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Q&A with The Marketing Society’s Gemma Greaves & Khaled Ismail


Q&A with The Marketing Society’s Gemma Greaves & Khaled Ismail

[L: Gemma Graves; R: Khaled Ismail]

Gemma Greaves is the chief executive at The Marketing Society and Khaled Ismail is The Marketing Society Dubai Chairman and vice-president of communications – Europe, Central Asia, Middle East & Africa Region – Tetra Pak

Tell us about your Dubai hub, the progress since launch, and the kind of objectives and plans ahead.

Greaves: It’s been almost three years since our launch in May 2016, and Dubai has surpassed our expectations. Our vision is to be the leading global network of marketing leaders, and our purpose is to inspire bolder marketing leadership, so we’ve achieved a lot in terms of building the community and bringing our brave agenda here where we push boundaries, tackle taboos and have uncomfortable conversations about the topics that matter to us all because there is humanity in everything we do. And, the secret ingredient is – people. The team that we’ve developed here, which is led by Khaled [Ismail] our Chair, a fantastic regional board who care and prominently our members who engage in our vibrant community and recognize the value of creating connections and learning from each other.

This year, through our brave agenda we will continue to look at how we can bring the brightest marketers from across the world to empower brave leaders to be at their best most of the time.

Ismail: I’m very pleased and humbled to be the Chair of such a wonderful team. We have common goals and I believe our members and the board will continue to grow through learnings from each other. And that’s what the sense of community allows you to do.

We always tackle subjects that matter to you as a human being, and add value to your life at work. All the programs that we put together are geared towards making sure the attendees walk away thinking they’ve learned something and met someone who can add value to their life.

For example, we have our Ones to Watch programme, which is about developing younger marketers to grow into the CMOs of the future. We also have the Bravest Conference scheduled for October 16. It’s going to be our flagship event where the great and good of the industry will converge. It’s going to be a busy year!

We touched upon the brave theme. Where did it originally come from? What was the kind of inspiration behind it?

Greaves: Building on our purpose, when I became chief executive back in 2017, I felt incredibly brave that I was stepping into such big shoes of my predecessor in a very public role and so wanted to encourage others to be brave and the first step of achieving this was realising it is okay to be yourself, in fact it’s great to be yourself and bring that to everything you do. For me, that was doing things differently so we started exploring subjects such as failure, mental health, bad leadership and neurodiversity within our events. And having important conversations about things that matter to us as marketers but also as humans has really resonated with our members and created powerful spaces to connect. Our brave agenda quickly became a global conversation across our hubs and has given us permission to go outside our comfort zones, take action and together we are starting to make change, which as marketers we don’t just see as an opportunity but also as a responsibility.

Ismail: I think I can just add that The Marketing Society in Dubai has become synonymous with the word brave – it’s our identity. And I like the fact that the agenda we have will live on regardless of the events we organize. Additionally, it does give us a branding differentiator – we promote brave conversations and brave leadership.

Speaking of failure, what are some examples of failure you have encountered?

Greaves: I learn every day and I am my own worst critic. I feel it is about learning, testing and importantly taking on feedback – which is not always easy but I believe is genuinely a gift as it helps you grow. I have many examples of failure, one that springs to mind is the fact that we probably expanded globally too quickly and if I am very honest before we were truly ready. That is not to say I regret it as we wouldn’t have been present in seven countries otherwise; however, this has come with many challenges and resulted in a great learning experience for us all. Overall, I am proud of embracing my failures because they made me who I am today. If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t have learnt and kept developing. And I trust that if you believe in something, nothing is impossible.

Ismail: I was young and ambitious bulldozing my way through trying to do things on my own – and that didn’t pay off and I hit the wall. It was then that I realized that I can’t do everything alone, I learnt that I had to bring people along with me. You can’t become a leader by yourself, you have to be a leader of others and to do that you need to make an effort to engage and bring them along. And if I didn’t fail, I would have not learnt. Failure is part of growing up.

Can you give some examples of products or campaigns that have failed or stopped working?

Greaves: I couldn’t possibly comment on specifics examples but when you look into why certain things fail, there is a remaining constant around lack of clarity, alignment and what you want to achieve together. For me, it’s about taking people with you in what you’re doing so it’s not a single point of view but a genuine collaboration. Some brands I’ve seen have tried to do the right thing which is admirable, however perhaps they haven’t considered the bigger picture and as a result, the execution hasn’t been as powerful.

Ismail: It is a tricky one, and it’s not for me to judge another brand or name. The ones that fail to hit the mark, are usually ones that don’t take the local culture into account. For instance, we’re all familiar with the Dolce and Gabbana campaign around China.

Just because you’re a global business, it doesn’t mean you’re merely a global entity, especially with social media and the digital world you cannot pretend you’re in one place and ignore local culture and sensitivities.

Looking at Dubai specifically, a market that is constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries, why is it important for to it to be future facing, while also learning from the past?

Greaves: For me, the thing that stands out about Dubai is that sense of community and wanting to learn from one another, as well as that sense of embracing technology, innovation and creativity. Events like Dubai Lynx – and our programme from The Marketing Society – enable that and provide a platform for collaboration between people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

Ismail: Dubai has positioned itself as the hub for a lot of people in the industry – whoever comes here brings knowledge from around the world, and I think we can take advantage of that diversity.

And more specifically in our industry, our asset is our brains. We need to think about how we can use our mental power to communicate powerful messages, whether related to good causes, products or sales of said products.

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