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?

More digital data in the Middle East by 2020 than grains of sand in the Arabian desert…

With their full report released recently at GITEX Technology Week here in Dubai, Digital McKinsey have assessed the potential and pitfalls in the Middle East in terms of digital innovation as an economic driver. Here in the UAE we are almost at 100% smartphone adoption and everyone and their cat has an Instagram account, but how does that translate into real-world use for the greater good?

At this point I cannot answer that as am still nose-in-report, but wanted to share with my network now in case you missed it, so once I post something a little more meaty there might be greater discussion.

One point I noted, apart from the killer headline, was that less than 20% of SMEs (small medium enterprises) in the UAE have an online presence. Scary stuff, but massive potential to develop, as well as the brand and communications side of things too, which go hand-in-hand in my humble opinion.

Enjoy the report: Digital Middle East – Transforming the region into a leading digital economy, and let’s catch up soon…

This blog post originally appeared on my personal LinkedIn blog and will subsequently be followed by a more detailed repsonse to this important report.


Ashton and Ashton search for GCC CEO bloggers and thought leaders boosting their SEO through content creation

Kicking off the CEO blogger search

After being thoroughly un-inundated with suggestions of CEO blogs from across the GCC to sift through,  I have decided to begin under my own steam. The sleeves are rolled up and I will now trawl through the interweb, using the TopCEO list created by Trends Magazine and Insead as part of their annual regional award ceremony.

What I’m hope to find is a variety of things:

  • CEOs of successful companies are shining examples of how to communicate with their peers
  • The blogs I hope to find will reveal another side of the CEO, beyond purely corporate communications
  • Alternatively that very few of the CEOs in fact blog at all and there is a vast communication opportunity for PR agencies and consultancies like Ashton x Ashton to step into and generate the much-needed “thought leader” Google-friendly content craved by all and sundry

According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer released at the start of 2016, CEO credibility has increased the most since 2015 on a global scale:

Screen Shot 2016-10-04 at 22.29.40.png

What this clearly indicates to me, and hopefully to those leaders who want to be seen and heard as influencers across the omnipotent communication channel that is “online”, is that CEOs need to talk with the authority, transparency and credibility we have begun to expect. The beauty of a blog, as opposed to an Instagram or Facebook account, is in the form factor as much as anything.

  • The writer lays out their wisdom for all to see and engage with in their own time without any expectation of the immediacy of response expected on social media. It is a more relaxed sharing experience all round.
  • The content is longer form, therefore more considered and, if required, researched. It is something to be cherished over a coffee, not glanced at briefly whilst in the elevator.
  • Frequency is less of a concern. Whilst it is recommended to tweet many times a day, blogging on a weekly basis is a good minimum rhythm to start with. Richard Edelman is someone who has maintained this routine for many years and is globally revered for his dedication and insights. Seth Godin shares his thoughts on a daily basis.

Blogging is a habit I am fighting to get into on a regular basis, somehwere between Richard and Seth would be ideal. The communicational benefits are becoming clearer to me on a daily basis as my audience grows. How about you? Could you and your business do with an SEO boost?

Ashton and Ashton LinkedIn SEO Profile Refresh Advice From Forbes

Recycling Excellent LinkedIn Advice From Forbes For Your Personal SEO

This blog post appeared on my personal LinkedIn profile just moments ago. I hope you arent reading it twice in quick succession by accident.

I am in the midst of a huge research project, attempting to compile a Best Practice list of CEO bloggers right here in the Middle East. During recent training presentation research I was inundated with international CEOs who blog, mainly from the US and Europe, but left bereft of any from the UAE or wider GCC region. Hence why I feel I need to try and fill the gap with my own findings.

During said research I was also completing a digital communications strategy for a client, and find myself recommending more activity from the whole company on LinkedIn – apparently it boosts your SEO and inbound lead hits from potential buyers, even in the slightly unglamorous realm of IIoT and smart city infrastructure. And I stumbled upon this article on Forbes: 50 Ways To Get More LinkedIn Page Followers. Which turns out to be a really useful compendium, so I thought I would share.

Thanks, Forbes, much appreciated.

In the meantime, I am cranking the gears of the Ashton and Ashton blog once more in an effort to discover and be sent links to stunning, shining examples of stellar CEO bloggers in the Middle East. Not Instagrammers, not Youtubers, but bloggers. Less fashionable in this day and age, I grant you, but infinitely more useful for positioning yourself as a thought leader in the niche of your choice. Firing out two paragraphs on sustainability in the desert is definitely more liked by Google than posting a square picture of a solar farm with a dozen hashtags.

Picture courtesy of the ever-awesome Stocksnap.io, as ever. Thank you for making my blog posts look slightly more interesting!

Ashton and Ashton CEO Must Blog

The CEO Must Blog

Everything points in one direction: successful “thought leaders” blog regularly. Simple as that. For your ideas to be heard you have to communicate them, and Google is one of the best discovery tools available, if not the best.

Thinking about what content I read as a communications professional, it strikes me I’m attracted to readable human truths that I can read on my mobile during downtimes. Usually with a picture or two for good measure too.

When making recommendations to colleagues or clients on how to go about this I’ve had a pretty decent search for UAE-specific examples of successful leaders who blog, to share case studies. Unfortunately all the best examples are international, hence why I’m now launching this project:

“CEOs Who Blog”

The focus will be on the UAE and wider GCC, blogging predominantly in English, also with some analysis on the blogs themselves and how they contribute to the CEO profile and company reputation in general.

I’ll be searching under my own steam but of course any submissions for investigation/ inclusion are much appreciated!

Inbound Smarketeers

If you are in the market for a communication agency, you could do a lot worse than enquire as to their credentials in terms of Inbound Methodology. All communication rockstars worth their salt work within these parameters, paying mindful attention to today’s consumer who is seriously fed up of traditional approaches – ad blockers are on the rise, spam mail is a massive concern, and who today consumes media in the same way as 5 years ago (think YouTube, iPads, SnapChat, NetFlix)?

Do not fear, as of today I am the proud recipient of a refreshed Hubspot’s Inbound Sales Certification, yet another of their excellent online training courses. The excellence is not just in the price either, but free is definitely a bonus – the value is in the content itself. Inbound is all about customer-centricity and being mindful of the key role the internet plays in arming potential buyers with the information they need to compare and contrast competing services. And I say “refreshed” as these courses are updated annually to ensure we stay on top of latest developments in the digital space.

Essentially, those of us who operate in a sales environment need to tailor and personalize our approach to a customer who has already made certain decisions before you even get the opportunity to present your wares. To rephrase something I have been previously guilty of:

A salesman who assumes his buyer knows nothing makes an ass out of u and me.

The logic behind Hubspot creating such an insightful course is clear – by equipping sales teams with an effective inbound methodology the company will solve your entire sales and marketing – or smarketing if you prefer – needs, reducing friction across departments in the process. The Inbound Marketing team generate the useful content in the form of blog posts, social media content, ebooks, webinars and white papers that the buyer is looking at before the Inbound Sales team step in.

The opportunity to roll this sophisticated and logical communication approach out for clients and see the success in terms of ROI and improved bottom line is incredibly satisfying and, although not a fully signed-up Hubspot afficionado at this stage, here at Ashton and Ashton we are fully commited to Inbound Methodology and content marketing.

Certification as it now stands, July 2016:

Hubspot Inbound Certification 2016

Hubspot Inbound Sales Certificate 2016

To follow: Email Marketing and Growth-Driven Design Hubspot courses – watch this space. And make sure you check your agency or in-house team are up to speed too 🙂

Digital audits are sexy

I think everyone in communications probably had a double-take when they read this headline and are now shaking their head in disbelief. But, like many other things in life, a digital audit is a necessary process to carry out in order to progress to greater things. Like doing your laundry and cleaning your fingernails. From a brand perspective, it is an essential way to keep your online reputation in check and forms the foundation for a forward-looking strategy.

Ideally carried out in-depth on a quarterly basis, but usually undertaken by a new agency to provide clear starting points for all parties to work from, an proper dig should inform a company exactly where they stand in terms of efficacy of message but also what people are saying about them. Are they having any influence on their target market, and if not what/who is? A decent audit often throws up relevant competition as well as examples of effective campaigns that have “moved the needle”.

A great article I just read on the topic, courtesy of Econsultancy, covers off most of the key points here, but perhaps the most important thing to note is this: audits aren’t really sexy at all, that’s why you need a third party to do your dirty work and tell you what needs fixing, conveniently removed from any potential internal politics.