Another Blog Post With Donald Trump In The Title

The purpose of this blog post is not to test the lengths to which a blogger, who works in digital marketing or communications in general, will go to in order to get clicks to his page. Or is it? Whilst getting lost surfing the Internet is all too easy, it has also been noted how many websites have been built up regurgitating news and opinion about this guy, often with no other purpose than to repurpose existing news in the hope that you will read it through their website and they can use your eyeballs to be paid for carrying random advertising.

Something I have never explored, as someone who believes in organic search engine optimisation and the power of blogging for the sake of putting your own message down, and coming from someone who very rarely looks at print adverts never mind clicking on such Google Ads, but what about you?

If you saw such a site (and I found this Donald Trump-related site earlier today, brand new but hoping to reel you in by jumping on what will hopefully not be a 4 year long hot trend) would you even touch it? In an era of fake news and alternative facts, we must continue to search for believable sources of information, something the Internet itself has made it both harder and easier to do at the same time.

Harder by commercialising your attention.

Easier by democratising the very method of finding information.

Ladies and gentlemen, Google and Bing and Yahoo, and the add-on discovery options offered by Facebook, Twitter and their ilk, have skewed everything in their favour, we the consumer merely encouraged to consume.

Perhaps we can simply bypass this, tear it up and start again.

Bassel Gamal Qatar Investment Bank Top CEO Middle East

CEOs and online profiles in the Middle East – chapter 1

I hinted at starting the search for prolific CEO bloggers in the Middle East and how this might affect their company and also their individual standing in the business community. I also noted previously that there was a dearth of obviously accessible Best-Of lists on this topic so I would start with the Top CEO awards as selected by Trends Magazine and Insead, the 2016 winners list available for your pleasure here. With this in mind, I wanted to assess the full list of individual CEOs via their digital footprint and present my findings in this blog.

Chapter 1 opens with the winner, Mr Bassel Gamal, CEO of Qatar Islamic Bank.

I always like to begin a reputational audit by Googling the person or company in question: search engines effectively decide which specific pages from the whole of the Internet we see and therefore represents an important indicator on the digital estate in questions. Let’s have a look:

Ashton and Ashton Bassel Gamal Qatar Islamic Bank CEO Google Search Results

What we can see here is a clean collection of images and articles, both from the media and the QIB website, outlining the profile of Mr Gamal. There are no interviews or insights on page one of Google except for the Oxford Business Group piece of content which is straightforward text Q&A which may or may not have been handled at arms length by a PR agency. A glance over Mr Gamal’s profile on LinkedIn gives no clues as to his deep business expertise or interests outside successfully management of one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East. This, by the way, is not necessarily a criticism, but merely an objective observation.

My purpose here is to try and dig a little and see if the Edelman Trust Barometer findings, that people look even more towards CEOs for brand authenticity, actually holds true but specifically if it holds true here in the Middle East.

On very first glance it appears that a CEO does not necessarily have to blog to be known as the best in his field, in fact he just has to do his job very well. Should we conclude that leaders for lesser-known companies that are not as successful might be the ones in need of blogging and more direct lines of communication?

The Meeker Report – what it means for reputation management in the Middle East

The full report was released on 1st June 2016 by KPCB, but I have selected areas that I find most relevant for the marketers and communicators amongst you.


Online advertising acceleration is predominantly fuelled by growth in ad spend directed towards Facebook (59%) and Google (18%), from 2014 to 2015. Both these platforms are growing faster than the rest because of their sophisticated data-mining that allows advertisers to drill down to specific audiences with more effective targeting. Twitter has a lot of catching up to do to stay in the race. Online advertising plays a major role in the communications sector as it allows a company to promote the messages it wants to be famous for.

Efficient use of a marketing budget is the key driver in digital spending growth but mobile seems to be underfunded, where time spent outstrips ad spend, leaving a $22 billion opportunity gap.

The message for the Middle East, where most people own two mobile phones, is to look at mobile advertising for your next campaign. Most Facebook campaigns automatically optimise for mobile.


Ad-blocking is on the rise, people are voting with their feet against invasive marketing tactics. An alternative route to your audience is to create engaging visual content that they want to consume. Video has evolved across all formats, from live to on-demand long-tail content, is a key driver here. The live format in particular has been popularised since 2015 with Facebook Live, Periscope, Meerkat and Google Hangouts and boosted virality. Short format video views are on the increase too, something brands need to mindful of – can you get your story across in 15 seconds or less? Probably not an entire message house, but with a more focused approach this should not be insurmountable.

Channels of Communication

Messaging continues to grow rapidly. Whilst Facebook owns the world’s two most popular in WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, perhaps the most intriguing innovation is coming from Asia in the form of WeChat and Line, amongst others. These platforms have matured beyond frivolous-but-superior-to-SMS options and offer users the ability to send money, book taxis and flights amongst other tasks. Paul McCartney sells “sound stickers” in Japan via Line these days, his popularity on the messaging platform dwarfing his Facebook and Twitter followers in the same market. Yet more opportunities for direct brand relationships beyond the “traditional” social networks, as they can also encompass commerce and customer service in a more convenient format than being placed on hold for hours.

How many applications do you use on your smartphone every day? And how many did you download once and never use again? It seems the global trend is to spend 80% of your mobile time inside just 3 applications – a web browser, a social network and a messaging app – so you are not alone. But maybe think twice when recommending to a client to develop their own application, as the time and money might be spent better directed towards fresh content on an existing platform.

The full report goes in detail on a few other topics, such as car ownership decrease, traditional companies investing in their technology successors and the might of the Chinese internet companies, but for us mere marketers and communicators I have focused on just the few areas above. Looking forward to discussing how these trends affect your company and how we can best safeguard your reputation in this light, as well as build out your brand architecture through quality storytelling and influencer engagement.

Many thanks to TechCrunch for your bitesize version of the full report.

Header image courtesy of Benjamin Child via

Middle East Rail 2016 – the view from next door

Taking a brief respite at the welcoming warm wifi haven of Caffe Nero, a few thoughts after Day One:

  1. The sales team love events, it gets them in front of a wide cross-section of opportunities; feed their passion
  2. Preparation is hugely important – simple and clean marketing collaterals, business cards, comfy shoes, leadership speaking notes, leave no stone unturned
  3. DIY – rely on nobody else to get the stuff done important to you
  4. Stay positive – it opens doors of communication and business
  5. Dress warm – the air conditioning in there is akin to a Yorkshire winter 

Roll on Day Two!

The Sound of Silence

Not just another opportunity to post a Simon and Garfunkel classic, or to reminisce about an incredible ensemble performance from my days in the Mirfield Free Grammar School choir. This post is in honour of my days working in a microcosm of the sales and marketing world.

I have been fortunate to work much more closely alongside clients of varying backgrounds and skillsets since branching out from agency life to form the Ashton and Ashton consultancy you see before you. We are digital communication architects – big agency background without the fees. Contact us today for a brand audit. I have been blessed to experience firsthand the very real business pressures that only an entrepreneur would feel, having taken upon him/herself the requirement to feed, clothe and nurture his growing workforce in pursuit of commercial success.

Perhaps the most important lesson learnt comes in the form of silence. Knowing what to say and when to stay quiet in interpersonal exchanges is the key. I remember in the early days of my junior squash career (aged 10-18 I was rather nifty with a rubber ball inside a glass-backed room) I was lucky to be coached by a slightly eccentric international hopeful, who since those glory days in the early 90s has become a BNP political candidate. Before I go veering completely off topic I should ad that he instilled in his pupils the ability to wait for a beat, just a slight beat, after your opponent plays the ball so you do not anticipate but simply go directly where the ball is going. Avoids being wrong-footed, apparently. I internalised this lesson and went on to be something of a regional champion in my youth. And then teenage life, beer, girls, etc., took over and I left squash behind until very recently.

Along with mothballing my sporting prowess, it seems the same can be said for that instinct to ever-so-briefly-wait-and-see. This is gradually coming back into my professional life, with thanks to my current crop of clients. Thank you!

Now: anyone for squash?

Railing Against The Machine

Just one week away from the largest event of the year so far for the Middle East. I make this statement not just from my perspective as Communications Consultant for a global systems integrator that worked on major infrastructure projects such as Dubai Metro. I was fortunate to attend a presentation last week hosted by MEED in association with Deloitte about the state of the Middle Eastern construction market, where many themes were touched upon. One takeaway for me was that transport, predominantly investment in the development around mega projects likes Al Maktoum Airport (DWC), was going to be the shining light according to MEED/Deloitte predictions for 2016.

The backdrop of uncertainty around oil and gas in the region, a situation almost entirely manufactured by the oil producing countries maintaining unnecessarily high rates of barrel-filling, other sectors are ushered in the spotlight in the hope of diversification. Dubai has led the way in tourism and hospitality for some time and with the Expo 2020 and Qatar FIFA World Cup on the horizon we can continue to exist in the region with something of a purpose and goal. Alongside these regional events and the ripple effect around them, there is a burgeoning population in need of sustainable means to live, both the basics of water, electricity and shelter, but also the “luxuries” of roads, rail, airports and air-conditioning.

I am working closely with companies operating across these areas, with the intention of working to develop the smarter sustainable living infrastructure the region demands and see growing demand just around the corner.

Learn more from Avanceon and Rockwell Automation about their vision of the future at Middle East Rail 2016, next week.

Transporting Us Into The Future

Warning: a cliched headline for an article containing many references to two clients whose products and projects I am in awe of.

On 8th and 9th March 2016 I will be attending the Middle East Rail exhibition along with two companies I’ve been working alongside, two leaders of the transport and infrastructure space, at least from an automation and safety perspective. Avanceon and Rockwell Automation teamed up in 2008 to deliver their contribution to the World’s Biggest Unmanned Metro System, AKA the Dubai Metro for the RTA. Something of an Infrastructural Dream Team, seamlessly reliable systems integration brimming with cutting-edge technology, these global engineering powerhouses have partnered up since on other great Middle Eastern Firsts, such as the world’s largest district cooling project for Empower and helping to form the backbone of the developments over in Qatar’s Lusail City.

At the 10th Middle East Rail event, to be held at Dubai World Trade Centre, there will be no great fanfare, these companies with nothing more to communicate than the projects listed in brief above. Only the Dubai Metro, Dubai’s air conditioning system and the bulk of the 2022 FIFA World Cup venue.

For those of you who have travelled on the Dubai Metro at some point, please comment below and tell me that it isn’t a thing of beauty.

Smooth, reliable, clean, complete with Gold Class carriage for those amongst us wanting to travel in style, a certain smugness takes over when you can look out at the traffic jams from above Sheikh Zayed Road. Even the stations are a joy to behold, giant armadillos lifted from a more uplifting scene in BladeRunner.

I hope to speak to the experts behind these projects (get in touch with any specific questions) in the coming weeks and share a smattering of their insights and hopes for the future of the region, for this is where we are journeying together with them.

Slipping Sliding Away

Not one to be overly inspired by Paul Simon, at least not in a bad way, I find myself in the realisation that, at 23:23 on a Tuesday evening, my better half already fast asleep preparing for another busy day of Industrial Marketing tomorrow, I haven’t written a single blog post for at least a day. Nothing. Neither professional nor personal or somewhere inbetween. Considering my incredibly recent declaration to try and be more like Seth Godin with his daily missives, albeit infinitely superior content to the meanderings you are overly-exposed to here, I appear to be slipping back, drifting off the pace. To stave off a similar sensation to the one felt when I led the first (now defunct) Wellhouse Middle School Cross Country Race of the season, only to slip on a cowpat awkwardly (is there any other way to slip?) to finally come in 7th, I decided to open the Mac and boot up WordPress once more.

Actually, I was thrust into the mood by an excellent email from the lovely guys at StockSnap. An email filled with visual delight, the kind of positive energy a Yorkshireman feels when he is the recipient of his weekly handful of quality rights-free stock images.

Thank you StockSnap, you are an awesome service. And thank you Leeroy for supplying the featured image for this post.

Testing Times

Having just made some minor tweaks to how I use WordPress in this context, I couldn’t wait to see how these changes looked to an outsider. Apologies for labelling you as such, but don’t worry: if you comment I will reply, even if you it feels like  I have given you something of a xenophobic moniker, akin to gaijin.

Testing, testing, one, two, three. Comments below please. Are you enjoying my new almost-daily-frequency?