Meet Randa Habib, the Account Director at Peace Cake, as she takes us on a captivating journey from a kitchen-table business idea to her current role in agency leadership. She also shares enlightening perspectives on navigating biases, championing diversity, and envisioning the future of marketing in the Middle East.
How did you begin your journey with Peace Cake? We see that the agency claims you as one of the Co-Founders, but you designate yourself as the Account Director, why is that?
Peace Cake was started in my kitchen with my husband and his friends. At that time, I was on maternity leave from the agency I worked for, and though I couldn’t help but chime in occasionally, I was not officially involved. However, they eventually convinced me to join in an official capacity, and from there, we kicked things off! We have come a long way from our initial bootstrapping days, with each of us wearing multiple hats. Now, with a team of over 50 members, I feel that 'Account Director' better describes my day-to-day duties, rather than just Co-Founder.
What inspired you to work in the marketing and advertising industry?
It was a real stroke of luck and not how I had originally intended - as most great stories usually begin. I was studying Cinema and Set Design and had the opportunity to work on location for an Egyptian series scheduled for release during Ramadan. The fast-paced and vibrant environment of production sparked my interest in pursuing a simpler version of that experience, leading me to explore the field of marketing and advertising. Gradually, I found myself delving deeper into the realm of digital media and advertising, with a particular focus on social media rather than above-the-line campaigns. I found great satisfaction in the immediacy of creating, ideating, and producing content. However, I would occasionally take on larger productions as well.
We see you’ve managed accounts for some big brands in the MENA region such as Netflix. Tell us about some of the milestones you’ve achieved in the tenure.
I have been working on Netflix MENA for the past 3 years, and during this time, we have accomplished numerous achievements and milestones. One of our notable successes was launching one of the most successful TikTok accounts, which ultimately led to us winning Rock the Tok 2022. Additionally, I had the opportunity to create content for some of my favorite regional titles. Last year, our work was shortlisted at the MENA Effie in the Branded Content Category for one of my favorite pieces of content - “Am Kamal Recommends.” In my previous role, I also won a MENA Cristal Award for “Freska HindiHasha,” a campaign that leveraged the insight that Indian movies possess incredibly creative plotlines, and we, as Egyptians, enjoy exaggerating our stories. As a result, people would use our website to upload videos of themselves telling stories with continuations inspired by Indian movies.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I think it was finding my groove. After leaving the last agency I was in and joining a start-up, it was hard. We were always questioning each other, “Are we doing the right thing?” The challenges of bootstrapping and adapting to changes are something that can’t be understated, especially when you are also a mother and have to balance all these emotions and motherhood. It can be exceptionally hard.
Have you faced any compounded biases in building your relationships with clients? If so, how do you suggest women in the same field as you deal with them?
I have faced a few instances of sexism where men would rather listen to other men. Honestly, at first, I didn’t deal with it, and I would sweep it under the rug. I think at one point something clicked, and I felt like it couldn’t go on like this. So, I became more assertive, and I would speak my mind no matter the consequences. As long as I was doing right by my client and their brand, I knew I was in the right, and I would advise anyone to do the same. This irrational fear that if you said something or did something for your client, the world would come crumbling down is one that needs to be fought against. So, speak your mind always.
As a woman in a leadership position, how do you promote diversity and inclusion within your team and the broader B2B industry?
I am constantly questioning my team’s and my own bias when it comes to the work we put out there and our work culture and ethos. We are very careful with whom we work and what we produce.
Peace Cake is an independent media agency, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced in bringing its vision to life? Do you believe that independent agencies face more headwinds as compared to group agency networks?
I think scaling and growth are always on the agenda of any independent media agency. However, with size comes a host of troubles and challenges as well. Yes, of course, one of the key strengths of independent agencies is that we can be more agile, flexible, and adaptive in a way network agencies can only dream of. However, that same scalability and growth can prove to be your undoing if you don’t pace yourself or design it in a way that is sustainable.
As one of the decision-makers on your team for Peace Cake, what is your take on hiring young talent? What do your young women employees expect from your agency’s work culture? How do you strategize to deliver that to them?
We are a young team, and we love to gamble on young unknowns & experiment. That was us at one point. I expect excellence from everyone but especially with our female talent I want to empower them to have ownership of what they are doing and make sure they feel supported. I check in a lot with them- we are non-hierarchical, and I underscore always that everyone should speak their minds and be creative. It’s very critical that we are constantly in discussion and not being complacent about where we are especially when it comes to work culture.
Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of the marketing, advertising, and communications industry of the Middle East, and how do you see yourself and Peace Cake adapting to the evolving landscape?
I feel like, so far (Knock on Wood) we are very much ahead of the game when no other brands were taking a gamble on TikTok. We started convincing our clients that this was the place to be to reach their target audience. I feel like this is where the industry is going with shorter attention spans we have to turn to shorter quicker formats to get the message across. We genuinely believe in content, in the need to grow past traditional advertising and messaging, and strike a connection with customers in an earnest way. Luckily, we are seeing the world pivot towards that lately, and excited to keep pushing forward!
What is your advice to young women aspiring to pursue your current role in their futures?
You will be questioned, you will be challenged, you will be undermined. But the fact that people underestimate you is your superpower, look people in the eye, speak your mind, and trust your gut. Don’t take it personally when people try to trip you - it’s just their projection and not about you. Have people around you who tell you that you can do it even when you really feel you can’t!
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.