January 2023

ASDA’A BCW appoints industry expert Rami Halawani as Executive Vice President – Client Services

Rami Halawani, formerly ASDA’A BCW’s Regional Director – Levant & North Africa, joins back from Dubai Chambers, where he was Director – Marketing & Communications

Rami Halawani, EVP – Client Services, ASDA’A BCW

Dubai, UAE; January 25, 2023: ASDA’A BCW, the region’s leading communications consultancy, has appointed Rami Halawani, a strategic communications and marketing professional with over two decades of experience, as its Executive Vice President – Client Services.

He will focus on strengthening key client relationships, delivering counsel to elevate campaigns, provide reputation and crisis management counsel, and build new business partnerships.  

Rami was an integral part of the Agency’s regional growth from 2002 to 2009 as Regional Director – Levant and North Africa, managing wholly-owned and affiliate offices in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, in addition to leading the Consumer Marketing and Healthcare practices.

He joins the Agency from Dubai Chambers, where he was Director – Marketing & Corporate Communication for over 12 years, responsible for implementing the Chambers’ global communications strategy and engaging internal and external stakeholders. 

Welcoming Rami, Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “It is such a delight to welcome back Rami, who has played a key role in building our regional network. Rami will provide in-depth counsel to our clients with his demonstrated skills in integrated and digital-first communications as we chart a new growth strategy in 2023 focused on delivering exceptional client service.”

Rami said: “This is a true home-coming for me. With the communications industry evolving at a tremendous pace, it is important that Agencies focus on real value addition through service diversification and innovation – and ASDA’A BCW has been at the forefront especially with the region’s most quoted thought leadership initiative – the annual Arab Youth Survey and the recent launch of the innovative ESG advisory OnePoint5”.

Rami started his career with Weber Shandwick PR in Dubai as Account Manager and Arabic Media Relations Manager. A graduate in Literature with Post Graduation in Translation and Interpretation and is fluent in English, Arabic, French and Italian.

Having won ‘Best Agency – UAE’ – a historic recognition for a PR firm – at the Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East awards and the 2022 Best PR/Communications Agency, ASDA’A BCW is enhancing its value offerings for clients through innovative approaches to Public Relations.

A strong year for PR in MENA

At Campaign Middle East’s first Agency of the Year awards, ASDA’A BCW won two awards for Regional Agency of the Year – UAE and PR/ Communications Agency of the Year.  In an interview with Campaign’s Jalaja Ramanunni , Sunil John, President – MENA of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, says why 2023 will be a strong year for PR in the MENA region. 

ASDA’A was founded in 2000 as an independent agency by Sunil John who continues to lead in the agency’s 22nd year. John spoke to us about a positive 2023 for the Middle East and North African markets.

Tell us about your journey to the award.

When Campaign had its first award in 2007, we were the PR agency that won PR agency of the year. Now Campaign has come back with its inaugural award in 2022 – and here we are again. It has been a fabulous journey for us from 2007 to 2022. We have been in the game for a long time. We launched ourselves in 2000 and it has been 22 years. We are a PR agency that founded a lot of what you see in the PR sector. We are happy that we are recognized for everything we did over 22 years.

How will the award help your agency to navigate forward in the industry?

Great work needs great recognition and to get it from Campaign Middle East awards is a fabulous way to be recognized for great work. This will be a great impetus for the teams inside. Awards are a great motivational force for agencies to go to the next level. I want to thank Campaign Middle East for recognising ASDA’A BCW.

Why should other agencies enter these awards?

Agencies are people-businesses and people need recognition. Awards are a way to recognise great work and the contribution of people. Other agencies should enter because these awards as it is a great motivational force. It can transform agencies and to miss that would be a mistake. To enter awards, show the best work that you’ve got and to be recognised from great juries as well is something every agency must do for the next year.

What does 2023 look like?

2023 is going to be a difficult year across the world with one exception, and that’s the Middle East and North African markets. This is a market with huge growth potential, obviously for links with higher oil prices and governments being in a much stronger position. We are looking at a strong 2023 despite the issues around the world. This is a time to invest in people and innovation and to consider integrated creative offers that can satisfy client needs. I am being very positive about 2023.

Campaign Middle East celebrated the best minds in advertising, marketing and media at the Agency of the Year Middle East awards 2022. View all the winners here.

Youthful optimism can help overcome our challenges

By Sunil John

One of the insights from our 14th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey this year was that many young Arabs see footballers as their role models. When polled between May and June, Arab youth cited Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah and Saudi Arabian legend Majed Abdullah as two of the public figures they admired the most.

Fast forward to December, with Morocco achieving a historic fourth place in the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, and Saudi Arabia beating the eventual winners, Argentina, in an earlier qualifying match, it is safe to say that even more young Arab men and women will be citing footballers as their role models in the next edition of our research.

The story of the football prowess of North African and Middle Eastern nations at this year’s tournament was a welcome change from the usual news coverage of the region.

Ironically, it revealed something our annual study has consistently shown – a confident, ambitious population more than capable of holding their own when given a level playing field.

Today, Arab youth seek stability and opportunities for progress as eagerly as they do greater civil liberties. And despite seemingly impossible odds at times, most believe they will have a better life than their parents.

It is apposite to describe the joy of sport as a distraction, particularly in the Arab world. Arab youth may well be optimistic and football mad, but they are hardly oblivious to the challenges confronting them.

Young Arabs at a crossroads

In fact, according to our 2022 research, many see themselves at a crossroads. They believe their best days lie ahead, but most say their country’s economy is headed in the wrong direction.

An increasing proportion are looking forward to starting their own business, but inflation and access to quality education are concerns across the board.

In this year’s poll more than a third (41 percent) said they were struggling to meet their basic expenses (rising to 63 percent in the Levant), and more than half (53 percent) said they receive financial support from their family.

Nearly half (49 percent) of all young Arabs said they now believe it will be difficult to find a job, especially in the Levant, where the figure rose to nearly three-quarters (73 percent).

The silver lining

Yet there is a silver lining. While most economies around the world are preparing for recession, those in the Middle East are expected to grow by 3.5 percent in 2023, according to the World Bank.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that the Arabian Gulf states will generate additional revenues of $1.3 trillion over the next four years.

This windfall will help the region’s wealthiest economies sustain large-scale investment in diversification and decarbonisation, with positive knock-on effects on neighbouring countries.

With the UAE hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop28) in 2023 and Saudi Arabia pursuing the Middle East Green Initiative, opportunities in the region’s cleantech sector will enjoy an unprecedented focus.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have each pledged to achieve net-zero emissions. This will stimulate opportunities in all areas of the economy as governments and the private sector strive to reduce their environmental impact.

Accordingly, demonstrating a clear sustainability vision, backed by robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks will increasingly become non-negotiable.

The current gap in this regard is both a concern and an opportunity for the consulting sector. According to our research, about two-thirds (59 percent) of businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UAE say they do not have an ESG framework in place.

Half of those who say they do also admit they do not fully understand it. In May this year ASDA’A BCW launched the dedicated advisory OnePoint5 to help bridge this worrying gap between action and words.

The optimism of Arab youth, as documented by the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, and displayed for all to see, is a resource we must rapidly put to work to overcome the Arab world’s well-documented challenges.

As communicators, we must help governments and businesses to articulate strategies that are sensitive to this new reality. We must shift from reactive to proactive counselling, offering creative, digital and integrated solutions.

Originally published in AGBI

A year when the Arab world will take centre stage

By Sunil John

It is both a sign of the times and a glimpse into the future when a 166-year-old Western financial institution turns to Saudi Arabia for bail-out funding.

Saudi National Bank’s $1.5 billion investment to acquire a 9.9 percent stake in the global investment bank and financial services company Credit Suisse Group was no ordinary financial rescue.

It was a powerful statement on Saudi Arabia’s strategic ambitions and the enviable position of the Arabian Gulf as one of the few bright spots in a decidedly wintry global economy, worsened by the prolonged conflict in Ukraine.

And this was despite Ammar A. Alkhudairy, Saudi National Bank’s Chairman, describing the investment – a fraction over 2 percent of its total investment portfolio of $68.7 billion – as “barely worth a press release”.

GCC economies a rare bright spot Saudi Arabia’s shrewd decision to strengthen its investment banking operations promises further financial firepower to deliver on its domestic economic transformation plans. One must add to this, of course, a share of the $1.4 trillion in extra oil & gas revenues that the IMF estimates will flow into the GCC countries over the next five years. These will further swell the coffers of the region’s sovereign wealth funds, which already account for 40 percent of the $5.5 trillion in assets held by SWFs globally.

While global financial markets witnessed an extended period of volatility, or ‘perma-crisis’ (the word of the year according to the Collins English Dictionary) during 2022, GCC fund managers have been in over-drive.

Stock exchanges in the UAE and Saudi Arabia recorded over $22.6 billion in new listings, equal to more than half the value of all the listings across the bourses of Europe, the Middle East and Africa combined.

In the first 10 months of 2022, Gulf sovereign investors more than doubled their investments in the US and Europe, from $20.9 billion to $48 billion. Six of the world’s top 10 active sovereign investors during this period came from the Arabian Gulf, each participating in deals exceeding $1 billion.

So, it is easy to see why the GCC countries will strengthen their economic powerhouse status over the next decade. This augurs well for their domestic populations, particularly the youth, and for trade and investment with neighbouring countries.

Arab countries taking centre stage One outcome of all this financial muscle has been the ability to host world-class events. The region has staged two in as many years. The pandemic-delayed Expo 2020 in Dubai, which received no fewer than 25 million visitations despite the unprecedented restrictions on social interaction and travel, and the FIFA World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, universally lauded as one of the best tournaments in the event’s storied history.

While not without controversy, the year’s World Cup saw Qatar confidently step forward onto the world’s biggest stage of all, successfully organizing an event that few thought possible 12 years ago when they won the bid. The presentation of a bisht, the traditional men’s cloak popular throughout the Arab world, to Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi left an indelible mark on World Cup history. No small matter that Qatar spent a whopping $300 billion in creating world-class infrastructure to stage the event.

A new chapter has been added to the story of the region. While stereotypical opinions in some quarters have not necessarily been overcome, they most certainly have been challenged. A dialogue is now underway.

We saw further evidence of a new narrative emerging at the UN Climate Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. Yes, GCC economies still rely on oil & gas, however, these countries also have a role to play in bringing about a cleaner energy future. And they are willing to invest billions.

As Vijay Vaitheeswaran, the global energy and climate innovation editor of The Economist, recently observed: “We will see a much stronger focus on how the energy industry itself can play a role as a decarboniser. It’s about a grown-up way of understanding the problem that oil and gas is here to stay.”

In 2023, negotiations on stemming climate change will resume in earnest at COP28, the Emirates Climate Conference. Just as Qatar confidently faced up to its critics to stage a brilliant World Cup, so the UAE will defy the doubters to host the next edition of the world’s most important climate gathering committed to positive, inclusive dialogue.

The positive knock-on effects should also not be underestimated, with Saudi Arabia now considering bids for both the FIFA World Cup and the World Expo. This promises further liberalization, and economic diversification, of what was once one of the world’s most conservative countries.

PR will lead from the front Inspired by its leaders’ bold ambitions and the aspirations of its 200 million plus youth, the MENA region will witness yet more inward investment and further financial forays overseas in 2023. I believe this requires expert communications advice that only consultancies born in the region can provide – a view further reinforced when ASDA’A BCW collected the award for Best Agency – UAE at the 2022 Campaign Agency of the Year Middle East awards.

An innate understanding of the culture, sustained investment in attitudinal research (a case in point being our annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, now entering its 15th year in 2023), and the commitment to embrace creative, integrated, and digital-first thinking will continue to secure the industry a seat at the decision maker’s table.


Originally published in Arabian Business