Sawsan Ghanem is the Joint Managing Director and founder of Active Public Relations, a regional strategic boutique PR & Marketing Communications Agency based in Dubai Media City, Dubai, UAE. She has won several prestigious Public Relations awards during her young professional career. Sawsan set up her own public relations agency with her life and business partner, Louay Al Samarrai, in Dubai in 2003 and has been achieving laurels in different walks of life since then. Arabian Gazette interviewed her to find out a bit about her professional philosophy, passions of life, future ambitions and what advice can she offer to young professionals.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Motivation, for me, comes from within. Every day brings with it some experience that is unique and reenergises the energy inside. Achieving success, conquering challenges, discovering new interests, coming up with new business ideas & researching them are a source of huge volumes of motivation for me. Family is really important for me and combined with doing what I love every day is just a complete circle, it’s all in the mind, positive energy and channeling it in the right things works every time and I strongly believe in it. I just simply always try and do my best in everything I pursue, and not live in, what ifs. What’s the next challenge?
I am very competitive by nature and have been so from a very young age. Even at school it meant doing my best to score top marks and always vie for the top spot, first in the class every year. This innate desire to achieve success continued just as strong throughout my academic years BSc (Honours) in Chemistry and Management took extra will power due to insane nature of Chemistry and sheer volume of material to memorise. I was particularly challenged by my Masters degree in International Business and that’s when I can say, my eyes were opened to the ‘real’ world out there, the true meaning of business and achievement dawned upon me.
When I think back, that’s when I got this hunger to find my niche in life, to define what I really enjoyed doing professionally, what I found both personally and mentally rewarding.
With an interesting blend of science, business & marketing backgrounds, I feel like I’ve come up with a unique skill set, if you like a somewhat ‘different’ approach to everything I handle in my personal and professional lives. My diverse educational & work experience history has definitely helped me stand out from the rest in my Public Relations career. I often surprise myself with how many things I can remember and juggle at any given time often my team tells me, Sawsan, how do you do it? How can you remember so many things with such detail? I guess it’s just the way my brain is wired thanks to a seriously intense Chemistry degree where they expected you to remember unreasonable amounts of information all in one go and recall it when quizzed.
I am also naturally analytical. Ever since my early childhood, I would be fascinated by people, their mannerisms, how they dressed, talked and could spend hours just watching them. I was curious about everything and loved reading books. I would finish a book a day. Enid Blyton and Jane Austen being two of my favourite authors then – and now Edward Said, Isabel Allenda, Harper Lee and Helen Fielding to name a few would take me to a parallel world, where I could mentally switch off.
Sometimes, I wish I could switch my brain off as it’s constantly juggling different ideas, check lists and more.
It’s this constant thirst for knowledge, new ideas, ventures, and chasing “what’s next?” all the time that keeps me going every day. Running a PR Agency (along with my business and life partner) for the last 9 years suits me as I love daily challenges and thrive on it.
In our industry, you need to be on your toes all the time, look for fresh angles, ideas, stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the media, local/regional/international and business community, push the boundaries with client communication plans flex the mind and find solutions to any challenges that any given day throws up and have fun while doing so!
I live by the following motto and also share it with my team at the Agency:
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
For me, Active Public Relations & Marketing Consultancy (ACTIVE PR) isn’t just a business, it is an extension of my passion and desire to add value and deliver the best practices of public relations. A goal that my business and life partner and our team share!
I always strive to deliver my best in everything I do, that filters across the board in the Agency. I often tell the team, “Is this your best? If not, come back to me when it is.” I will never compromise on standards at any cost as this is what has gained us a strong reputation in the market place and also made each team member a more rounded PR professional who can hold their head up high wherever they go in the world!
We have consistently performed very well at global PR conferences and got encouraging annual reviews from several international PR publications and personalities. For us this is more valuable than awards. Some of our proud achievements include being awarded the CNBC Property Award 2008, for Best International and Regional PR Agency and being a finalist in Best Media Agency, SME Stars of Business Awards 2011.
To be able to stand out from the crowd in the PR industry, you need to be well read, creative, entrepreneurial, quick on the uptake and sensitive to different personalities you liaise with on a daily basis: clients, media, partners and community members. It really doesn’t work when your approach is the same with everyone and every industry. Companies are all very different and in PR you need to be extra sensitive to that and master personalising your approach depending on who you are dealing with whilst at the same time not compromising on best practices and ethics. An approach that we at Active PR strive to uphold at all times.
On a more personal note – relaxing is not about lying on the sofa for hours and watching TV.it has never been like that for me. In my world, I relax when I am reading, surfing the web for new ideas related to my industry, studying exciting new business ventures, researching future cultural events taking place around the world. Cities with history and culture attract me. At least twice a year I get withdrawal symptoms and need to go and get a dose of culture combined with miles and miles of walking, breathe in lots of fresh air, check out a few art galleries and museums, feed the ducks (where ever I can find them), and discover hidden treasures, whether it be cuisine, fashion, quirky corner stores and markets. That’s where I feel I find myself.
I also love fashion, unusual quirky finds, young designers with incredible talents that are just simply inspirational. Anything vintage is a weakness for me, and this leads me to long hours of online searches and market hunt. The buzz I get from finding some vintage jewellery or clothing is just incomparable. I am proud of the collection I have acquired so far that I get so excited. This is leading me to my next adventure and just can’t wait. I’ve already booked the website name and the website design is underway, so watch this space.
Your Entrepreneurial journey: Where did it start?
My entrepreneurial spirit was always there ever since I can remember. I was competitive, analytical of everything around me, curious about successful business figures, political leaders, other powerful and inspirational individuals who never gave up on their dreams and goals and how they achieved them.
I eventually fell upon the right time, opportunity, calling…and ceased it with both hands and established Active PR in Dubai Media City in 2003.
Women and entrepreneurship: Do you see any trends in this region?
The chances for women to succeed as entrepreneurs here in the UAE are countless with the only limit being themselves in my view. The evidence of this is all around us both with the advent of digital and online businesses to traditional including fashion, film production and more.
Why did you choose Dubai as your base? How is ‘brand Dubai’ helping you?
Dubai is home for me and a city I greatly admire and proud of. Its achievements over a very short period of time have been phenomenal despite some of its detractors who were too ready to point the finger at it in haste in my opinion due to a certain degree of envy mixed with hype.
Dubai is a true business hub that possesses a lot of energy and tremendous opportunities to be tapped.
We are fortunate to have our headquarters in Dubai, UAE, as it’s truly a solid business destination for a wide spectrum of renowned organisations and brands from different corners of the world. Also due to the Dubai’s strategic location, strong communication and travel infrastructures, we are fortunate to have an easy and reliable access to GCC markets and Levant. From our Dubai and Riyadh offices we are able to conduct successful regional campaigns for our clients through maintaining close ties with the media and relevant community/business bodies.
What advice would you give to youngsters interested in getting into PR field?
Public Relations is a challenging career yet one that gives you a great deal of self-satisfaction. There is a misconception out there that PR is about socialising, writing press releases and hanging out at events. That can’t be further from the truth. PR is intense and all about the now demands strong multi-tasking skills, high efficiency, innate ability to switch from one thing to the other instantly, excellent communication and writing skills, a thirst for knowledge and love for media and reading.
If you are an individual, who likes the sound of this, and are passionate about communications and thrive under pressure, then PR might be the right career for you.
How do you define the ‘modern PR person’?
Interesting question! I would say that the modern PR person needs to be more connected – digitally, in their general communications. Social media and the Internet have changed the nature of the PR world in terms of responsiveness and being on call. As a result, professionals seeking success are under pressure to act in a world where everything is instantaneous.
How is technology, especially Social Media, changing the landscape of Public Relations?
It is becoming a very pressured field with the need to be up to date with news (industry, competitor and client) 24/7 and develop the right response/action under very tight time constraints. PR professionals literally need to act and think on their feet to ensure their clients are positioned in the right way, at the right time with the right message. It definitely has differentiated the strategic process driven.