Q&A completed with PRCA in April 2020, as its 100th new joiner.
1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your current role?
My name is Shadi and I am the founder of MAIA – a Brand Communications consultancy set up in Dubai for hotels, dining and luxury brands.
I set up MAIA in October 2019, after working as Cluster Director of PR & Communications at Jumeirah Group, where I led the PR and Social Media teams that looked after all Dubai hotels (including the ever-iconic Burj Al Arab).
Prior to that I worked at DABO & CO, Edelman, H+K Strategies and Four Communications on clients such as Dubai Tourism, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Etihad Airways – so have a healthy mix of both agency and in-house travel and luxury experience to serve my new clients.
Having worked as a department head and as a client, I know very well that Communications should sit alongside other departments of Marketing, Sales and Revenue to drive commercial objectives. MAIA allows me to work closely with those clients in such roles such as a Director of Sales and Marketing of hotels, through to owners of restaurants and entrepreneurs who have launched their own brands – and helps me speak their language (always numbers driven!) and work collaboratively to ensure the PR work supports the same business outcomes, whilst also being creative and outward-looking.
2. How has the COVID-19 crisis affected you and your organisation?
Sadly, the hospitality industry has been affected greatly, and so a few of my hotel and restaurant clients have had to make a lot of changes to adjust to the times.
This in turn has resulted in a challenging period, as we place consumer-facing activity on hold before hopefully picking up again, soon.
3. How have you adapted personally? Do you any remote-working tips you’d like to share
As a consultancy, I’ve still been able to support the majority of my clients with their internal strategies – and adapted my work to focus on their needs, rather than just the execution of the previous plan.
This is a key benefit of working as a trusted collaborator for a client, rather than an agency with a rigid scope of work, which allows me to adjust my strategies to align to theirs. I’m also able to leverage my diverse experience from crisis communications, strategic planning and new business and campaign development, to support them as anyone in their own teams would be inspired to do.
I’ve also got into a good routine of working from home. I find I’m infinitely more productive as I keep a similar routine to life pre-self-isolation. An early morning workout on the balcony, a quick dog walk (mask and gloves on!) and a big cup of tea (English breakfast with a dash of cold milk), and a comfortable place to sit is necessary. Music also helps a lot - I’m a big fan of Ludovico Einaudi.
4. What have you learnt from this crisis?
Agility and innovation is the thing we all need in abundance.
None of us could have predicted how things are currently, but one thing is for certain – our old ways of working will not be appropriate as we move towards our ‘new normal’.
Supporting clients to adapt their business models so quickly (particularly those in the restaurant industry) has been fantastic, as it shows how important it is to listen and watch how consumer habits evolve and adapt the business model to support that.
We definitely don’t have the answers to how things will be in the future, but careful consideration and a very close eye on consumer habits will certainly make the transition easier (and hopefully more lucrative in the future).
5. Why does PR matter in times like these?
Rather than just traditional PR, Brand Communications (supporting brand positioning, marketing and social media) is crucial at times such as these. It is the perfect time to be integrated with business needs as much as possible, focusing on how each division can adapt to maintain and nurture brand loyalty by communicating with its consumers, and in-turn mitigating as much risk as possible.
Crisis and internal communications also remain as important as ever, with transparency and empathy to be at the heart of any organisations approach. We are all in this together, so why not embrace it and get closer to your customers? They will certainly appreciate it – and in-turn support you better.
6. What do you love most about working in PR?
How much it changes!
I’ve been very lucky to work at some of the world’s best known PR agencies, where our PR work was constantly evolving. Now, PR to me is Brand Communications – integrating social, content, digital marketing and traditional marketing, all with strong and long-lasting brand positioning, with the need for great communications skills to control the narrative well.
Working in such a fast-paced and ever changing industry allows us to constantly grow our skills, regardless of how many years we may have already clocked up!
7. Why did you decide to take up the PRCA’s offer of free membership?
I had the privilege of working with PRCA in my role at Jumeirah, with our team attending a number of events and trainings with PRCA MENA. I also know Omar, the current Chairman of PRCA MENA well, and greatly admire his leadership – so am very happy to be able to make the most of the membership, to be in good company.
8. What are you most looking forward to from your PRCA membership?
The opportunity to engage and collaborate with others in the industry, to keep it evolving!