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CEO Activism: Five things we learned at In2SummitMENA

In a column for Arabian Business earlier this year, Sunil John, ASDA’A BCW’s President, Middle East, posited that ‘2019 is the year of the socially conscious CEO’. While leaders have long avoided rocking the boat, he argued that in today’s climate, taking a stand is not a ‘nice to do’ but rather ‘a must-do’.

Sunil John, ASDA’A BCW President – Middle East

This was the topic up for debate during the opening panel at the 2nd In2 Innovation Summit MENA: Should CEOs, and the companies and brands they represent, take a stand on policy making and political issues?

Joining Sunil for the discussion on February 13 were Heba Fatani, Executive Director of RAK Media Office, Maaz Sheikh, CEO and Founder of Starz Play Arabia, and Nicole Hayde, Senior Director of Corporate Relations for Visa MENA.

Here are our five key takeaways from the panel.

The In2SummitMENA panel

A CEO’s ultimate responsibility is to the business

Both Maaz and Heba likened a leadership role to taking an oath to preserve the best interests of your company. “If you speak out on an issue you personally feel strongly about, but your employees and shareholders are not aligned with it, you might end up alienating someone,” warned Heba.

Maaz added: “Sometimes you have to set aside your personal beliefs and make the bigger interests of your shareholders, employees and customers a higher priority.”

Maaz Sheikh, CEO and Founder, STARZ PLAY Arabia

However, CEOs that do take a stand can reap rewards when their values connect strongly with their audience

“Consumers are drawn to companies that are authentic and work hard at amplifying the things they stand for,” said Nicole. Sunil cited the example of Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign, a controversial move in a divisive political climate that ultimately paid off enormously.

In an era of #fakenews, more people are looking to CEOs for the truth

“Consumers are pivoting towards corporates for good governance and looking to CEOs to take more of a lead on providing trustworthy information,” Nicole said.

Nicole Hayde, Senior Director – Corporate Communications, MENA & SSA , Visa

Authenticity is key

It’s not enough to pay lip service -–you have to live your values. “When your core values are genuine and aligned with shared, human values that no one can dispute, your employees will feel proud to be associated with you,” said Heba, noting how the UAE government has made its core value of tolerance actionable, through its Year of Tolerance, the appointment of a Minister of Tolerance, and even the recent visit to the emirate by Pope Francis.

Heba Fatani, Executive Director, RAK Media Office

CEOs that want to engage on social media need to know what they’re signing up for

While social media can make CEOs appear more relatable and make communications feel more genuine, the ‘echo chamber’ will amplify your message, and the internet will preserve it forever. The best advice? According to Heba: “Take your time. See how things develop before you comment. Know when (and when not to) engage. And don’t be an angry tweeter.”

Ultimately, the conclusion was that, done correctly, CEO activism can reap real quantifiable rewards and create authentic connections, as long as it’s done responsibly (Maaz), with passion (Heba), and with relevance (Nicole). As long as it’s done right, it’s worth the potential risk.

Choose an issue or a cause that matters to you, your business and your shareholders and go after it with sincere passion – make it matter.

As Sunil concluded, “Taking a brave stand needs heart. Not every brand can do it.”

ASDA’A BCW puts regional PR work on global stage with over 30 international award wins in 2018

ASDA’A BCW, the leading Middle East and North Africa PR agency, is demonstrating that regional work can compete on the global stage with more than 30 international award wins in 2018.

The  ‘Ford KSA: Women in the Driving Seat’ campaign was a standout, earning Ford MEA and ASDA’A BCW their first Gold SABRE at a ceremony Washington DC. The Agency was awarded Multi-Market Consultancy of the Year at the Gold Standards Award 2018 in Hong Kong, along with the Gold Standard Award for Social Media Communications for ‘Women in the Driving Seat.’

The ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey won Gold for PR Week’s Middle East Campaign of the Year, as well as the coveted IN2 SABRE Award for ‘Thought Leadership in PR’ for a record third year running, while ‘Ford KSA: Women in the Driving Seat’ took the top spot in the competitive automotive category in the EMEA SABREs.


The Agency continued its winning streak at the International Business Awards 2018 – also known as the ‘Stevies’ – by clinching 28 award wins at the London event, including PR Agency of the Year for the MENA region and a coveted ‘Grand Stevie’ for being the most awarded PR agency.

Sunil John, President & Founder, ASDA’A BCW, said: “This has been a fantastic year for ASDA’A BCW, and I’m immensely proud of our teams who have gone the extra mile for our clients in delivering work of the highest international standards.”

Closer to home, the agency won three prizes at the Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA) Awards, including the Gold for its work on the New Year’s Eve extravaganza ‘Light Up 2018’ in Downtown Dubai with EMAAR; Silver for the Best Sustainability and Social Impact Campaign for the Dubai Fitness Challenge 2017; and Bronze in the same category for the 10th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey.


New findings from 10th ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey unveiled at Berlin event hosted by UAE Embassy

Young Arabs believe that religion is essential to their identity, but also say that it plays too much of a role in today’s Middle East, according to newly released findings from the 2018 ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey unveiled at a special German-Arab Friendship Association event hosted by H. E. Ali Abdulla Al Ahmed, the UAE Ambassador to Germany, at the Embassy of the UAE in Berlin.

Held under the theme “Investing in Arab Youth – Fostering Responsible Leadership” the event welcomed more than 80 distinguished guests, including MPs, diplomats academics and business leaders.

In his opening remarks, H. E. Ali Abdulla Al Ahmed told assembled guests: “The UAE is a young country, both in terms of when we were established, and in terms of our population. As we move beyond our dependence on our natural bounty of hydrocarbons, it is youth that will be our biggest asset. We are fortunate that, from our earliest days, our leadership has always focused on the issues most important to youth, especially education and employment, so our young people today are empowered to face the challenges and opportunities of our future diversified economy.”

He added: “Our dedication explains why the UAE is consistently ranked by the Survey as the number one country in which young Arabs would like to live, and would like their own countries to resemble.”

New findings from the Survey revealed that youth in the Arabian Gulf states are more likely to see religion as key to their identity, with 89 per cent agreeing with the statement ‘my religion is central to my identity’ compared with 74 per cent of those in the Levant countries, comprising Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories. However, perhaps surprisingly given the importance of religion to their identity, two-thirds (68 per cent) of youth in the Gulf Co-operation Council states (GCC) agreed with the statement ‘religion plays too big a role in the Middle East’ – compared with just 56 per cent in the Levant.

Sunil John, founder & CEO of ASDA’A BCW and President of BCW Middle East, who presented the findings at the event at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Berlin, said: “As the only European country to make the top five nations which Arab youth would choose to live in and emulate, the findings from the Arab Youth Survey clearly show an appreciation and recognition of Germany among the region’s youth. What’s more ambiguous in this year’s findings is the attitudes towards religion among young Arabs. Young people across the region clearly believe religion is central to their identity; it’s interesting, though, that a majority also believe it plays too big a role in defining the region itself.”

With the aim of exploring attitudes and sentiments of Arab youth across 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey is an annual snapshot of the hopes, fears and perceptions of the region’s most important demographic – its youth – including how they view their future, the digital revolution and the shifting attitudes towards the region’s friends and foes.

The Survey showed that while the UAE is the country young Arabs would most like to live in, as well as that which they would most like their country to emulate, Germany ranked fifth in both responses, and was the only European nation to feature in this top five. The three countries where Germany scored highest as an aspirational country to live in were Morocco (23 per cent), Jordan (22 per cent), and Bahrain (21 per cent). Among those looking for their country to emulate Germany were youth responders from the Palestinian Territories (35 per cent), Jordan (19 per cent), and Bahrain (18 per cent).

ASDA’A BCW wins Global SABRE Award for Ford’s ‘Women in the Driving Seat’ Saudi Arabia Campaign

ASDA’A BCW, the leading integrated communications agency in the Middle East and North Africa, has been awarded a 2018 Global SABRE Award in PR for its work on Ford’s ‘Women in the Driving Seat’ campaign.

The Global SABRE Awards by The Holmes Report are the world’s biggest PR industry accolades. The Awards — which include competitions for the Americas, EMEA, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region — attract more than 5,500 entries from more than 60 countries, so that the winners of the Global awards are the elite of the elite, representing best practice in categories ranging from social media to social responsibility, from public affairs to employee communications.

“Following the announcement by the Saudi Government to lift the ban on women driving in the Kingdom in September 2017, ASDA’A BCW planned this significant campaign for our client Ford Middle East.” said Sunil John, Founder & CEO of ASDA’A BCW and President, Middle East, of BCW. “It was hugely important for Ford to mark the moment, and to help celebrate women’s empowerment. This was a powerful and important story for the region, and one that required a sophisticated and creative approach. Being recognized among the very best campaigns in the world is a testament to how our local knowledge and expertise helped Ford connect with a very new and very welcome sales demographic – the women of Saudi Arabia.”
For the campaign, ASDA’A BCW partnered with WPP sister agency GTB who created simple yet evocative artwork alongside the caption ‘Welcome to the Driver’s Seat’. This content was then posted across all Ford’s social media channels, with the agency engaging with consumers of all ages, and monitoring buzz. Further, ASDA’A BCW identified Sahar Nassif, a prominent 63-year-old influencer from Saudi Arabia who had expressed her desire to buy a Ford Mustang during a BBC Interview. A surprise campaign was developed, with the hashtag #MustangSahar, announcing ‘Your Mustang Awaits’, and Ford personally hand delivered a Ford Mustang to Sahar – an initiative that generated headlines throughout Saudi Arabia, the region and the world.
In addition, Ford’s award-winning global safe driving programme, ‘Ford Driving Skills for Life’(DSFL), activated in Saudi Arabia through a first-of-its-kind variation on International Women’s Day, called ‘Driving Skills for Life for Her’ at Jeddah’s Effat University in KSA.

The agency created a customized introductory programme focused on building women’s confidence behind the wheel, expanding their automotive knowledge and preparing them to drive safely. Over 250 students participated, and Ford intends to make the new DSFL for Her an on-going programme for the Kingdom’s female drivers.
The campaign received unprecedented coverage at the local, regional and international level resulting in 632 pieces of coverage reaching over 162 million people and achieved over 5 million impressions on social media giving Ford the number one share of voice in the Kingdom’s automotive field.

See the campaign summary video here: