“We don’t and have never felt like “We made it!...!” within our industry.” quoted Louay Al-Samarrai and Sawsan Ghanem Joint Managing Directors, Active PR.
On the occasion of having successfully completed a decade of pioneering work, Louay and Sawsan spoke to MediavataarME.com about the journey so far and how they plan it from here…
1. First of all congratulations on completing 10 years of prosperous serving. How has Active PR evolved over these ten years?
Thank you it is with a great sense of achievement that we have reached this important milestone.
Its funny in some ways there has been some really pointed elements in our evolution such as the size and scale of the Agency – from 2 people to 12 people in that time, our Client base from 4 to over 23 Clients and the move into other industry sectors such as hospitality, retail, banking and finance and healthcare as well as an office move to accommodate the growing team and the greater profile we have started to enjoy on the PR front here in the region with clients in the US, Europe and the Far East. In addition we have seen so many partnerships start and grow with different Agencies in the US and Europe that were looking for a pro-active, added value consultancy for their Clients and who have evolved this relationship to listing us as their affiliate in the region.
In other ways the Agency has not evolved that much when you look at our philosophy and approach, our desire to be an Agency that adds value, that values process and structure and that believes in what it is doing for its Clients and has the passion and drive to do this pro-actively.
If anything this has been the basis of our success and in essence is as much what we are celebrating as the fact that we have been in operation and successfully growing for these great ten years!
2. How has the outlook of Clients in general changed towards a PR agency by far?
Good question! Really we see that Clients are demanding more form their Agency’s, they are looking to them to provide real consultancy, incisive market intelligence, social media strategy and campaign management and this is definitely different to ten years ago when it was either about media relations and biblical sized coverage reports and press releases. Although sadly there are still quite a few organizations out there that still measure and gauge the success of their Agency on these rather basic PR tools and a few Agencies that still have not moved on from this type of service and thinking also!
For Active PR we have always adhered to the approach and philosophy that we are a consultancy and here to add value both at the strategic and at the tactical level and as the region has moved in this direction we have seen the benefits of having this as our core since the beginning and therefore already offering what Clients are starting to demand today!
3. In this fragmented market how do you create definition for your diverse clients?
Not sure I understand the question fully however we have a very simple approach – and simple is usually successful! – and that is to understand, evaluate and define each Client individually. For example we have an extensive portfolio of Clients in the technology sector however each one has a different plan, a different set of target audiences and each plan reflects the maturity of the brand, the popularity and awareness of the different solutions and services they offer and also the different goals they may have for the channel network they have or want to build.
Process, structure are the base and creativity and market knowledge and experience are the icing that generally deliver a PR campaign that is effective for each and every Client
4. Are there chances of communication getting diluted when you have to deliver a customized campaign?
There are always variables to any campaign and – using the experienced heads in the Agency, working with your Clients and understanding their business and the sector helps to mitigate some of them, however the Agency needs to be dynamic and flexible and this is where our process pays off as it is designed to empower the team so that they can make the necessary decisions and act on them on the spot, in the moment rather than having to constantly refer to some central control element in the Agency
In addition we insist that our team members possess all the necessary skills to do an effective job. So they don’t waste time clipping newspapers but at the same time they don’t get “removed” from the media by having a special department that deals with that.
By keeping the Agency structure quite flat we can respond, react and get back on the front foot very quickly with Client campaigns
5. Data is something which could reveal many crucial insights about a market, how you look at it?
This is so true! Well when it’s available and its accurate we evaluate it on its merits to our Clients and how this data can impact on the thinking and decisions of the target audiences that our Client wants to communicate with.
The sad things about this region is that solid data is both hard to come by (cost and ability to collect it) as well as not always an element that organizations and companies see as key for this region. We often see some great studies done by Clients that are labeled EMEA but really ignore the MEA bit!
6. “Today PR has successfully become a bridge of communication in the society, overtaking advertising.” Do you agree?
We would agree to some extent however it’s not about ego here it’s about what your Clients need. Too many times have we seen potential Clients approach an Ad Agency, a PR Agency or a Below-the-Line Agency with a set of challenges only to be told that the ONLY solution lies in what they happen to offer. This is irresponsible and not ethical in Active PR’s philosophy and approach.
One of the reasons we have operated as a business for these past ten years has been due to the fact that where we have felt that a Client’s solutions lie in a mixture of marketing disciplines, we have recommended as much and we don’t have an Ad Agency or a Media Buying house as part of our organization.
So ultimately it’s about the marketing MIX and not about one discipline over another and that mix can have different emphasis on it but it is and always will be essentially a mix!
7. Major companies like Google and Apple have been a hit only because of their PR, what’s your take on it?
It does not really surprise us….in the US and Europe the PR Agency “sits” at the Board level and with the combination of Analyst relations, financial PR and corporate PR is key to the share price and value of a company and its brand equity.
Recently we have seen Groupon in the UK badly affected by what many in the media have called a blasé and rather amateur approach to their media relations and PR and this has very much affected them and compounded the financial issues they were facing. Had they had a thought through crisis management plan in place and a solid respect for their PR, they would not only have lessened the impact of the disclosures about their financial management but also most likely turned this into a positive for themselves.
The difference between good PR and bad PR can be the difference of succeeding as a company or failing. Its that simple!
8. Active PR has won number of awards; do you think this recognition is very important to feel stimulated? At what stage in these ten years have you felt that you have ‘made it’ in this industry?
Yes we do feel very stimulated when this happens! And we are also grateful for having been recognized in this way. We don’t and have never felt like “We made it!...!” within our industry.
We were “cast out of fire” if you like, there were some very petty people that did not want us to succeed and there are still one or two out there today. So we see it as more a “vindication” that we have not only existed but that we have thrived and continue to see growth, development, excitement and value in what we do.
The Active PR engine works and performs really and whilst some parts fail, other are replaced and some “drop out” but we maintain the momentum and in some cases increase at the same time realizing that some of these parts were not “the real thing” and therefore hindered that performance.
9. Being crowned as the Arab Entrepreneur of the Year, last year must have been a rewarding moment, how was the feeling?
Sawsan - I was blown away by the recognition…felt so proud….The award inspired me to do more, if that’s possible, to pursue projects and plans that I had in the pipeline with renewed energy & determination. To sum it up in a few words – I felt like I can conquer the world.
10. What’s in the pipeline for Active PR, any new verticals?
We always have new plans and new challenges to conquer and we have recently brought on expertise that will help us strengthen our events offering and increase our presence in this sector and this is very exciting!
In addition we are increasing our presence in the transport and rail sector – this is forte of ours and we strongly believe that these companies can benefit from our consultancy as we have studied this sector in detail and attended a few of the events they have had
Lastly and perhaps a little disappointingly we have launched a Healthcare specialization consultancy at the beginning of last year and this has not seen the level of success we had hoped for. We are hoping that – as the sector matures – we will see this change and some of the companies in this sector start to demand a little more of the strategic from their Agency rather than the tactical media relations and event support elements that seem to the norm at the moment.
11. What are three things a budding entrepreneur should keep in mind and swear by to be able to succeed in all respects?
Sawsan - Believe in yourself, your vision, nothing is impossible….there’s always a way…..if you put your mind to something you can do it. Dubai is a city that embraces entrepreneurial spirit and one that inspires me every day to do more and genuinely believe that anything is possible, so long as you are passionate and have the necessary skills and/or qualifications that it demands.