Expanding your agency into new markets

Typical Christmas party conversation this one. Specially for those in Dubai, where in spite of the city being the metaphor for all things biggest, loudest, longest, proudest, there's always an yearning for beyond. There is always a need to rue the grass that's greener on the other side. More of, syndrome. Dubai has come back from the ashes of a financial crisis pretty well, thanks to the astute leadership of this emirate, but ad agency folks aren't happy. They would like a slice of the pie from the other side. From beyond.

"Should we expand into Iraq?" or "We're thinking about Libya with an open mind" is the hot topic these days. Both big and small agencies are seriously considering expanding their Middle East options. FP7, one of the largest in the region, have already opened shop in Iraq, and the news from their office at the MCN Hive is that FP7/Erbil is alive and kicking, hard at that. Doing well. Good on them. For smaller agencies, and ad world entrepreneurs, it's a tougher question to ponder. If you diversify and expand too soon into a new market, or a volatile one, chances are you'd fail. 

New markets in the Middle East and North Africa are alluring. They are inherently an oasis in the Sahara, but we forget, that they - like many imagined oases are often optical illusions. The best way to examine this is to see if you have an unfair, first to market or unique to market advantage. It is never a good idea to look at a 'frontier' market adventure because you need a bailout here, and you see Libya or Southern Sudan as a rescue rope. Outbound expansions are for the secure, not the silly.

Also, since it's difficult to create a whole supply chain right away, make sure you can 'post in' some work, transfer assets across the cloud. Oh, of course, check the availability of the cloud. The internet connection there will be a lifeline. Ensure you are subscribed.

Digital specialized agencies, the ones that create websites, mobile apps and solutions, work on user experiences and are Social Media maniacs are lining up. Their pool here is intensely competitive, so they need to see what's out there. That's typical of digital. Zero and one bravado. And there just maybe room for some of it out there. Because not too many people are really designing mobile apps out in Benghazi, there may be a great new door to open for someone now relegated to Media City basement bargains now.

If your agency or parallel adworld-related offering is something above and beyond what's available, go for it. And, specially, in markets where no one's really going into (Libya?), you may have a where-angels-fear-to-tread advantage. Go in, but wear your "fool" proof gear tight. Or stay safe here. And aim for another bigger, stronger, further Guinness Book record.

2014 Hot New Trend: You've got Responsive email

Responsive email is going to be big for 2014. I see no way around it. Marketers are going to wake up and realize that most of their email marketing is now headed for a mobile device (not by their choice, but by consumer default), and the mails are not ready for this. People are still having to pinch and scroll, squint and suffer when sifting through marketing email messages. And even the subject lines (a key tool, repeat, a key tool) are not shortened or adjusted for mobile. What you have is email #fail. So, we're going to have to change this all in 2014.

Most savvy marketing folks have already woken up to mobile ready web. Their sites are responsive – meaning, they are built to auto adjust to  any screen – all the way down to mobile. So, how come, with the resurgence of email marketing  and this new buzz about how subject lines can dramatically alter 'open rates' no one's considered the formatting of emails to auto adjust to mobile?

Once we understand who our customers are, and here in this region, it's ok religion to believe that most are on mobile, it's a given that we need to go responsive asap. It's not an easy one step process, because one needs to create and develop simplified responsive templates. But once that's done, it's really about making it a habit. Usually, a good developer will develop dynamic modules that will deliver auto-adjust mails across all platforms – tablets inclusive.

Then, we 'll need to reset KPIs – meaning our 'open-rate', 'click through' and 'conversion' rate goals really will change – for the better. And they will be achievable. 

Keep a couple of things in perspective. If you are really going to go responsive, make sure your subject line is also geared for mobile. And the snippet text (if you use that) should ideally be contextual and relevant – and interesting. And clicking through? Well, if you send a responsive email which doesn't lead to a responsive, mobile ready site, why bother? So, do get all your responsive ducks in a row.

When one sees genuine improvement and impact via the new ready-for-2014 emails, we can then go back and justify going responsive to our CFOs. Via email of course.

Here is a link to a well done responsive email from retailer Missguided. Drag the ends down on your laptop/desktop to mobile size and see it adjust. Or, if you are reading this post on a mobile, you know already...

HE Reem Al Hashimi at Expo 2020 - the #Dubai presentation: synopsis

The Dubai presentation at the Expo 2020 bid just ended. Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy presented at Paris. What she said... 

I am now delivering what is likely to be one of the most important speeches of my life. This bid has touched all of us.

The expo team that we assembled in 2011 is still with you today. we will endeavor to give the world an exquisite and memorable Expo. we will endeavor to give the world an authentic portrait of a fast moving world in 2020. we will give Expo 2020 the recognition it deserves.

I hope you have been touched by the spirit of our young country. We have pioneered the concept of one pavilion-one nation.

Big One: Dubai Expo 2020 will be the first carbon neutral mega-event!

Connecting Minds, Creating the Futures' is not just a theme. My generation has been inspired by our forefathers, they have entrusted us with a city that is capable of hosting the world. It is now our turn to hand over this legacy to the next generation. The UAE is a model of openness and stability. The world expo has inspired us and made us stronger.

Dubai's SmartCity wifi move: Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard goes wireless- for free!

In one of the first visible moves towards Dubai Smart City, telecom provider du and Emaar have joined hands to provide free wifi access across the entire length of Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard in Downtown Dubai. This means that visitors to one of Dubai's top attractions will enjoy free wireless connectivity across the entire 3.5-km-long Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard, the bustling heart of the community. Salut!

The initiative follows the ‘Smart City’ project announced by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, with the objective of providing all Dubai residents with high speed internet in public places and ‘live’ services and information. Dubai Mall already has free wifi across its entire footprint, and now, even outside, connectivity and smart access to all things online will be free.

Earlier this week Dubai Police launched their app for iPhone and Android, and it is a clever little gem that every smartphone enabled Dubai resident should get. This and other useful apps will be accessed free ion the Dubai Downtown area from today.

Othman Sultan, Chief Executive Officer of du, said: “Today’s announcement marks a definitive step towards realising the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad for Dubai as a progressive and global Smart City like no other. Achieving this vision is a collaborative effort; our role as a telecom company is to leverage technology to more convenience, more fun and more happiness for people, anytime, anywhere, in a more connected world. The investments we have made in a future-proof network infrastructure are designed to cater to the future needs of our customers and meet the aspirations of a Smart City at large.”

Dubai Expo 2020. Every resident supports it.

Expo 2020 is all about the world coming together to expose and share the best of each country's culture and capabilities. But Dubai is already home to more than 200 nationalities, living together to create and produce a positive and happy living environment. This is why we believe Dubai will make an excellent partner to host Expo 2020, and along the way bring to life its vision of 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future'.

Lowe MENA – one of Dubai's top creative driven ad agencies created a beautiful support YouTube video – voicing an united, multi-nationality support for Dubai's bid for the Expo 2020. 

And here is the beautiful official bid film...

The ad account planner. Everyday magicians.

There's been a lot of ink on the role of the advertising and marketing account planner, and with so much focus on digital and social today, this role is increasingly becoming crucial to the change that is happening in the landscape today : the huge paradigm shift from one way advertising to true engagement, from monolog to dialog.

Is the planner an unique beast? Which side of the fence does he play on? At the agency, she is a strategic consultant who helps route the client's (brands') communications strategies. So he is a client-consumer-agency connector. Ideally, she is an expert at understanding how communication content and media interact and intersect to deliver, to engage with the consumer. Some call this connection planning, some channel planning. It is strategic planning, whichever name you give to the rose.

His main tool is research. Her main output is insight. The currency the planner has in his/her wallet is ideas. It's about using data (in digital, its all data), turning that into meaningful insight and helping then convert that into effective communications. It's ideas. Ideas that are different but that resonate. Ideas that are focused but unbound from tradition and same-old, same-old. Ideas that are culturally sensitive and market realistic. It is focus and broad vision at the same time.

If you're going for heart and mind, for top-of-mind or any other part of the human action-reaction body collective, the planner's role is about being able to define the road signs so that creatives can deliver on simplicity and common sense – in the truths that lie hidden in everyday – so that the message is truthful but interesting (yes, that's a conundrum). It is persuasion.

The planner is a coach, a policeman, a conjurer. A manager of process, a timekeeper, a counselor. A lot of ad professionals believe that every account or client manager is a planner de facto. But they forget the creative side inspirational challenges that the real planner faces. The balancing act between data, insight, demographics and photoshop. The tradeoffs between Likes and brand guidelines. It is magic.

I haven't been around in this market long enough to have a little black book of names and numbers of planners who are all of the above. A handful, I know. One is an old hand at this. The other one is fresh, brimming with ideas and rearing to be the beast. Nancy Khurana, take a bow. You are trending. And the one guy who's the rock? The Original? Tahaab Rais. #Respect. Tahaab is legend. 
Then there are two more. George Giessen. Don't stand up, you can do rabbits and hats, sitting down and blindfolded. Nadine Matar? I'm told it is the genes. I think it's the pure passion. 

Here's to the best in breed...

Connected and intelligent. Dubai Smart City is bound for takeoff.

Dubai. Connected, smart, a city that has technology on its radar. And its going to be for everybody. Driven by HH Sheikh Mohammed and his son, Crown Prince HH Sheikh Hamdan, Dubai Smart City is am ambitious but achievable plan that will open up this city to a whole spectrum of digital services and infrastructure.

Many of these plans were revealed last week at Gitex – the technology conference that every one bows to in the Middle East. From apps that provide mobile access to several government e-nitiatives, connected cabs fro Dubai Taxis, healthcare services, and of course online education to the (unconfirmed) promise of public area free wi-fi – its going to leapfrog Dubai ahead of the Valley and other 'smart cities' like Santa Clara in California.

Data isn't cheap in Dubai (I mean, data bundles provided by either of the two telecom providers, du and etisalat), so the Dubai Government will have to look into that as well, but if wi-fi will be free (unconfirmed as of yet) , that's going to really open up access to the internet, get people 'socially' active, and provide several new channels of access, communications, education and other access related benefits.

The technology is here. There's a whole lot of smart phones, and 3G is commonplace, and several connections are today 4G-LTE enabled. As to whether there will be higher speeds at lower rates is crucial to the success of the plans. Further enhancements to the tech spine behind these plans will help enable people in Dubai to use government services online, in particular to manage education, healthcare and security via smart systems, whenever and wherever they are in Dubai. Arriving tourists should find these services handy, and I'm sure that many apps will be developed utilizing services and providing information, entertainment and on-the-go engagement.

The emergence of wearable technologies is important – with access anywhere, Dubai will be a breeding ground for wearable tech based ideas and platforms should be able to develop programs, apps and other tools. It will of course also have a boom effect on the digital media and advertising industries as a smart city will have smart citizens who will be targeted in smart new ways, hopefully.

From renewing your driving license and car registrations, to paying bills online, Dubai is already pretty smart in that sense. But given these fast forward plans, we'll probably see a surge in emerging digital trends like showrooming, visual search and visual web, wearable tech, tap and go NFC based parking and connected shopping. Because Dubai Smart City it's a big step towards utility and value addition, towards technology for all – its bound to succeed.

How mobile is the new first sceen

You've heard the first screen (TV), second screen (laptop/desktop) and third screen (mobile) buzzwords many times before. What's changed is which is which. Mobile is the new first screen. Today, everyone's talking about "mobile first". If your website doesn't work on mobile, you may as well admit, you're not playing on the web. If your owned media looks tiny and unreadable on mobile, please raise your hand – and start afresh. Mobile is here and big time.

Is this the death of advertising on tv as we know it? Not quite, but let's admit, tv is eroding its hold on people. Specially the younger demographic. Wallbog UK says "Mobile is the present and the future for the 18-24 year-old demographic, who use it as a first screen religiously – so it is my view that the market needs to respond by talking to them where they are, rather than to try to engage the consumer on TV or online."

In some of the markets that we operate in here in the MENA, the jump has been from tv to mobile – the African nations in particular find that mobile is easy, it's in their hands. They really don't have that much of an access to the second screen – the laptop/desktop, so most interaction, most engagement is happening via mobile. Because such a large percentage of the population here in the Middle East is under 24 (as much as 60% in some markets), mobile has really jumped to pole position. And brands better warm up to this, and adapt, and adopt.

Again, according to  surveys done in the UK as quoted in Wallblog "2,000-person UK-wide piece of research into this and found that nearly half of all 18- to 34-year-olds consider mobile their first and most important screen. Nearly one in 10 consumers turn to their mobile first to make online purchases and over 1 in 3 cite their mobile device as the screen they look at most often. Our study conclusively demonstrates the rapid ascent of mobile devices to ‘first screen’ status."

Sixty-eight per cent of all consumers said that they receive just the right amount or would like to receive more messages, with the female demographic slightly more responsive to messaging than male. The top five consumer behaviours as a result of receiving a message are downloading an app, researching online, sharing information with family and friends, visiting a store and redeeming a voucher.

Dubai to be a Smart City. Shk Mohammad announces digital transformation

Dubai is headed the digital way, and HH Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, has high-tech clearly on his radar. This is heart warming for every Dubai resident and visitor – not just those of us in the digital spectrum. It remains to be seen if Dubai will be an entirely wifi connected city like Santa Clara in California. But it sure is a step in the right direction.

Shaikh Mohammad announced a project to transform Dubai into a “Smart City”, linking the emirate’s government services and the public through the use of smart devices accessed freely using high-speed wireless internet connections. With the proliferation of smartphones, the access to broadband on the rise, and the proposal to have free wifi across many city points, this is a digital vision being made alive in the here and now.

Gulf News said "Smart City’s main aim is to provide better connections and increase cooperation between the emirate and its residents. It promotes the use of government facilities using the largest possible number of smart applications". “As a smart city, government departments will be inter-connected to provide faster services and information to all citizens and guests. We strive to create a new smart concept in running cities,” Shaikh Mohammad said.

The project’s main foundation is anchored on fibre optic networks that facilitate access to high-speed internet in main public areas. Fibre optics are strands of very thin optically pure glass that carry digital information over long distances at extremely fast speeds. Gulf News added " Because of the available infrastructure for connectivity, every smartphone user will be able to access up-to-the-minute information on weather, traffic, entertainment, tourism, flights, dining, emergency services and much more, any time, anywhere. Businessmen and investors can also take advantage of the open access to smart services delivered by ports, customs and bourses."

5 Ways to use Twitter for your Brand in the Middle East

Today's newspapers talked about how Saudis were asking for better pay on twitter. See this article in Gulf News Oct 8th. The hashtag is here and doing well in the Middle East. But how are brands using the power of twitter? Most brands we know usually do a lot of one way product-bragging rather than try and create a dialog. Here are five ways I've seen that brands here in this  region can follow and engage well on twitter...

1. Engage in a dialog. Try and have an exchange rather than just do brand/product shoutouts. Basically, you are looking for conversations and ways to connect to the people out there. That's a feeling of community, of following, not preaching product benefit. And, for a brand, twitter is a lot about customer service. The key word there is service. Service as an on-going and meaningful dialog with your customers.

2. Participate. There's a golden 80-20 rule that suggests that around 4 out of 5 of your tweets should be involvement with your followers, your 'community'. Which means you need to Retweet, re-post with comments and add value. It's the sharing and caring that shows value for those who follow you and those who you want to be followers. It also shows you are on topic  and on trend and are not me-me-me. Most twitter communities in the Middle East seem to like participation and replying. They like being heard. Also, look to leverage the 'sneezers' or viral influencers.

3. Provide Value. If you are pure selling product benefits and features, you are not really going to get much out of twitter engagement. Try and provide tips, useful information, useful links, re-shares of stuff that's relevant to your genre but not necessarily about your brand. Value is about knowledge, news, information. And for your brand or product the tease-and-reveal works well. Have special offers? Twitter is the place to put those out.

4. Write well. Twitter for brands is often about mastering the art of writing a 140 character headline. Grab the attention with a clear benefit and perhaps a call to attention. The link, the photo are like the rest of the ad. It's the first few attention grabbing words that matter. Craft those well. Remember 60% of active twitter users use their mobiles. Grab the attention quickly and succinctly.

5. Stay on trend, react quick, be relevant in the now. Twitter is all about the here and now, so you can't keep tweeting about your brand, for your brand or product while asleep at the wheel. Stay on trend. Be aware of what the conversations are about and see if there's a fit. Tweet on those.  This doesn't mean you try and hijack trending hashtags. And, no point on tweeting about hot trending global topics unless they mean something to you. Geo-fence your strategy. Your topics have to be in context and be current.  No one likes yesterdays news other than fish-and-chips shops.

Twitter as a platform have made a serious commitment to the regoin and you can ask for help if you want to leverage better. Lisa Szatsznajder is Twitter Account Manager for the GCC. No, I wasn't paid to write this post. You can ask her @LisaJSz 

Tom Roychoudhury is chief innovations officer at MCN (Middle East Communications Network), one of the largest advertising, marketing, media, PR and social agency groups in the region.

10 Sure Shot ways to make Fan pages work on Facebook in the Middle East

Facebook revealed last week that there are over 28 million users who log on every day in the Middle East and North Africa. That's a large number that brands can target in the region. And about 15 million of them access the social platform via mobile. So, how do brands and their fan pages hope to succeed in reaching this large number, finding the right fans and engaging?

From having worked with several leading brands on their Facebook strategy, here's what I think works towards building successful fan engagement on Facebook in the region.

1. Be Visual
This is the best trick in the Facebook-in-the-Middle-East book. For me, this is the holy grail. I've worked with clients' brands who can't figure out why on certain days, they hardly get any Likes on their posts, and actually get drop-outs and 'UnLikes'. If you look at the insights provided by Facebook and check back, you'll quickly find the visual connection. Posts without visuals – no matter how strong on copy – hardly ever work in this region. So, post photos. Each time, every time. Specially as we recognize how many fans out there are accessing their timelines via mobile, photos are king.

2. Ask Questions.
This too works like magic. Ask fans what they want to wear. What they like eating. Which are their favorite ways to use your product. Leave room for comment and answers and engagement just seems to go sky-high via responses, Likes and shares. The questions aren't tough ones, and they don't always have to be about your brand or product – simple, everyday engagement can be had with easy, quick questions which people want to answer, where they feel their opinion and vote is important.

3. Contests
Again, like Questions, Contests work in the Middle East like magic. Facebook users, specially women, love to participate in contests – regardless of reward size. If the mechanics are simple, they will join in, they will engage. Contests have accounted for some of the most successful Facebook marketing campaigns, so look into having some on your fan page.

4. Ask for engagement
Start with a "Share this..." statement. Post a Fill-in-the-Blanks, drop in a poll, ask fans to comment. Have a clear engagement strategy which will quickly grab attention and then create a simple way for fans to engage. Start with an arresting visual and then ask for the next step – have a clear call to action.

5. Go far. Go wide. With your content.
Really, you should be talking about a wider range of topics than what your product or brand does, or your next sale. Open up and engage fans with what we call peripheral topics – have fun with these and keep it human. Facebook in the long run may be your marketing tool, but its a dialog and an engagement first, and you won't get two-way if all you talk about is you.

6. Be human. Have a voice that is recognizable as human. And be precise.
As mentioned, while going wide spectrum with content scope, be human in your approach. Be personable, approachable, real. Facebook is not advertising. So it's not about a sell. It's about how one fan used your product in a special way. Or about how you as Community Manager enjoyed the movie.
Keep your posts short. It's now pretty obvious that shorter posts (around 140c or less, just like twitter) work more in your favor than a long story.

7. Utilize Insights.
Thats what Facebook Insights are there for. Most early Facebook Social managers didn't bother with analytics, they went with gut. Fine,m but with such real time information available today, you can adapt on the fly. React, reward, run fast and quick. Check out which types of posts are working, check out what are good days and bad, good times to post for your audience – and the best part have a clear understanding of who you are talking to and engaging with. Then start over if needed.

8. Have a great visual impact with your Cover Photo and your Profile shot
That's your first impression so, make that count. Fans usually come to your Page just once or twice – make sure you create a fun, memorable impression. And your profile shot, is what they see over and over. Make sure it's clean, recognizable and is memorable.

9. To hashtag or not to hashtag?
Well, every one wants to bring social under one common voice - so they're using the one uniting hashtag (#holygrail) across all the media like twitter, instagram etc. That's OK, but Facebook isn't really a quick in-the-now, search-on-a-tag kind of medium like twitter. So, use the # only when you feel it's going to add value, when it will help fans participate and when they work with your post. Limit # usage (rule of thumb is one #) and never ride on hijacks.

10. Advertise.
Today, anywhere in the world, but specially here in the Middle East, one SURE SHOT way to grow your reach, improve your fan-base and engage is via Facebook ads. You simply cannot without using ads. Invest in Faceook ads, and you are bound to see returns. One client's posts went from 12 Likes to 9000 Likes per post with a simple ad strategy. Pay to play.

There are a few other simple things that help increase your Facebook fan page engagement quickly and easily. Because only around 10% of your fan base will ever see your ads, posting a few times more than what you would like is one chosen path. Other barnds seem to like posting Links to useful sites, infographics, How-Tos etc. Some succeed with precise Time-of-Day strategy. If you'd ask me what I would absolutely do for a brand?

I would post beautiful visuals (like Pinterest), keep my posts short (like Twitter), and have questions, how-to-use and make it funny (like YouTube). You Like?

Tom Roychoudhury is chief innovations officer at MCN (Middle East Communications Network), one of the largest advertising, marketing, media, PR and social agency groups in the region.

Facebook in the Middle East: first ever numbers released

Every one tells us that the Middle East is one big Facebook country. We also heard in a conference that Facebook are not a social media company – they are a mobile platform. So add that up: About 15 million people access Facebook in the region from a mobile or tablet computer daily!
Wall Street Journal on October 1 tells us that Facebook has revealed the number of people using the social network in the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, having launched operations in the region in May last year. About 15 million people access Facebook in the region from a mobile or tablet computer daily
The figures in the region mirror the global trend of people using Facebook, but the advertising-dollars are yet to catch up despite overall growth in digital spending, according to Jonathan Labin, head of Facebook in the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan.
“Ad spend per capita is still much lower here than in other parts of the world,” says Mr. Labin. “If you compare the time spent on digital compared with the ad spend, there’s a huge gap [in the region].”  While that sounds like a major sales push, you can't quite avoid the truth behind it.
Here are some key facts about Facebook in the region, and how they compare on a global basis.
- Every month, 56 million people are active on Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa.
- On a daily basis, 28 million people in the region log on to Facebook.
- About 33 million people access Facebook in the region from a mobile or tablet computer on a monthly basis, while 15 million are active on a mobile device on a daily basis.
- Globally, there are 1.155 billion monthly active users and 699 million daily users.
- On mobile, there are 469 million daily active users across the world.
- About 41% of global Facebook’s ad revenue in the second quarter came from mobile.
- Facebook says Just Falafel, a U.A.E.-based food franchise expanding outside the region, invested $400,000 on the social network last year and received an estimated $8 million return on its investment in revenues.
- Newsfeed is the most popular form of advertising on Facebook in the region and globally.

Mobile. One in Five in the world today access web via mobile. The new First screen!

If someone told you that one-in-five of people online would access the web via a small, hand-held device a few years ago, you’d laugh. The mobile phone has come a long way – thanks to advancements in screen tech, access, smartphone adaption, and of course, changing media consumption patterns. We believe that you can’t really call it the “third screen” any more in the line-up of one, two, three (one being tv and two being the computer screen). More andmore people are reliant on the internet for their news, their entertainment and their social lives, And mobile is showing them the way.
Mashable reports: People around the globe are accessing the web via their smartphones more often than ever. So far in 2013, 17.4% of web traffic has come through mobile, representing more than a 6% increase since 2012 when 11.1% of traffic came from mobile.
Statista’s chart below shows the increase in mobile web traffic over the last year, broken down by continent.
Mobile web traffic more than doubled in South America, the continent with the largest growth rate, where web access via mobile leaped from 3.2% to 6.8%.
Asia and Africa lead the planet as the two continents with the most-mobile web users, with 26.6% and 23.7%, respectively, of web traffic coming from mobile devices.
Image courtesy: Mashable report

5 Ways to use social media to lure talent and hire the best

How things change. Who would have known that Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (and YouTube as well) would emerge as some of the best talent recruitment channels out there today? The proverbial headhunter is turning to social media as well, but while the old-fashioned talent recruitment agency hasn't altogether disappeared, more and more companies are looking to lure talent via social. Here are five ways that companies are looking to social media in helping their recruitment drive...

1. It's about storytelling. Yes, storytelling is the buzzword of 2013, and how. Besides engaging consumers and creating relationships between brands and products and customers and consumers, storytelling is playing a big part in establishing corporate credentials in front of a potential workforce. Social storytelling is live wire – far more dynamic, in-the-now, real, almost-unedited compared to website based trumpeting. Potential candidates get to know their prospective employers better via social. Often they can engage directly with employees or even prospective bosses.

2. Targeted contacting is possible on social. The stories or interest-focused contact points on social are far ahead of a simple web-based communication. A newspaper as has an email address at the end. A social post or tweet is on-going in opportunity and is totally scalable – it can fine tune-in to the interest and skill-set match, and that tune up or down in engagement depending on engagement level, result of the communications and progress in the recruit cycle. A page insertion in a trade magazine goes that far. But social contact is far more rewarding and facilitates very tightly focused moves to disseminate critical information about company, jobs, teams and leaders.

3. The talent search process becomes a lot easier because today's social platforms offer up huge and deep insights into both people and companies. LinkedIn can be micro-filtered to find someone out there, and the process works in reverse as well. Potential candidate listing and contacting has become a lot easier with these tools, and there are no hefty fees involved. As well, the word of mouth power on social works amazingly well via people's network of friends and their contacts. Companies are often requesting re-tweets of their job postings and looking for shares on facebook.

4. Real insights are making a big difference in the ways companies pre-profile candidates using social media platforms. Increasingly companies and HR departments dig deeper than the CV mailed in. They will look at a LinkedIn profile. Further, to "find out more about the real person" they'll try and access a facebook page.

5. Finally, companies today are being more open on their social media policies when luring candidates. Young candidates who are totally wired often seek 'social benefits' as much as they do vacation days. Two-thirds of college students ask about social media policies during job interviews, while 56% will either not accept a job from a company that bans social media, or they will circumvent the policy. The survey adds that 41% of employees say companies marketed a flexible device and social media policy to recruit them, says the Economic Times.

Get Innovation into your company's DNA

Are innovator's born that way? Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico worldwide. Maybe she was born with it? (Or is that Maybelline?). Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckergerg. Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos. Born innovators or can you download innovation? Can your company acquire a culture of innovation? Rebuild and create a new DNA that's got innovation as core?

Most brands or companies that are seen as innovators today have a common problem – and an even more common solutions approach to that. They first recognize innovation. Second, they encourage and let it thrive. Third they communicate innovation from every angle – make it oxygen. And finally, these leading companies, usually have innovators at the helm, or have leaders who strongly support the culture.

Innovation is born out of curiosity. Innovators observe the world around them, sometimes from different angles, but it starts with a keen sense of awareness. Then they ask questions, they get curious about the why, when, how, where, who and they tend to find answers that are obvious, or are incredibly intellectually out there and mould-breaking. The obvious solutions are usually out there for every one to have seen, but often they are hidden due to corporate ennui. And innovators always seek out challenges – they meet new people, ask new questions, travel to new places. They find because they seek.

By nature, innovators don't fit in. Too often, in my earlier days, I was part of agency protocol that ensured via interviews and testing that people we hired fit in. They had to be like us. Like me. Or we faced a threat of possibly hiring someone who would Think Different. Huh? This still goes on every day, in every way that companies are hiring today. Thus the profiling test, thus the personality modeling, the multiple-choice fill-this-in-our-way-or-go-elsewhere. It's the fear of the anti-establishment. The corporate numbing comfort of same-same.

If you really want to reconstruct your company's DNA hire some people who have different DNA's to yours. That's the only way to reconstruct. And then, find ways to cultivate and encourage this new, and different way, of thinking. This gets difficult as company sizes bloat. Big ships have large turning circles. Startups don't have this issue. They're nimble. One easy place to start is recognition. Step 2 is usually reward – and it's not always big-company-fat-paycheck reward. Freedom, autonomy, authority, and a sharp sense of go-get-it is often all innovators are looking for. Fair monetary compensation is important. Innovators get poached easily. You can't hide that light under a bushel too long.

One other area to keep an eye out for is the success/failure syndrome. Innovators by intuition are failures. If they don't fail, they cannot discover success, or re-invention. There is no challenge. The bigger challenge is to fall down, pick yourself up and then go on to win. Corporate leadership that instils fear of trying or failing is blunt and old hat. Corporate leadership also needs to recognize that innovation at Apple is different from innovation at HSBC and different from innovation at JWT or your corner store. You can't replicate form-factor innovation at Apple and apply it to a innovative new form of micro-wallet transactions at a bank.

I also believe that innovation is top-led. It's both participation and encouragement. It's about leadership making difficult choices that are outside the norm. It's keeping the playing field fair but open. And to be able to communicate that, to push that across everything the company does when possible. With the innate and keen ability to be able to move the goal posts as and when.

Yes, you can.

Instagram video leaving Vine trailing behind

Instagram video is the new king of the microblog video format. The 15-second format Instagram video is not only popular with the masses, but brands are flocking to it. Some top brands – already familiar with Instagram as a platform – have naturally taken to the newly introduced video blog on it.

Some brands are naturals on Instagram – using the earlier still-photo platform comfortably and successfully. Starbucks, Gap, Nike, Burberry were leaders on Instagram. Today, just over a week after the video-format launch other brands have joined the Instagram video bandwagon – MTV, Disney, Ford, Cisco, eBay, Facebook, Intel and GE – just to name a few. Smaller, local brands are not far behind either. Mashable reported earlier that two-thirds of the world's Top 100 brands were already on Instgram. For them adding on video will come easy.

Intabrand studies done in the last week of June, 2013 show twice as many top brands using Instagram videos than Vine. Engagement figures were astounding – nearly 190,000 on Instagram that week vs only 225 on Vine-on-Twitter.

Vine wasn't huge. Ever. For starters, it launched on iOS, meaning that the huge Android base was neglected. Instagram on the other hand already had a base of 130 million users. Add to that Facebook – the Instagram parent brand – and you've got a massive 1 billion plus audience in the making. Video is naturally more engaging than photos. Facebook have always maintained that. The acquisition of Instagram was proof. Naturally, brands are excited about Facebook and Instagram together – a one-plus-one giving eleven!

Coconut water - The amazing super food

I've been on a health trip lately – trying out various probiotic, organic, green what have you products. Been reading about how alkalinity in your body is a sure shot way of keeping many of today's deadly diseases and conditions at bay.

So, here's to the cheapest, most organic, most common super food of all – coconut water. It's a refreshing drink – it's alkaline (and that's good for you) and it's packed with a huge arrray of health benefits. Thirsty? Don't reach for a soda or a Pocari Sweat just yet. Water's good. Coconut water is great. By the way, a fresh green coconut at a local Dubai grocery store will cost anywhere between AED 4 - 8. (Union Co-op Dhs 6 on average).

Coconut water contains a large amount of electrolyte – potassium, so it easily replenishes the electrolyte composition in body fluids. Drinking coconut water can also aid in losing weight as it is low in fat, cholesterol and chlorides. It reduces food cravings and keeps a person feeling full. It is excellent drink for diabetics as it is good in nutrients required by diabetics to keep their sugar levels in control.

Here are more benefits. With summer on in Dubai, we hardly drink enough water but lose fluids through sweating. This is not so good. But the risk of kidney stones is greatly reduced because of the presence of minerals, potassium and magnesium in coconut water. Green coconut water acts as a natural diuretic because it has properties that tend to increase urine production and flow. Urologists around the world recommend that kidney stone sufferers should drink coconut water every alternate day to gradually reduce their stone size for easy elimination.

In an article on zeenewsindia I read that coconut water is loaded with vital nutrients, and is a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates. It is rich in amino acids, enzymes, dietary fiber, vitamin C and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and manganese .It is also very beneficial as it has anti viral and anti bacterial properties.

By the way, coconut water works wonders for your skin too. Researches show that coconut water have cytokinins which are beneficial for anti aging-effects. When applied to acne, spots, wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite and eczema it clears up the skin giving you youthful looking smoother skin. It can be used as a light moisturizer if you have oily skin. In addition to the benefits to the skin it also helps in repairing and growth of nails and smooth hair.

Coconut water has high amounts of potassium so it reduces hypertension by promoting excretion of water out of the body.

Multi Screen, Multi Device Marketing is helping TV becoming larger than life

The tv watching experience is getting richer, better because of online? Rather than killing off tv in the living room, digital channels are adding to it, and broadening the perspective.

Consumers in the Middle East today are increasingly using multiple screens and devices while consuming media. With the boom in high speed access and the popularity of both tablet and mobile, people today aren't just watching tv. It's a combination of lean back (tv) and lean forward (tablet, mobile, laptop) in the living rooms of our region.

Multi screen marketing isn't new. But it's developing into a huge, synergistic platform where not only the message across what you watch on tv syncs with what's on your website, it does so at the same time, and with planned, timed and well-executed intent. We've always put an URL at the end of the tv spot, but now we're beginning to put in a Facebook address, and more often a Twitter hashtag. The twitter hashtag is to encourage immediate participation in sharing, in dialog, in comment fishing and more. In the UK, almost 70% of brands reviewed in a survey encouraged multi-device participation. And here in the MENA region,we are seeing the beginnings of it. 

Twitter themselves commented in January 2013 Twitter and advertising report which stated, "simply adding hashtags on air - or in ads - helps organise and steer the conversation."

The Twitter report goes on to say, "in advertising, we're seeing that deeper integration of Twitter not only drives discovery and engagement but also drives increases in brand recall scores and other marketing goals." Twitter's increasing popularity and acceptance as a "code-sharing" medium with TV is linked to the open field nature of the microblog. It's so in the now and the instant. I watch a tv program, or a spot, and instantly am able to share my viewpoint using a hashtag (#) – and it's there for anyone to see. It's a bit more open than the Facebook walled garden where only my 'friends' can see what or react to my opinion. Red Bull in the UK did this very successfully with their #GivesYouWings campaign.

What's even more interesting is that in a multi-device, multi-screen scenario in the living room, consumers tend not to get up and walk out during a commercial break. They stay engaged and busy, and connected. This works particularly well in "native" or "content marketing" campaigns that tend to want to engage the viewer in every possible way.

Just adding a #Brandname at the end of your spot is not the way to go. The #whatever should be about the campaign, about the call to action, and about what you want the target audience to do. Using a slogan like Red Bull did in #GivesYouWings is the way to go. And multi-device or multi-screen marketing is not just for brands and products. This year's SuperBowl viewers generated 24.1M posts. During power outage, nearly 231,500 posts were generated per second, making it one of the most talked about moments during the game. The Grammys generated just over 14M tweets  (the equivalent of 67K per minute) during the broadcast.

TV as we know it, is quickly evolving and becoming a larger experience. With multiscreen video, sharing, tweeting, in-the-instance interacting tv is becoming infinitely richer, increasingly interactive and delivering deeper levels of engagement.

The tremors in Dubai. Are we earthquake proof and evacuation ready?

Yesterday at 2.45 pm a strong 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Iran – the worst the quake fault riding nation has seen in 40 years. And we felt it across the UAE, and particularly here in Dubai. Our high rise office building – MCN Hive – had to be evacuated to follow safety procedures. But...

Do we really know how to "evacuate" a building here in Dubai? The climb down the stairs for us was scarily, painfully slow. The way blocked by facebooking-and-tweeting-on-their-iPhone divas who found the climb down in their Louboutins both hazardous and hilarious. There was no sense of emergency. Sure, there is usually no need to panic – which is the worst reaction – being calm is both important and Mad Men "cool". But, one does take off one's 6 inch heels, right?

Today's Facebook timeline is filled with funny posts on people's reaction to the quake. Dubai is a here and now city. Folks seem much more in a hurry to crash through a Tiesto concert gate than run for cover in a situation. That in itself is shocking. Perhaps a little bit more shocking even than the intensity of the quake waves when they reached Dubai. According to seismologists, it had watered down to about a 4.5. That for Dubai is probably just a Harlem Shake. And a bruised Louboutin heel or two.

Seeing with Sound: How Listening is crucial in Business

When a business, a leader, a mentor isn't listening, it's difficult to fight corporate blindness. If you're corporate blind, or lacking in focus and vision, try listening. There's a wonderful story on 'echolcation' or seeing with sound as mastered by Daniel Kish, who founded World Access for the Blind – and I saw an immediate allegory and a lesson for us all in business...

The Weekend Review in Gulf News of April 5, 2013 did a great piece on Daniel Kish – who travels the world over working with the visually challenged. He guides them in developing "seeing" strengths through a technique that enables them to navigate using sound and to find the freedom to do  what they please. The story is amazing. Kish was born with a rare form of cancer that robbed him of his vision. But he developed his mastery of echolocation – a technique that's also used by bats and dolphins for navigation! Essentially, it's about using sounds instead of light.

It's an amazing feat for Kish who has helped thousands of blind folk function with freedom of choice – all by listening to sounds. What if there's something to learn from Kish and the art of echolocating in our world of business? How often we get blindsided by instinct, by judgement, by lack of vision (read, blindness) in our world of business, or even everyday living. What if, then, we could use 'sounds' or 'feedback' to improve our vision, to guide our line of sight, and help us focus better?

"Sound waves are similar to light waves that carry energy and are reflected off surfaces. When that energy returns to the observer, the brain captures the patterns of the reflected energy and is able to extract information about the physical surfaces (distance, location etc)" says Kish about his overcoming the challenge through echolocating. Imagine, if we kept our ears open, and listened. Listened to what others have to say, listened to their opinions, their feedback, their criticisms and their praise – wouldn't that really help us see the world around us better?

In some ways brands have been using this in social media – listening to the collective voices of the consumer, the customer, trying to understand the echoes, the chatter, the reflected sounds. If we apply this same science (or is it an art?) to our everyday business, our everyday lives, wouldn't that help us tremendously in understanding how we are being perceived, understood, interpreted and positioned?

If only we are willing to ask for feedback, to have our ears open, our auditory receptors on max, it would be such an immense improvement of our vision, our sight, our way of seeing the world around us. And what a wonderful world that would be.

You can look up more info on echolocation on the World Access for the Blind website...

Brand Aid: bandages that don't stick?

After years, actually, decades of being a true and loyal (Johnson & Johnson) Band-Aid buyer, I bought a pack of 3M Nexcare bandages from my nearest supermarket. Guess what? They don't stick.

I've been to the Nexcare website, and the pack I purchased isn't even on the products page. Maybe, it's a grey market pack, pushed across some unknown border by bandage smugglers? Maybe it's one where the 3M factory accidentally used the same adhesive they use on the yellow stickies – meaning, meant to come off?

This isn't just a complaining, whining kind of post. It's a bit of brand-aid for Johnson and Johnson as well. You see, up at my closest supermarket they follow a rather creative form of product distribution for the aisles. You'll find sweet potatoes in fruits. Shampoos with laundry detergents. And chocolates with cola. But that's no reason why the brand managers, the distribution guys cannot voice to the store guys where and when they feature and shelf their products. In the tiny medications part of the soap aisle, I found only Nexcare. So, where were the Band-Aid packs? In hair-care? With shopper-marketing becoming such an important part of the brand experience these days, this is a bit of a #fail.

Being in a hurry, I picked up a pack of 50, simple one size Nexcare 3M bandages. Because I could not locate the Band-Aid bandages. And now, I'm stuck (well, NOT actually), with a pack I do not want. The store won't take it back because I opened the pack. Customer satisfaction is not one of their strengths. And I am afraid to put a couple of these in my son's school bag in case of an emergency scrape, because, I know, they'll come off.

So, now I'll just use these Nexcare ones as wounded reminder notes on my To Do notes or Pay Bills papers. And go out and get a pack of real bandages. Ones that stick. Ones that my mom trusted and I grew up with.

An officer and a gentleman in today's Mad Men world

It's not impossible, but it is difficult to find a gentleman in today's world of Mad Men – our world of advertising, media and communications. It's a man-eat-dog-eat-dog world, and a constant elevator up and down the food chain. A revolving door where today's ad man needs to come out in front of you even if he was behind you when you got in.

An officer? A guy who leads from the front? Takes the bullet? Calls the medics and stays with you? One who greets the day early, surveying the day ahead. Making sure the platoons are ready to roll. And that the men are fed, their stomachs full of fuel, their minds alert, and their spirits enthused and energized. A mentor, a general, but then, a soldier first.

My hats off to the guy, who stands up when you enter his office – regardless whether you are man or woman ( but particularly if you are a woman). And greets you honestly, shakes your hand, makes you feel you are welcome.

One who always holds the car door open, asks you which floor you need to have the button pressed for in a lift, and remembers your name. Every time.

One who unashamedly is a doting father – and who takes a day off to fish, surf, go wadi-bashing, whatever with his son. And one who celebrates the arrival of a new baby with more than just a facebook post and a "status update" – the joy on face so meaningful. So reflective of that wonderful (now on pinterest) quote from the Nobel laureate Tagore "Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man..."

One who is equally at ease with the younger  and the elder – nurturing both – one with compassion, care and concern when needed,  the other with respect and appreciation of experience.

One who is original without being obnoxious, true without being tyrannical, and principled without being paranoid.

The other bits of leadership in our world of advertising (or is it 'humankind' now?) are a given. You know, about being a good presenter, a pitch winner, a people person, a creative strategist, a business man,  every day resumé stuff. These are must-haves. It's the bit about being a well-mannered, thoughtful, compassionate and understanding human being that makes all the difference.

Sasan Saeidi, managing director at FP7, UAE... take a bow.

8 Things Today's Mad Men are getting wrong at Advertising Agencies

So what are today’s advertising agencies getting wrong? What are today’s Mad Men doing that drive ad people crazy?

Autocratic top management seems to go all wrong these days. The my-way-or-highway management style seems to be a big beef around agencies. Agency folks do not like being told what to do without being told why. They don’t have a problem in processing ‘orders’ but they like to see the logic, the reason, the goal.

Long briefs. An ex-colleague at McCann Worldgroup used to say that a brief should always fit into an A4 size sheet. Brevity, precision, and the ability to summarize were his keys. A lot of suits in charge of writing up a brief (are planners suits?) forget that and end up with reams of trees chopped down unkindly, thoughtlessly. Briefs should be just that – brief. Long briefs drive us nuts.

Recognition, rather the lack of it. Far too often, we get recognition and a pat on the back around the water cooler, but not from the ivory tower. Peer acknowledgement and recognition is great, but coming from the top always has it’s extra shine.

Responsibility without authority is another sore point. How often do we delegate or share responsibilities without properly equipping and empowering the team?

Digital as add on. Top brass recognizing that digital is a must-have often results in digital being an add-on – the last few slides in a pitch show, the requisite nod, but without the right impetus. This always rattles the teams – who probably know the power of digital. It bemuses the clients who can see through the facade. We need to accept that today digital is mainstream. Or die trying. Or get buried.

Habitual weekend workdays. When today’s leading companies are making work a fun place to be, the forced and habitual weekend work schedule is seen as an infringement. Ad people need to re-fill and refresh. Otherwise their ideas get stale. Management who feel that their staff owe it to them to show up every weekend are getting it wrong. Horribly wrong. The odd crazy 48-hour shift is a given in our industry. But making a habit out of it? Not.

Not updating hardware and software. This is really silly, because older legacy systems are a drag on efficiencies. Updates are usually better, faster, have bugs fixed and in general safe time, effort and money. Agency management often just perseveres (actually they don’t, the little folk do) with the ‘what-we-have’ rather than the ‘best-to-get’. In a previous incarnation while in Canada, we proved to our CEO that upgrading hardware would result in 40% better efficiency. The beauty was the fact that the costs of the investment were recovered in less than 60 days in better output efficiencies and quicker turnaround times.

Lack of Training and Development = Lack of Growth. Old adage says – If your people don’t grow your company doesn’t grow. Even in an environment where constantly updated knowledge is the currency, some agencies don’t bother about providing ample training and development initiatives. This results in staff who are not comfortably conversant in front of clients, and who are behind the times. They are unable to drive the agency forward because they have no fuel. This is a no-brainer, really.

My post today is inspired by an article in Ad Age (What Drives Ad-Agency CEOs Crazy by Phil Johnson, March 1, 2013). The piece is a reality check, and a well put-together list of what’s on a “Not-to-Do-List” at Mad Men world these days according to top CEOs.

Johnson writes “It drives me crazy to see anyone waiting in the lobby for more than two or three minutes. Of course, that seldom happens to clients, but I don't like to see it happen to partners, salespeople or job applicants. In my world, we're all VIPs.

The lowest form of agency behavior is when someone puts on his best performance for the boss and treats everyone else like crap. It's called managing up, and it shouldn't be tolerated.”

Here are some other classic peeves by CEOs from the Ad Age article…

Phil Waggoner, is a partner at Hook in Charleston, S.C., an Ad Age Small Agency of the Year. What makes him crazy:
"It makes me nuts that it makes no difference how early we start working on a new-business RFP. We always, always, deliver it at the very last minute and sometimes even after the last minute. And nine times out of 10 we are adjusting the presentation deck on the way to the presentation."

Tom Stein, CEO of Stein & Partners in New York, and a 2012 BtoB Agency of the Year, offers a complete litany of pet peeves:
Seeking safety vs. striving for greatness.

Not following process.

Mindlessly following process.

Briefs that aren't brief.

People who can't find the time, heart or humanity to say "nice work."

Lack of humor and perspective….

Avoiding the above probably led Stein’s agency to top rank in Ad Age’s B2B Agency List. More power to Stein. And other Mad Men who get it right.