An email from FleishmanHillard / Mona Sadek landed in my Inbox one day. It was an invitation to attend an event by Samsung to announce their new S6 phone. I didn’t know how they found me or come to know about Wajeez but I thought why not. There, the mystery was solved when I met Mona Sadek, a senior PR executive active on the social media front in the UAE. I was in her list of influencers. The rest is history, as they say. Today I’m privileged to interview Mona Sadek.
Q: Please tell the readers more about yourself. (i.e. Area of study, why did you leave the US and come back to the Gulf, previous jobs, and how did end up working with FleishmanHillard)
I was born to Egyptian American parents and raised between Riyadh, KSA, Illinois, USA, and Abu Dhabi, UAE, the majority of my childhood was spent in Saudi. Traveling back and forth between Saudi and the US every year as a kid was a real eye-opening experience, and it grew my curiosity about languages and culture. I eventually majored in International Relations with a minor in Middle East Studies.
During undergrad I did a couple of tremendously enriching internships in Washington, DC, and was keen to pursue a career in foreign policy there, after graduating. I took a leap of faith, though, when I decided to move to Dubai two years ago to pursue professional experience outside of the US after I got my degree.
Q: Did you choose to work in the PR field or did it choose you and how / why so?
Actually, a few detours in my initial plan are what led me to PR. When I first got to Dubai, I was naively hopeful I’d be able to quickly clinch a job at a university or a research institution doing what I love. After a few months, though, I was disappointed at how difficult it was to break into the policy research scene here. I had obsessively applied for internships at the handful of think-tanks and research institutions I could find, but to no avail.
So to keep myself busy I got CELTA certified and taught English to adults – something I had done throughout college – and continued my search. Eventually, I began to open myself up to new industries. Concentrating on my love of writing, learning, and communicating, I started looking at internship opportunities in PR.
I was immediately drawn to FleishmanHillard, a global agency with a really fantastic office culture and a gamut of familiar global clients, who graciously accepted an IR major with no PR background for an internship. Before I knew it, my 3-month internship at FleishmanHillard Dubai had spiraled into something great. I’ll be celebrating my 2-year anniversary with FleishmanHillard next February.
Q: Based on your experience, what marketing tactics yields the best results with the Arabian consumers? Say a new company has a new product and they want users in UAE to buy – how should they market it?)
Consumers in the region generally have a sophisticated taste and are more brand-conscious than the average consumer in the United States, for example. If your product can make them feel cool, smart, and accepted, you’ll be able to sell it, but you must come across as genuine and friendly.
Q: Is the Press Release still relevant in getting the word out in the time of the internet and social media? Can you share some actual cases you have witnessed where the press release benefited your client in tangible / measurable ways?
The Press Release is definitely still relevant, but is it the ideal way of communicating your message 100% of the time? No. There are a lot of innovative and meaningful ways to make an announcement that gets listened to, not just heard. It is the PR’s job to devise and plan these, and to assure the client every step of the way. But I find it interesting that the Press Release is still relevant for many of the same reasons that some people deem it to be archaic: the structure, the content, the style, etc.
While the Internet has made it easy for news and word-of-mouth to get around, it has also become another medium for the standard press release to reach different audiences. I’m frequently asked for a press release when passing along news updates on WhatsApp, email, or over the phone to my friends in the media; in a lot of ways, it makes their lives easier to have something concrete and official to refer to when they prepare their stories.
Just last week I was telling a friend of mine about a cool new piece of technology launched by one of my clients at FleishmanHillard, and she specifically asked for the launch press release and specs for her story. This happens all the time, and not just for my tech clients.
Q: If you were to recommend 3 PR agencies in Dubai, (Apart from FleishmanHillard), what would they be?
Hard to say. I think I’m in a better position to explain what makes any PR agency the right choice for your business. The best PR agency is the one that you, as a client, can trust, relate to, get along with and understand, and whose accreditation and experience you respect. These key elements lay the foundation for a partnership that espouses unhindered exchange of ideas and recommendations that allow you to set realistic goals together, offer meaningful and constructive feedback and drive powerful results.
Importantly, these elements give each party the confidence to, at any moment, take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and do some re-evaluating if ever necessary without fear. So, clients, get to know every member of your PR team and what they come together for, and PRs, invest in learning about your clients and their story – your wits will thank you in the short and longer terms.
Q: Tell us about some the funniest, most bizarre, and totally unexpected situations you faced with your clients in any given day of work.
I’ve had a few interesting experiences in my two years in PR with FleishmanHillard Dubai. There was the time my client wanted to bring in some of the biggest Dubai fashionistas into her store for a PR stunt without any budget whatsoever. The catch? They would have the opportunity to “experience” the product (worth less than 10 AED a piece). There was another time when, after a premium product launch at a 5 star venue, our client didn’t have budget for a press gift, only 4-gigabyte USBs.
On the way out after the event, one journalist from Qatar, incredulous, asked me what is that, waving the USB in front of my face. With humility and a smile, I nodded; “You’ll find the press kit on that USB.” He tossed it over to me with such contempt that I honestly couldn’t help but laugh. It was my second week on the job.
Q: Based on your experience, which is more rewarding in terms of: reach, boosting sales, and enhancing brand image – Arabic or English media? Why so?
I’ve learned in FleishmanHillard that working with Arabic media is far more relationship-driven than it is with English media. And English media are more likely to read scribbles on the bathroom walls than they are to read your press release. You really have to package your news tightly and appealingly, and get in touch with media you know or have worked with, and whose work you appreciate to try and get the ball rolling. I enjoy the challenges that come with both.
Q: Online or Print – which one would you recommend more for your clients? And why?
At this point in time I wouldn’t recommend either one to the exclusion of the other; it depends on your target audience, but the future is definitely online. Your message will resonate to varying degrees with different audiences, online or print.
Millennials, for example, are more likely to learn about your brand online or through word of mouth, rather than in a newspaper or a magazine. Other segments, meanwhile, might be more apt to refer to their print subscriptions to learn about the latest trends in your industry. With time, even this will change.
Q: What are the most important Online websites / Print publications in Dubai, based on your current experience with your clients, Arabic and English, and reason to that choice.
There are several great go-to news websites like Emirates247 and Emarat Al Youm, and for English speaking expats Time Out Dubai and Gulf News are invaluable.
Q: What car are you driving now? What phone are you using now? How many clients do you handle at the moment? What books helped you in your career and work? Your favorite outdoor destination in the weekend?
I left my trusty 2004 Nissan Quest back in Illinois and I really miss it – that thing got me so much street cred in college! As far as phones are concerned, I use a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, it’s great, it does all the jobs.
At work, right now I’m handling 2 main accounts and I do smaller-scale work on 2-3 other ones. In terms of books, one really outstanding one comes to mind, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. The book is a goldmine. It transformed the way I look at opportunities, risks, and vulnerability. I highly recommend it to everyone.