on mobile, Skype, Gtalk or Whatsapp.

Describe yourself in five words…
I can do so in two: Happily Dissatisfied.

What can’t you live without?
My wife, my mobiles, water and my Apple TV.

If you could have one work wish granted, what would it be?
More transparency, ethics and honesty in the industry. I would like the communication industry to return to its glory days. 

What is your favourite form of media?
Digital all the way. Unfortunately, TV to me has just become decor, radio is for passing time when in the car and not on the phone and print, oh dear, CO2. I honestly can’t remember the last time I held a newspaper or a magazine.

In The Hot Seat – Benita Adesuyan

Benita Adesuyan, PR Editor at OSN, talks to TMN about changes to Dubai’s media scene and offers her advice to those looking to start a career in the industry…

Name:  Benita Adesuyan                                

Age: 33                                        

From: London       

Current Job Title: PR Editor at OSN

When did you first arrive in Dubai? November 2013

Where did you work prior?
Before arriving in Dubai, I was working for Northern & Shell Media Group on the Sunday Express Magazine for six years. I started out as an Editorial Assistant on the magazine and worked my way up to the role of Commissioning Editor. Prior to my current position, I was Section Editor at Time Out Dubai for two years. I was in charge of three sections – sports and outdoors, film and community.

What were your first impressions of the media industry in the Middle East?
My very first impressions of the Middle East media industry were largely influenced by the friends that I had from the UK who had relocated here before me. Many were leaving UK titles and seeing their careers flourish. When I arrived, I felt that there was a growth in the industry here and a sense of dynamism and progression which seemed to be lacking from the UK’s market, especially in national publications, at the time.

Has your opinion changed much?
I still feel that the media industry here is very dynamic, and there’s a forward thinking approach to how consumers connect with media in its various formats. The way social media is used here is so creative and there are a lot of opportunities for new titles, and media platforms. That being said, economics obviously has a part to play in any industry and media is highly competitive so when purses and budgets tighten, it constricts the growth of the market.

Tell us about your current role…
My current role is very unique and varied. As a PR Editor I produce an internal magazine for all OSN staff across MENA, I also work with the PR team for OSN on their media events and launches. It’s an exciting role for me as I am responsible for all elements of the magazine from researching and writing the stories, to working with our designers, and liaising with production. I get to use my skills as an Editor to take full charge of production of the magazine, and also write engaging stories about the OSN business, programmes, channels and talent, and I’m also acquiring new skills in PR and marketing.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
As a journalist you always feel proud when you see your work, but in this role, seeing how my colleagues get excited about each edition and want to share their stories for the next edition really gives me a good buzz. 

What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a career in media in the UAE?
Go for it – adapt and bring your whole self to your new role or company. Yes, things are different, but just don’t hold back. The UAE is still full of opportunity, creative companies want and value smart, proactive, and hardworking people and the sky really is the limit.

What’s your pet PR peeve?
Not knowing the publication. Take the time to know a magazine before you pitch an idea. Nip to the shop and buy a copy if you’re totally unfamiliar with it, visit the website, check the magazine’s Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, but people are way too busy to deal with irrelevant pitches that would never run in their magazine. Now that I have a PR element to my role, it’s something that I’m very conscious of.

Work calls via landline, mobile or both?
I prefer to get calls on the landline, especially if it’s during work hours and it’s a non-urgent or follow up call. I do actually pick up my phone, even though that does seem like a rare habit. I only expect to get a call on my mobile if it is really time-sensitive or we’re due to meet. 

What’s your most overused saying?
‘Cool’ – I say it and I write it in emails all the time. I’ve also started to use ‘awesome’ a lot. 

How do you see media changing in the UAE in the coming years?
I think it is going to get more competitive across the board, and that will encourage everyone to up their game, which is good for consumers and makes those of us working in the industry more innovative. 

If you could have one work wish granted, what would it be?
Aside from the obvious wish, I’d love to get free back and shoulder massages at work. I get very tight shoulders, and anyone who has ever worked in the same office as me can testify that I am always stretching and doing my desk exercises, so a free daily back massage would be awesome.

What is your favourite form of media (i.e; TV, radio, print)?
I love it all, I don’t have a favourite. I listen to the radio first thing in the morning, read papers and magazines through the day and check social media constantly. I go to the cinema every week, but since joining OSN, I think I’ve genuinely fallen in love with TV again.