In the hot seat: Tariq Abdulaziz Al-Sada, Ministry of Economy & Commerce, Qatar

Tariq Abdulaziz Al-Sada of the Ministry of Economy & Commerce on the booming communications industry in Qatar

Tariq Abdulaziz Al-Sada is an experienced media and marketing professional who currently serves as the Director of Public Relations and Communication at Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC). Prior to joining the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Tariq led Qatar Foundation’s outreach strategy, spanning 13 global markets ranging from Japan to the US. An influential thought leader in the PR industry, Tariq is a regular contributor to various publications across the MENA region, including Al Sharq, Al Arab, Huffington Post Arabi and Aljazeera. Seraj Jaghbeer, Consultant at Hanson Search MENA, sits down with Tariq to find out how he made it in the industry.

Why did you get into the marketing and communications industry?

When I was growing up, the communications industry in Qatar was on a smaller scale. Of course, there was Al Jazeera, which was famous and successful, but there wasn’t much else in terms of international recognition. There were some local channels, like Qatar TV and Qatar Radio, and some local newspapers, but there wasn’t the thriving media scene that we now work in. I was aware that changes were happening over time, but I didn’t expect things to evolve so quickly and become this big, to be honest. I have always been interested in the media. I wanted to be a journalist and my aim was to work for Al Jazeera at the beginning. Then I decided to work in strategic communications because it is a wider sector which allows for a range of experiences, and the opportunity to contribute towards my country’s progress. This has always been important to me.

What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?

I am always reading, following the latest trends, trying to innovate and think outside the box to keep myself on the edge. It’s important to pursue the best practice for your area of expertise, especially in this market, which is a bit different to other territories. We have a close community, a different way of thinking, and a unique culture, so what works in New York, for example, does not necessarily work in Qatar. Overall, the pursuit of innovation has helped me.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?

One of the challenges I faced when I started was a basic but essential one – to broaden the understanding of what ‘communications’ as an industry encompassed. A lot of people think communication and PR is basically protocol and events management, like organising logistics or taking care of guests, and only that. For me to convince them that communication is a bigger thing with a tangible impact, and to explain that to them practically, took a very long time. Now, of course, it’s a different story. The industry is booming in the region, especially in Qatar. But back then it was difficult. I was seen purely as an event organiser or someone who knew how to talk to the press. I also had to battle the perception that journalism was hard news, whereas PR was somehow soft. The reality, of course, is that PR is one of the most demanding professions in the world, but that was not widely understood, so this was another challenge.

Who is the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?

I’ve been privileged to have worked with many great people and I believe that you learn from everyone, every day. On a personal level, my father has probably been the biggest influence of all on me. Through his work in the media, he inspired me to follow this career path as I was able to observe his journalistic skills, experience and character. He’s always been there to give me advice and support and he is still my idol. In terms of leadership, I have served some amazing leaders, like Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, for example. Also, I see our Minister, His Excellency Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, as a great leader. He previously worked in the media, so in terms of communication, he is a very positive influence. On an international level, marketing professionals like Guy Kawasaki inspire me to reach for a higher standard. I am always keen to learn from creative individuals, like Google’s Larry Page, Disney’s Robert Iger, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. I am always on the lookout for innovators who have not yet reached critical mass too because this is where the ideas of tomorrow will come from.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

You should have confidence in your own decisions and ability and not change your mind once you’ve decided on a course of action. One of the issues I faced early in my career was that I was listening to a lot of opinions. I thought the more opinions I got, the better decisions I would take. But I found that those offering opinions did not necessarily have the full context of the subject in question. The best thing is to be firm, have a vision and a goal and just work towards it. It’s not that you should never ask for advice, but when you do it’s important to take it from people who are really experienced and whose opinions you respect.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge in the next 5 years in the region?

I think the biggest challenge for the region relates to the need for economic diversification and how this is effectively communicated. Every nation within the GCC is working towards the achievement of their national visions, in recognition of the fact that our dependency on oil and gas can’t continue forever. It is important that there is clarity in how this reality is communicated and I think it’s fair to say that Qatar has led the way in this respect, ensuring that our community sees a diverse economy as a necessity. When we look at communications on a wider level, I think we need proper crisis communication and reputation management in the region. I still think that we are lacking in this area with all the crises that are happening around us. We need to understand the importance of having a proper crisis communications strategy and know how to implement it. There is also unrealised potential amongst companies in terms of understanding how to create a brand. There is a tendency to focus on the logo as the core of brand identity, when in fact a successful brand needs to encompass a complete experience, with its employees embodying its brand values and its audience relating to the product or service as a way to enhance their day-to-day lives. Skilful PR strategies have an essential role to play in communicating brand values and constant innovation is key.

What three words best describe you?

Innovative, loyal, family-orientated.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to get into strategic communications?

I’m really proud of the students at Northwestern University in Qatar, Qatar University, and any other youngsters that are now studying communications and media. When I was starting out, only a small amount of people wanted to study communications. This is changing as society has become aware of the industry’s importance. Now young people really want to get into the industry. My advice to them is to try to understand the whole market, industry, and the way we and our audiences we think, instead of just applying what they learned from school. They have to be innovative, find their own way, and not be afraid of voicing their opinions. They should also get as much experience as they can. And always read, stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry, follow the blogs and communicate with people not only in Qatar but globally. The PR profession is truly international, so it’s important to be well connected around the world.

How can Hanson Search help?

If you are looking for the best talent in the MENA region, please don’t hesitate to contact me below for a confidential discussion.

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Author: Felice Hurst

With nearly twenty years of experience in search and recruitment and a decade of experience working in MENA, Felice set up the Hanson Search Middle East office to develop our offering in the region. Working across the spectrum of high-level vacancies, Felice has had considerable success across in-house and consultancy roles.

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