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Is talent enough?


A pressing matter of 'Emiratisation' and spreading the word of availability among UAE nationals needs addressing. Alex Malouf, Communications Professional living in Dubai provides his insight on the heart of the matter.

July 19, 2012 11:10 by

I just love creativity, especially when it comes to people’s opinions. I had to read Kamal Dimachkie’s article on the lack of UAE nationals in the advertising and creative industry in the UAE several times to take everything in. His argument about there being no one better to understand the local culture than nationals was spot on. But from then on our views differ, and here’s why.

There’s no doubting the ability and talent of UAE nationals. Similarly, I’ve met creative professionals, designers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait who are remarkable in what they do and create. For me, there is no skill gap and it could be argued that as nationals, their understanding and appreciation of their own cultures results in artwork and designs that are more suited to the GCC.

Similarly, I wouldn’t question their motivation or drive. Just go on to Youtube and search for the likes of La Yekthar, the Saudi comedy show whose programs have been viewed more than 40 million times online. Emiratis are equally ingenious. One group of UAE nationals founded Sail eMagazine in March 2010. The publication, which is available online, is written and illustrated by Emiratis who also hold down full time jobs. One up and coming UAE-based and owned agency is AlSayegh Media. The agency, which is headed up by an Emirati and employs others, has been producing some fantastic creative campaigns for UAE companies.

While Kamal Dimachkie’s argument about there being a lack of degree courses in universities across the GCC does hold truth, one has to consider the tens of thousands of students from the Gulf who are studying abroad on scholarships and grants. Likewise, many nationals who pursue their creative passions often do it outside of their workplace or their classroom.

It’s no secret that many GCC nationals, depending on their age, still do not see the advertising and creative industry, as a career or a job for life. But by no means does a lack of university degrees or GCC nationals studying arts locally mean that there’s an interest deficit.

And now, I get to the heart of the matter. I’ve known many GCC locals who have joined agencies and who have both benefited from and enjoyed the experience. However, their feelings and viewpoints have been common on one particular issue. There is still an in-balance of certain nationalities in the Gulf’s creative and advertising industry, particularly at a certain managerial level.

I’m not going to argue that there’s no substitute for experience. But I can understand their concern. I’ve walked into offices in Riyadh where every single person in the media agency is the same nationality. Some were fresh graduates, living in a compound and in all effects experiencing a different world to that of the local community. I came out of that office asking myself how would these people be able to benefit me in terms of local knowledge. How would they help me understand my target audience?

There are agencies out there that have gone the extra mile to find, hire and develop local talent. They’ve given them good positions, great salaries and promoted them quickly. However, it’s all too easy to fall into the habit of promoting these local recruits as proof that the agency is investing in local talent and pushing these Gulf national hires to the front, to make them mascots for the agency.

Instead, the creative and advertising sector needs to develop long-term strategies to spot talent, to bring these people agency-side and show them a career path. Local talents need to understand that there’s no glass ceiling for them, that they can reach to the top, and that they’ll be rewarded for their toils.
Governments and educational institutions should also play their part, to introduce courses that will foster innovation and imagination among GCC nationals who would have the interest and talent but who maybe wonder if there’s a career in advertising for them. The industry cannot and should not shirk its duty to go out and spread the word that advertising and marketing is for all. The only requirements are passion and talent.

At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for local knowledge. As an advertiser, I want to connect with my audience. If I can better market myself through local insights, then I’ll be selling more of my products and creating more brand equity. Why wouldn’t I want to see locals working in my advertising and creative agency? If I were getting more “bang” for my marketing buck, wouldn’t I consider spending more on my advertising? If that argument held true, then it’d make sense to bring in people who are culturally aware of their local surroundings and communities.

Ask yourself this however. If you’re an Emirati, a Saudi, Bahraini, Kuwaiti, Qatari or Omani and you walk into a company devoid of locals, what does this say to you? Would you be asking yourself if you have a future here, that you’d feel wanted not because you’re a local but because you have the ability and talent to excel as a designer, a media planner or an account manager.

In this situation is talent enough? You decide.

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1 Comment

  1. Richard on July 19, 2012 6:44 pm

    Utterly ridiculous article and wrong on most points. Properly run focus groups etc tell you what you need to know about target audiences. Why would you want to pay 5 times more for someone who only works 2 hours a day and who cannt be fired when they decide not to come in for a few months…?! Why do these people think life owes them anything and that they are owed a job becasue of their nationality…?! 1st generation wealth nouveau riche spolit brats….the future of the UAE………’Similarly, I wouldn’t question their motivation or drive.’ hahahahahahahahahaha………..


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