Farah Al Alami, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, UE Medical chats about the way to the top: "Enjoy, learn, and master it!"
With healthcare being one of the rare growing industries in the Middle East and new hospitals opening to match the demand of the local markets, we sat down with Farah Al Alami, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer of one of the best known local healthcare networks United Eastern Medical Services (UEMedical), and was previously the Regional Director of PR at the Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic to discuss her path to the top and how local and regional talent can grow their career in the healthcare sector.
Why did you get into marketing and communications?
Since I was young, I had an interest in public speaking, networking, advertising, events, and media. In my home country, Jordan, there is a lot of competition to get into university. I, however, got a scholarship to study marketing in my first choice university. I got into healthcare marketing because I’ve always wanted to work in hospitals, but I never wanted to study medicine. My dream was to be part of a hospital team, and it was a coincidence that my first job was in a hospital in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. They originally offered me a job in HR. I saw it as a way of entering the organization and after proving my capabilities I would have a chance to move into PR, so I took it and started pursuing my MBA right after. It worked. After six months, the CEO hired me as a PR and marketing officer.
Do marketing and communications in this region have a place in the boardroom?
Of course. In fact, most of the business functions need input or perspective from the marketing and communications side. In return, we need to understand what’s happening in operations, finance, HR and other departments to achieve the utmost and support the organization’s goals. The organisations that I work in are smart. They appreciate and understand the role of marketing, PR and communications, including internal communications.
Do you think there are enough women in the boardroom in MENA?
No, but hopefully this will change. It’s a cultural thing, not in the Middle East specifically, but in general. More and more women are proving that they can do it and that we should be reaching towards 50:50 representation. Women are known to be multi-taskers, and many have the capability to balance their lives between work and family. I’m actually proud that women in the PR industry are already over 65% of the workforce!
Tell us more about United Eastern Medical Services?
United Eastern Medical Services (UEMedical) was established back in 2007/8. The vision was to establish a portfolio of healthcare facilities including a specialised women and children's hospital and raise the bar of medical excellence in Abu Dhabi and the region. The group currently encompasses the new Danat Al Emarat Hospital for women and children and an outpatient network of speciality centres under the name of HealthPlus. Danat Al Emarat Hospital is considered, in Abu Dhabi, the first purposely built hospital for women and children, and the first in the private sector to be managed by an international operator, Parkway Pantai from Singapore. One of the key differentiators is that Danat Al Emarat offers comprehensive service lines for women and children, not only maternity. During a span of 6 years, HealthPlus network expanded to different facilities, including a highly advanced IVF/Fertility center and a diabetes and endocrinology center clinically affiliated with Diabetes Zentrum Mergentheim (DZM), a well-known hospital that specialises in diabetic medicine in Germany. We also have family health centres and a specialty centre for children, with specialisms such as paediatric cardiology. The first birth at Danat Al Emarat Hospital happened on the 28th October last year and we welcomed the 1,000th baby two weeks ago, so the growth has been phenomenal and the team is expanding. UEMedical also partnered with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in the UK to open a branch here in Abu Dhabi, bringing 200 years of history and excellence in ophthalmology, and we started welcoming patient last April.
How are you coping with the digital revolution?
It’s the new era of communications, but I don’t like to ignore traditional comms. I think it’s as important as digital. However, maybe five years ago I would have invested 5% of my budget on digital, now it’s 50%. It’s very important as it’s the source of information about conditions and diseases. I’m on Twitter 20 times a day if not more and our average response rate on Facebook is less than half an hour. We get enquiries about insurance, conditions, services, and requests for appointments at 3am!
Do you have a professional role model?
Personally, my dad is my role model. Professionally, I consider Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa Al Hammadi, the CEO of United Eastern Medical Services a role model for his visionary leadership as well as the CEO of HealthPlus, Majd Abu Zant for his critical thinking and intelligence. They believe in marketing and communications, which empowers me. In PR, Eileen Sheil, the corporate communications executive director at Cleveland Clinic Ohio is my role model and mentor. I was part of her team at Cleveland Clinic Ohio for three years and learned from her every single day, and I adore her.
How do you inspire younger generations and those who aspire to join the profession, especially in MENA?
I think anyone with excellent communication skills should consider a career in PR. If they do, they’ll enjoy what they’re doing. When you enjoy something, you master it. If someone is really good at social media, blogging, and public speaking, then they have the skills. Not everyone does. If they enjoy it, why not pursue such a career? For example, I was invited to be part of a health TV show on one of the local channels in Abu Dhabi presenting medical segments and interviewing physicians for two years. That was an important milestone in my career in healthcare PR. Our profession is one where you enjoy what you do. It’s fun. I feel like we’re the cool people in each and every organisation. You need to start from the bottom of the ladder, though. You don’t become a manager or C-Suite just like that. There’s a lot you need to learn before you’re ready to manage a team of people and drive a marketing and communications function in any sector. I’m also honoured to be a board member of the Middle East PR Association (MEPRA), which has been operating successfully for the last 10 years. The association offers an excellent platform for PR professionals to learn about communications and is the voice of our profession in the Middle East.
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