The only thing that is certain is uncertainty

Kate Midttun, Founder and Managing Director, Acorn Strategy offers her thoughts on the volatility in the Middle East market and what a good marketing strategy does to prepare for it.

“The only thing that is certain is uncertainty. In 2018, it’s difficult to plan past six months and there’s rarely a company that can afford not to be agile. The days of a fixed 12-month marketing calendar are well behind us.”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strategise, quite the opposite, in fact, a good strategy will help you pivot faster than your competitors, make quick decisions and react quickly. It will also help you to build the barriers to entry leaving your competitors eating dust as they try to catch up.

So why aren’t people doing it? They’re too busy, they think they have a strategy (it’s really just a tactical plan with some activities), they don’t need one, or they can’t afford it. There’s an argument against each one and really any leader that can’t articulate their marketing strategy and how it plays into their corporate decisions is letting their company down. Marketing should be contributing to corporate success, not just making things look pretty.

From understanding the context of the economy, the trends in the market, customer behaviour and the factors outside of your control, you’ll start to understand where your opportunity truly lies. It doesn’t lie in following your competitor or offering a slightly lower price or doing something just a little bit better – these are some decisions that should add up to a much bigger playbook that can be turned and tweaked as market factors change.

By taking time to consider the space you occupy in the market you get real and stronger. For some, it’s a tough step and an eye opener, but for others it helps to build the foundations for future success. This builds the base of the offering that you provide to your customers and the reason why they’ll continue to return to you.

After understanding the market, the space you occupy and how you answer the demands of the market, you’ll be able to decide on a strategic direction for your marketing that will support in achieving your wider business objectives. Should you be aggressive as a follower, an innovator or just raising awareness. What are the various scenarios around the decision and why did you choose the direction – this part is critical to helping you pivot when something goes wrong.

Once you understand all of this, you can then define the target market you’ll be going after, what channels you need to use to be most effective and what individual activities are required to get the message across.

Last, but not least, you’ll need to define what success looks like on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis as well as how to measure it. At Acorn Strategy we’ve worked on many strategies to help identify the best path for companies. We’ve helped companies adapt quickly to external changes such as the Russian ruble and its impact on the real estate and leisure industries, the health insurance changes on the healthcare market, as well as recalibrating marketing teams to the new reality after the oil crisis.

If done properly, marketing should be delivering the customer based objectives of your business plan. Marketing should have a seat at the boardroom table and should be considered in big company decisions. Importantly, regardless of whether you have a marketing team or not, a marketing specialist should be actively involved in defining the pathway of your company.

PR is a commitment, not a short-term fling!

Shraddha Barot Amariei, Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at White Label Media Group, talks about the benefits of growing an agency in the Middle East and how long-term partnerships help the client…

I started White Label Media as a passion project, back in 2012 and has purely grown based on referrals. Humble beginnings with no office and a one woman show to 15 people. I have been working in this region for over a decade and passionately built my networks from the ground up.

“Working in PR is a tricky thing. To the public view it’s a quick snapshot, a brief story, one off event, flash of a product placement or a clever co-marketing opportunity. Internally, those relationships took months, even years to build in order to offer communications strategies, PR operations and marketing services to our clients that will provide a magical moment of exposure.”

I realised early on that this is a long-term game. Respect is earned from your peers and clients when you don’t buy into the short cuts and when your company’s culture is built on a genuine vision, and the grueling practice of trial and error. To truly build a successful business is hard work and requires tremendous sacrifice. Regardless of what industry you’re in, there is no such thing as a fast solution to staying in business. Our job is to understand the struggles that clients face and identify them on a human level before we make a positive impact on their business. Working in PR is a tricky thing. To the public view it’s a quick snapshot, a brief story, one off event, flash of a product placement or a clever co-marketing opportunity. Internally, those relationships took months, even years to build in order to offer communications strategies, PR operations and marketing services to our clients that will provide a magical moment of exposure.

The trick is in order to identify those magical opportunities you have to know the brand inside and out. It’s completely in the client’s best interest to work hand-in-hand with an agency so they can fully understand the ethos of the brand, the heartbeat, the vision, the voice and the destination. Being an insider, gives the PR agency competitive advantage to seek out creative ways to use PR successfully. At White Label Media, we work as part of the team. We don’t believe in a rigid contract because we know that PR is a lot more then just a task list, it’s a relationship. PR is a back and forth exchange that needs support, love and guidance, all directed towards the same goal.

The struggle lies in getting clients to understand the long-term game, not to mention the variety of what PR is aside from press releases, social media and the occasional launch event. It’s a common theme for clients to switch agencies for every little project, starting from scratch each time. This likely leads to the client being unsatisfied with the work and wanting more. They don’t understand how the fee equals the product or the value of the network that the agency has. As the saying goes, your network is your net worth. The days, months and years of endless meetings, conversations, parties and networking that it took to build a powerful network that you can use to navigate success for your clients is invaluable. In order for it to be used properly the agency needs to know the brand from A to Z.

Our job as agencies is to educate the market, help them understand the benefits of a committed relationship, a lot like our personal lives! You get out, what you put in. By putting time, effort and dedication in PR, we become committed on a long-term basis and not just for the short term, which earns loyalty – and loyalty buys you opportunities that are endless.

Out with the old in with the new

Jacqui Hewett, General Manager, Tonic International, tells TMN what she thinks about the evolution of the region’s marketing industry from traditional to digital and offers some rules to help marketers through the transitional phase…

To say that we are spoilt for choice nowadays when it comes to marketing solutions is an understatement. In fact, the abundance of choice can be totally overwhelming for marketing professionals, especially when they are looking to transition from the traditional marketing space into the digital marketing space.

“Marketing plans now need to be multi-faceted, linked to real business deliverables and agile whilst always being consumer centric.”

Long gone are the days of the four P’s directly translating into a cookie cutter solution, agencies have been peddling with the usual suspects of below-the-line marketing (BTL), TV and some additional out-of-home advertising (OOH) support. Marketing plans now need to be multi-faceted, linked to real business deliverables and agile whilst always being consumer centric.

With this in mind, there are four rules of thumb that I like to focus on with clients that are making the sometimes-daunting transition from traditional to digital marketing much easier:

Keep it simple

Consumers have short attention spans and are spoilt for choice – just because you can use every new digital platform and technique to execute your campaign doesn’t mean that you should. I have a test that I run with clients and colleagues when we are crafting the big idea into an executional plan, if it takes you more than two minutes and more than two slides to explain the concept and how consumers will participate, the idea is too complicated. When an idea is too complicated, consumers lose interest – marketing directors need to encourage their agencies to design campaigns that are simple, engaging and responsive.

Measure the right things

We all know digital is exciting because it’s so measureable, this is one of the main reasons clients are shifting focus away from traditional into this space. However, too much of a good thing can have a negative effect and one of the most common mistakes clients make is to want to measure, investigate and analyse every single metric. This inhibits the process and usually translates into agencies spending more time explaining which metrics are important and which are not versus spending time optimising and adjusting the campaign based on the key result factors. Clients need to be thoroughly involved in setting up the measurement plan so that it links directly to their business key performance indicators (KPIs). They also need to ensure they understand clearly what metrics are significant and why, then focus their attention on those metrics.

Work with experts

The shift from traditional to digital marketing usually means that clients are learning new skillsets, techniques and mediums quite quickly. This can result in feeling a bit like a jack of all trades, master of none — take the time to select your agency partners carefully. You do not need to be ‘all knowing’ across digital, but you need to trust that the agencies you have supporting you are experts in their field. Look for partners who come recommended for solving your particular problem, ask for specific case studies and client references, and understand from them what kind of results can be expected prior to launching.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Even writing the word ‘fail’ is scary — especially when your marketing investment usually represents a significant portion of the company’s revenue. The advice here is ‘NO’ to bet it all in red, and hope for the best. What clients need to do is test, test and test! Set aside testing budgets not just at the beginning, but also across your campaign so that you have the flexibility to explore different techniques whilst isolating any loss of opportunity. If you don’t give your campaign and your agency the ability to seek out new ways of doing things, eventually growth will stagnate.

In conclusion, change is good and evolving your marketing strategies will only ever reap rewards in the long run. Embrace the change and don’t be afraid to ask questions — the digital space is here to stay so marketing directors need to understand and benefit from it.

Great content, super design, but where’s your audience?

James Pardoe, CEO at Grow sits with TMN to discuss why websites fail to engage with the right audience and how to boost traffic…

“Focus on the niche traffic sources where your target audience resides. Don’t be tempted to jump head-first into all the digital mediums out there.”

What is more important: An amazing website or huge quantities of traffic?

Okay, that was a trick question. The answer is both and neither.

An amazing website with no traffic is just as useless as tons of traffic with a bad website. Or perhaps you have an amazing website AND high traffic, but your site still isn’t delivering the results you’d expected?

That’s because there’s a third and equally important element that you’re missing − targeted audiences. Perfect the trifecta and your company will experience substantial and measurable growth in a matter of weeks. It doesn’t matter if you’re B2B, B2C or B2H, the result will be the same.

Easier said than done, I know. It takes time and money to optimise your website, generate traffic, and ensure that traffic is highly targeted.

The usual approach is to say “okay, the website is good-enough, let’s focus on the marketing”. But, before you go down this route, I suggest you measure your website’s performance. Below are the key metrics you should look at to measure visitor engagement and know if your site is indeed ‘good-enough’: (you can access this data from Google Analytics and other site statistics platforms).

Conversion rate

The percentage of people who achieve a set objective – for example, contact you (general), make a purchase (eCommerce), or generate more than one impression (media). For lead generation or eCommerce sales, 1% is minimum. 3% is good and 5% is great, whereas for media, the conversion rate varies wildly depending on the objectives.

Bounce rate

The percentage of people who leave your site without going deeper into the content. Again, this varies by industry, but generally speaking 60% is high, 40% is average, and 30% is great, the lower the better.

Time on site

1 minute is minimum, 3 minutes is good, and anything more is great. Media sites see higher time-on-site and higher bounce rates than usual, because people spend longer reading articles and often leave after reading just one.

If any of those metrics are below par, I suggest you look at improving your website first. Here’s why:

If your site has a conversion rate of 0.5%, you only need to increase the conversion rate by half a percentage to double the performance of your website. Consider what kind of impact that would have on your company. Any investment you make in achieving this will be minimal compared to the investment required to double your traffic and achieve the same result.

Quality or Quantity? Both.

Once you’re ready to tackle your traffic, you need to ask yourself which is more important: Quality or quantity? Of course, we want both. But consider this: 10 high quality visits that convert is far better than 1,000 that don’t.

So my advice would be to focus on quality first. How? Consider your traffic sources − where do your target audiences hang out online? Where do they hang out in real life? Look at ways you can use digital marketing to reach them. For example, let’s say you know your target audience frequents the malls often. You could use geotargeting to only display ads to people who are currently at the mall.

If Google is your biggest generator of quality traffic, then look at Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques to increase your exposure to quality visitors.

Scaling Up

Once your site is converting and you’re generating quality traffic, you’ll have a clear idea on where to focus your resources and scale the numbers. Use Google Analytics to get real data on your best performing traffic sources (consider the above engagement criteria for each traffic source). The source with the highest levels of engagement is where you should focus your efforts.


If you can’t have one without the other, where do you start? Take baby-steps to improve each aspect gradually. Reap the rewards of each small improvement and re-invest into achieving larger improvements down the line.

Focus on the niche traffic sources where your target audience resides. Don’t be tempted to jump head-first into all the digital mediums out there.
By using real audience data to inform your strategies, any investment you make into marketing to these channels is a safe bet and your business is on the clear path to growth.

How to get noticed – It’s easier than you think

Ivan Isakovic, CEO and Art Director, Al Karam Creative Solutions elaborates on the need and impact of clean design and how it can bring in the bucks…

“Good design is not just a pretty face – it structures and organises the data, while highlighting key facts that will direct the reader’s attention toward all the relevant information that they need…”

People are visual beings and are subconsciously attracted to clean and concise design. Good design is not just a pretty face – it structures and organises data, while highlighting key facts that will direct the reader’s attention toward all the relevant information that they need, without having to painfully sift through a mass of unsystematic data. What most businesses fail to understand is that an initial investment of appointing an experienced designer can drastically increase your chances of getting recognised and creating an impact.

An essential characteristic of effective design is to avoid excessive detail and clutter. While relevant images and rightly placed icons definitely make for more appealing reading material, the overuse of images could easily make a professional document look like a cafeteria menu, which is not something that any potential client or reader would even glance at. Too many unnecessary and haphazardly placed visuals will only distract and confuse the reader, making it difficult for them to pin-point exactly what they’re looking for.

Another important factor while appointing a designer is confidentiality. For example, commissioning someone to design your business plan would involve handing over confidential information and facts about your business to a complete stranger. You should always be sure that your hard work is in safe hands. Most start-ups understandably would want to save every possible penny, but opting for a less-expensive alternative could put your business and goals at risk of being exposed in an unprofessional and unethical manner. I always and strongly recommend that all businesses, start-up or not, should only appoint reputed and established designers/agencies to handle such confidential data.

What I have noticed is that most businesses often pay very little attention to the design of the one document that defines the core and foundation of a brand, its investor-proposal. With the massive sea of companies flooding the market today, how does one make sure their brand stands out? The hunt for the right investor is hard enough and making sure your agency or organisation gets recognised is another challenge by itself. How can you increase the probability, if not make sure that your proposal catches the attention of a viewer amongst the rest?

What most people fail to understand is that just like any other branding material, a well-designed business plan (yes, that is a thing!) is essential when it comes to creating a name and image for your brand. When an investor has to shuffle through dozens of proposals in a day, each one with massive amounts of data cramped into a few pages, it is quite likely that yours may go unnoticed if it too looks like an uninteresting printed word document.

Nice presentation shows dedication, attention to detail and commitment to the idea. Appointing a professional graphic designer to develop your business plan will ensure that all crucial information about your brand is communicated to your targeted audience through a well-presented document. A visually appealing and to-the-point plan will engage the reader with your brand, with all relevant data presented in an orderly manner. This facilitates smooth flow through all the content that you aim to put across while spotlighting important facts.

So don’t take the easy way out by selecting a cost-effective designer without any research. Securing the right investor is key to a successful business and investing in an experienced designer with a clean track record will not only ‘face-lift’ an ordinary investor-proposal through concise design, but also ensure client-designer confidentiality.

Three obvious reasons your press release got ignored

Fida Chaaban, Chief Communications Officer, KBW Investments offers her thoughts on the reasons why press releases get ignored and gives easy to follow rules on how to avoid this…

Communications professionals, your client’s worthwhile news is being sidelined because your overall messaging – whether or not the client has imposed this on your conceptual development – is often convoluted or incomplete.”

Having spent a decade and a half as a Journalist and as someone who’s still actively engaged in the media space, here are three of my no-brainer aspects to avoid when dealing with the press.

Although this piece is very opinion-based and has no established metric to draw on, I am able to confirm that many of my journalist friends and former colleagues agree with me on the following points.

Communications professionals, your client’s worthwhile news is being sidelined because your overall messaging – whether or not the client has imposed this on your conceptual development – is often convoluted or incomplete.

Currently, as the Chief Communications Officer at KBW Investments, I deal with a wide range of our portfolio companies and I can assure you that despite the very huge difference between heavy machinery (Raimondi Cranes) and hospitality (Novotel Expo Sharjah), these three rules have held true for all our messaging efforts.

I’m going to use some examples from press releases that people have sent me in the past as good benchmarks to land the right type of press attention. (And for those wondering why I’m not using bad examples as the “don’t” list, it’s because I don’t think naming and shaming is productive.)

Jargon and fluff

If I open up a press release and I can’t figure out what it really means in the first four lines, I’m gearing up to hit delete. Remember that an editor’s job is to process the information you’re sharing and regurgitate things of interest with some decent rounding out of the material. Your client’s “vision” followed by a whole slew of industry-specific descriptors is often very alienating. Take it down a notch! The journalists who specialise in this specific type of reporting will use the jargon (if and when) it’s appropriate in the generated coverage. Don’t alienate the rest of your mailing list by imposing it on the already-overextended media in the actual release. CompareIt4Me avoids inaccessible language and chatter particularly well. Despite being a startup that works in the financial space, the company uses very accessible language that journalists with elementary financial literacy can process.


It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get coverage in a B2B or a mass title, print, web or both. Images are always appreciated by editors who have neither the time (and often lack the resources) to source a visual for your piece. Try as hard as you possibly can to ensure you are providing the media with proper resolution images in landscape and in portrait formats. Another quick tip, don’t send the extreme high resolution set in an email, instead offer the Editor a clean download link for larger shots. But your “client doesn’t like pictures”? Then your client doesn’t like big glossy coverage. You are more likely to get nice placement if you supply relevant, solid imagery. Mojo PR once pitched a businessperson to me during my time as EIC of Entrepreneur MENA. They supplied stellar bio images that ultimately landed the client the cover of Entrepreneur Qatar. This was a cold-call pitch from an account executive I had never dealt with and she really delivered in spades.

Self-serving spam

An ongoing barrage of press releases about your client’s social calendar and public appearances is both ridiculous and ineffectual. Let me be clear, no one cares. Let me be even more clear, such memos start to give the media the idea that your client is desperate for attention and increasingly irrelevant – quite the opposite of what your objectives are, I’m sure. While I know that some clients just won’t take no for an answer, save yourself from the spam folder by pushing back as much as you can. As a Journalist and Editor, some PR people were marked spam by me after the third time I received nonsense of this sort. Your client visiting their own offices in Bangkok, for example, is not press-worthy (even if you have high resolution imagery and even if a whole list of dignitaries was present). Your client presenting an award internally to one of the company employees also qualifies as an immediate delete, so do all the do-gooder press releases like ‘We donated X amount of money to the worker’s association’ – you get the idea. In this regard, I have numerous good examples. Based on my experience, the Four Seasons never communicates unless they have a pretty relevant announcement, although hospitality editors might have a different view of this. Similarly, financial institutions like banks – except for one that I know of – by and large, communicate with restraint and relevance as well.

Editors reading this may be thinking that I forgot to mention frequency, length and coherence, in addition to a slew of other unattractive communication “don’ts”. For the purposes of length, I restricted this list to three easy to avoid rules of thumb. Feel free to tweet your opinions at me @Fida and I look forward to hearing from you.

Are PR Professionals in Danger of Extinction?

Heidi Myers, Marketing Director, Meltwater EMEA, gives her thoughts on how today’s PR professionals cope with the growing popularity of social media and the different outlets opened up for communication…

“I do not believe that PR will become extinct but the PR professionals of today need different skill sets. He/she should be able to navigate the world of digital media, be adept with social media monitoring tools, understand the mindset of millennials who dominate social media and be able to provide new measures to justify ROI.”

With the growing popularity of social media and the various outlets it has opened up for communication, the PR profession is going through a sea-change. PR is no longer a one way communication, for news that you post, there are hundreds of comments from end users in split seconds. How will today’s PR professionals cope with all of these changes and how will they measure the impact of stories that go viral?

I do not believe that PR will become extinct but the PR professionals of today need different skill sets. He/she should be able to navigate the world of digital media, be adept with social media monitoring tools, understand the mindset of millennials who dominate social media and be able to provide new measures to justify ROI.

Here are my top three tips on staying valuable both in house and in an agency:

Offer credibility and strategic counsel

With the increasing number of posts from citizen journalists, one of the main concerns that journalists and the public have is the credibility of their source. This is where a PR professional can make a difference. Provide well-researched stories with statistics and comments from industry leaders that you have access to. Foresee a crisis before it happens and counsel clients on the proper response to contain the social media storm following a crisis. Become the trusted counsellor of your clients and the credible point of contact for media and the public.

Offer value added services

Step up your efforts to become the expert communicator. Provide value added services like training for in house communications department on how to manage social media, crisis communications and media training for top management, blog management, social media monitoring tools and analysis of big data to help companies dig out valuable data regarding consumer engagement and influencer management.

Step up on the creativity and relationships

Creative stories still see the light of day and today with the help of social media, they can go viral, creating a much stronger impact. Tell authentic stories with a human angle. People still buy people. Be sure to keep in touch with your contacts. In today’s connected world, there are so many ways to keep in touch and also to create new contacts online.

With the right approach, PR professionals can succeed in today’s digitalised world.