“It’s im­por­tant to note that spe­cial­i­sa­tion is not just about tar­get­ing but about get­ting good at what you do.”

JAMAL AL MAWED, Rolls Royce PR man­ager, on why carv­ing a niche makes a dif­fer­ence.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - Jamal Al Mawed is re­gional PR & cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager Mid­dle East, Africa, Cen­tral Asia and South Amer­ica at Rolls-Royce Mo­tor Cars

Back in 2009 I was tasked with the me­dia launch for a new BMW car across the Mid­dle East re­gion, which meant a press con­fer­ence in ev­ery coun­try. While host­ing the Am­man launch, I cu­ri­ously watched a cou­ple of skinny Jor­da­nian brothers with a small cam­era crew do­ing in­ter­views for a newly launched satel­lite chan­nel called ‘Arab Mo­tors TV’.

Although eight years doesn’t sound like a long time ago, it was at the op­po­site end of a huge par­a­digm shift in me­dia and PR. These were still the days where tra­di­tional me­dia reigned supreme, so my PR fo­cus was on daily news­pa­pers, life­style/ au­to­mo­tive mag­a­zines and lo­cal broad­cast news channels. Hun­dreds of in­de­pen­dent satel­lite channels were spring­ing up ev­ery year that no one watched, and I could hardly keep track of them, so I didn’t have much time for Arab Mo­tors TV, and couldn’t fathom how they would fill 24 hours of pro­gram­ming ev­ery day with only au­to­mo­tive con­tent, es­pe­cially in Ara­bic.

Later that year, at the Dubai Mo­tor Show, they were at it again, roam­ing the floors with their cam­era crew, try­ing to en­gage the au­to­mo­tive brands. They were per­sis­tent, and I ran into them at al­most ev­ery car event for the next few years, as they pro­duced reel af­ter reel of cover­age that I knew hardly any­one would see.

Then some­thing amaz­ing hap­pened. The dig­i­tal boom hit the Mid­dle East, and the two brothers de­cided to take their well-honed re­la­tion­ships with car brands, Ara­bic-lan­guage pre­sent­ing skills, and ex­per­tise in film­ing and edit­ing and used it to launch their own YouTube chan­nel.

To­day, Mousub and Suhaib Shasha’s Arab GT is the most-watched Ara­bi­clan­guage au­to­mo­tive YouTube chan­nel in the world, with 750,000 sub­scribers, 2,000 videos and com­bined view counts in the hun­dreds of mil­lions. With a Face­book page that has 7 mil­lion fol­low­ers, a web­site, Instagram and Snapchat, they are the most pow­er­ful au­to­mo­tive in­flu­encers in the re­gion. They are also the first name on my list for any ma­jor press trip or event.

This is not a story about the virtues of hard work and per­sis­tence – it’s about the im­por­tance of spe­cial­i­sa­tion. What makes their story so re­mark­able is how rare it is in our re­gion. Ev­ery day we watch our Instagram feeds and Snapchat sto­ries get more and more con­fus­ing as so­cial in­flu­encers pro­mote dif­fer­ent restau­rants, des­ti­na­tions, fash­ion la­bels, FMCGs, hair prod­ucts, watches, jew­ellery, cars, mo­bile phones, den­tists, spas, sham­poos, face creams, and more. To quote an ex­as­per­ated mem­ber of my PR agency: “Every­one is do­ing ev­ery­thing.”

While I ac­cept that for the blog­gers/in­flu­encers it is dif­fi­cult to know the dos and don’ts in a nascent in­dus­try that will ma­ture with time, it’s slightly alarm­ing to see the ac­tual brands prop­a­gate this type of be­hav­iour through lazy tar­get­ing. It’s the same old ar­gu­ment that we have had with TV, print, online, dig­i­tal and now so­cial: reach ver­sus rel­e­vance. Brands are still un­will­ing to in­vest in mi­cro-in­flu­encers who are at least spe­cial­is­ing in their field, be­cause they need to show ‘big num­bers’.

Take a look at Huda Kat­tan – an­other ex­am­ple of some­one who spe­cialised and stuck with it. In­stead of re­view­ing restau­rants and air­lines and wash­ing de­ter­gents, she stuck with her area of ex­per­tise, which is beauty and make-up. For a cou­ple of years she had mod­er­ate pop­u­lar­ity in the re­gion but in­stead of di­gress­ing, she launched her own brand of eye­lashes; her sis­ter opened a beauty sa­lon, so it was al­ways ‘on brand’. The fo­cus was al­ways beauty and make-up and it al­lowed her to gather a very rel­e­vant au­di­ence which pro­pelled her to ar­guably global star­dom.

The temp­ta­tion of a quick pay­cheque has taken many in­flu­encers into a grey ter­ri­tory where they are scat­ter­ing their au­di­ence, los­ing en­gage­ment and pro­mot­ing prod­ucts they have no cred­i­bil­ity to pro­mote. This will un­doubt­edly harm them in the long run in what is an un­for­giv­ing in­dus­try.

It’s also im­por­tant to note that spe­cial­i­sa­tion is not just about tar­get­ing, but about get­ting good at what you do. If you are wast­ing your time at­tend­ing all kinds of brand events to make sure you are in the spotlight, that is less time you are in­vest­ing in be­com­ing an ex­pert in your craft. ArabGT know cars like no one else be­cause they’ve worked at it day and night for years. Huda Kat­tan knows beauty like no one else be­cause she spends the ma­jor­ity of her time ex­per­i­ment­ing with make-up – even now, with close to 20 mil­lion Instagram fol­low­ers, her ac­count is 95 per cent ded­i­cated to make-up tu­to­ri­als in­stead of a re­view of the lat­est Mal­dives ho­tel or smart­phone. It’s Malcolm Glad­well’s fa­mous 10,000 hour rule that turns lay­men into ex­perts in their field.

The above ex­am­ples are the go-to names in our re­gion for cars and beauty. Could you name, off the top of your head, the go-to re­gional in­flu­encer for tai­lor­ing? Men’s groom­ing? Mother du­ties? Food? Travel? Ho­tels? Lux­ury? Jew­ellery? Chances are you can only think of a few ‘kind­ofs’ or a few ‘yes, but not big enoughs’ – and this demon­strates the prob­lem brands will con­tinue to face.

The so­lu­tion is twofold. The in­flu­encers them­selves need to have the re­silience to turn down brand money un­less it is rel­e­vant to their area of spe­cial­i­sa­tion, while the brands need to in­vest their time and money in the peo­ple that are reach­ing a rel­e­vant au­di­ence for them. With time, the in­dus­try will seg­ment prop­erly and ma­ture, and we will be in a win-win sit­u­a­tion. Un­til then, we all have to keep watch­ing every­one do ev­ery­thing and in­flu­ence noth­ing.

Huda Kat­tan

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