InterviewsWomen Entrepreneurs

Showing Initiative and Determination is Key to Success

Small Enterprise speaks to Sawsan Ghanem, the Joint Managing Director of Active DMC, who says that women entrepreneurs should always believe in themselves and their vision. By doing this, nothing is impossible.

Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
I would say it’s a democratic leadership style, one that encourages team members to input, have their say and feel that they really are part of the whole process. I also challenge the team to think outside the box, ask questions, stop and think, do all necessary due diligence before embarking on anything, think and behave like consultants and not postmen.

I am also a big believer in trust and in building this through frank and open exchanges with the teams I manage. My philosophy is to always take pride in everything you do, never accept anything less than your best, and never assume. The devil is in the detail.

What made you choose PR and advertising as a career opportunity?
I am very competitive by nature and have been so from a very young age, scoring top grades and securing first, second or third spot every year were very much my focus. This innate desire to achieve success continued, never wavering throughout my academic years – a tough BSc (Hons) degree in Chemistry and Management (Kings College, London University) and an intense Masters’ degree in International Business (Webster Graduate School, London Campus).

I thoroughly enjoyed completing my Masters’ degree, which marked a turning point for me personally. It gave me a better understanding of the business world, real business practices, cycles and what career path I wanted to pursue. Yes, it may seem strange that I then embarked on a long and successful career in Marketing and Public Relations.

For me it was and still is, the fact that every day brings new challenges, and calls for new ideas, creative thinking, industry, and market knowledge, to quick turnaround on campaign objectives and/or deal with issues thrown my way. Multi-tasking, eye for detail, a love for reading, problem-solving and an analytical mind are a perfect match for my career of choice.

When did you set up your company? Tell us about the initial days.
Wow! 2003. 17 years ago. Having had plenty of experience in the marketing landscape in the region and especially public relations. My partner and I decided that we wanted to take a more proactive, added value approach and set out to build a consultancy around these core elements. We worked hard, we showed passion for what we did, for the clients we did it for and in the new business pitches we participated in and this struck a chord with clients.

Thus, we saw early growth and this put us on a steep learning curve on how to manage growth – people, processes and the role that our agency plays in this ever-changing marketing and media environment. This means that it’s always challenging and thus it’s always exciting.  I draw on my past learning, my role as a company owner and a leader and evolve almost every day.

Are there unique challenges women entrepreneurs face?
I don’t believe so. Gender shouldn’t come into question or focus. Rather achievements, vision and results like any entrepreneur.

What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of PR and advertising?
Earn respect and recognition, don’t expect it. When at work, give your 100% every day and make a difference. Show initiative and determination.

What are your future plans with your company? Any new markets/target audiences you plan to reach?
Well, that’s a good question and we are always looking at the changing demands of clients and matching those with the changing media landscapes. We conduct regular annual client surveys and evaluate what we are offering and achieving. So today, we see ourselves as content creators and distributors, delivering ROI to our clients and value to the media be it digital, traditional or social, making content engaging and relevant.

We also see immense value in combining that with very effective lead generation campaigns, video production, and creation as well as encouraging our clients to look at producing podcasts and, regular video content. We also try – even with tight budgets – to conduct research for us all to gain further insight into the target audiences. It’s not easy and it is challenging despite the fact that these services can – in the right combination – deliver even more effective results.

In terms of markets, we have always reviewed our business model of being based in the UAE and managing the region from there. To date, we don’t see any need to evolve, even with the evolving nature of exciting markets such as Saudi Arabia. However, a business isn’t successful unless it keeps an open mind and can move quickly as and when it needs to, and we are in a strong position there. If we were seeing strong consistent and sustainable business coming from a market like Saudi, then we would invest there.

What is your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Always believe in yourself, your vision, nothing is impossible. If you focus on the end goal, there is always a way. If you put your mind to something – the power of the mind is incredible – you can do it. It may take time, but you will get there in the end. Dubai is a city that embraces an entrepreneurial spirit and one that inspires me every day to do more, and I genuinely believe that anything is possible. As long as you are passionate and have the determination, vision, right attitude and thirst for growth and success.

The opportunities for women to succeed as entrepreneurs here in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are countless. Big national initiatives such as the UAE’s Vision 2021, and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s recently launched vision for 2030, have a key factor in common, calling for the participation of women in the workplace and appealing to their entrepreneurial spirit and drive.


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