Interview with Zeba Mahmud, CEO & Editor-in-Chief at Arabian Marketer
DMEXCO talks with responsible editors of our media- and market partners all over the world
About Arabian Marketer
The Arabian Marketer is a monthly print magazine and a daily online magazine focused on reporting on media, marketing and advertising developments in the Middle East and North Africa. It is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and led by Zeba Mahmud.
Please give us a short introduction: How did you become editor-in-chief? What have you done before?
I have been a journalist since I was 17, which is nearly two decades now. Born and raised in Saudi Arabia, a career in media was difficult for girls and perhaps that was among the reasons why I wanted to explore this when I first moved to India for my higher studies. With a focus on journalism, I also studied advertising and PR. But when it was time to choose, I chose to be a junior reporter in a local news channel in Mumbai. That was the start. The journey from there was to cover current affairs and politics for the next 15 years finally becoming a Managing Editor. At the age of 32, I wanted to begin something new and return to the Middle East. That was the genesis of Arabian Marketer.
In 2013, we laid the foundation for a media publication for the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, that was digital first. It took more than two years for us to get the required media license, form a footprint that would truly be MENA and we chose the UAE as the home to do this. Today Arabian Marketer is part of AM Media Corp that has titles focused on the startup and education communities. We have grown from a team of two to nearly 20 – which is a big deal of sorts in this region. Even as I am to lead this operation as the CEO, I did not let go of my first passion — being a journalist. And hence being the Editor-in-Chief.
What does the future hold for the trade media? And how do they meet these challenges at Arabian Marketer?
More and more “regional” trade media is facing challenges. Content for singular markets and global is accessible much easier than the ability to present developments and important issues for 8-11 markets (depending on region) on one media platform. This can be compared to how there are fewer regional agency mandates. There are either global or single/ local market pitches in play. Trade media publications hence have focused more on understanding issues, in other words, present knowledge than just information. The future will require trade journalists to simplify the marketing technology, digital and newer forms of tech ecosystem for the benefit of the marketer.
At Arabian Marketer, we have focused on creating knowledge pool and resources for the ad industry in MENA. Our content traces shifts in media spends, companies that understand local fabric while reaching advertising solutions. Our editorial teams are trained to answer two questions – why does this matter to the marketer and what does it mean from a MENA standpoint.
Which headline at Arabian Marketer have you regretted? And why?
It is not regretful as much as it is concerning. And we have this headline twice in one year, ever since for the last few years. “MENA is the only underperforming advertising region globally”
This headline emanates from agency forecasts on ad spend movements in various regions. The reason why it is concerning is because MENA’s vast potential (given the fact that markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia lead digital stats globally or the 83 million consumer base of Iran that has still not opened up as a market or the 100 million in Egypt that is still recuperating) still remains untapped. Global marketers and holding companies fight challenges unique to this region — whether it is oil prices, geo-political tensions or the impact of global economies. The road to recovery is taking too much time.
Suppose you could interview any person of your choice on the main stage at DMEXCO 2019: Who would be this person and about what would you like to talk with her or him?
Michelle Obama – “Do you think data has failed the expectations of leaders and people?”
What are the three main topics in your market 2019?
- Artificial intelligence adoption in marketing
- Way forward for marketing and advertising technology
- Growing digital advertising spends
What can digitalization do for the city you live in?
UAE is far more advanced in its smart city adoption than most others. We are already seeing robocops, robo receptionists in government offices, end of use of paper in government, the likes of self-driven cabs are on the horizons — the advantages of digitization is already very visible in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The governments are relentlessly pushing forward for more to make the city safer, more convenient and quality of life significantly better.
Which gadget did you buy last and why?
Alexa in the office — she is a lot smarter than some of our staff in controlling power but she is still more entertainment that anything else. Hoping that changes for the better sooner than later.
What are the three main events you are joining over the year? And why?
- CES – all things technology from a consumer point assists in setting the tone for the year
- Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – still the home of creatives globally, driving the global advertising agenda
- DMEXCO – to know the future of marketing in a digital economy
Suppose you were Head of DMEXCO for a week, what would you change?
- Simplify the conference or extend number of days so that people would not miss out on the massive opportunities available.
- Include a lot more of MENA and APAC on the show floor/ exhibition halls so the conference becomes more global.
- Cut down from the several simultaneous sessions to two or three parallel tracks with one stage only being the true highlight/ headline.
- Get many more global only names on the main stage in comparison to region – allow regions to have their own track so that there was less running between halls depending on speakers.
- Much stronger support to press – get the headlines out a lot more.
- Take away the exclusive and secluded VIP and speaker room – let Chiefs be in their stalls/ allow more people to meet them.
What will be an important headline of Arabian Marketer in 2025?
“Growing AI ad spends in MENA”
We also interviewed Claire Beale, Global Editor-in-Chief, Campaign Magazine, Brian Morrissey, President and Editor-in-Chief, Digiday and Javier Piedrahita, CEO, Founder and Editor-in-Chief at MarketingDirecto.