In Part 5 of my UAE Digital Marketing Interview series, I catch up with Tarek Lel who is a relative newcomer to the local digital marketing scene. I had the good fortune of working alongside Tarek for a while and found that although his fashion sense was questionable, his ability to pick up on search marketing concepts was unmatched. He’s currently the SEM Manager at Starz Play in Dubai and still takes crazy profile photos.
How did you get started in digital marketing?
I started off in offline marketing for an airline but since more hands were needed on the digital side of the job, I forced my way into the field.
What do you love most about digital marketing?
You can track so many interactions with your website and get very detailed insights on both your brand and how your customers interact with it! And that means you always have an opportunity to improve and experiment to see what works. Never a dull moment in digital marketing!
Of the many areas within digital marketing, which areas do you love the most and why?
I’ve always been a fan of social media channels. Its a nice combination of strategy and creativity. Makes me use both sides of my brain.
What’s the biggest challenge with digital marketing in the region?
Finding good Arabic talent is challenging as a start. Another thing I think most companies do, especially in Dubai is they have an English-first approach to marketing with Arabic coming in second. It doesn’t make sense since the vast majority of users in the region are using Arabic as a first language and Arabic should be at the fore of each discussion, not a mere afterthought.
Which languages do you speak and how does that help you?
I speak English, Arabic, Russian, French and Ukrainian in that order of competence. Arabic is integral for marketing in the region and French also helps especially when it comes to North Africa so I guess you could say I’m a jack of all trades when it comes to languages. I’m in high demand which sometimes spreads me real thin across projects but it’s a convenient problem to have.
Obviously the region has a long way to go, so where do you see digital marketing going in the region?
Our region adapts to best practices and techniques from Europe and the US a bit later than we should but we take our guidance from there given the vast amount of SaaS start-ups, marketing blogs and more mature and entrepreneurial tech industries that flourish there. So we’re definitely not reinventing the wheel anytime soon. But there’s a huge development here in terms of home grown content on YouTube and other social media platforms. They’re becoming great sources of influencers for big brands in the region since they resonate with youth in the Gulf. Snapchat and Instagram have their own share of local talent with some people proudly showing off millions of followers and big brand endorsements.
Got any pro tips for anyone looking to get into digital marketing in the region or in general?
Many people I’ve talked that want to start careers in digital marketing ask me what kind of courses or night schools they should join. I think the return on these is minimal. The best way to learn digital marketing is hands on experience. So if you’re really interested get your foot in the door with an internship and follow prominent digital marketing websites and influencers on social media. You learn by doing so don’t be afraid to start small.
Tarek Lel currently works for Starz Play where he’s flexing some digital marketing muscle. He’s previously worked at Dubizzle and Sekari which is an agency that specialised in search & content marketing. He’s usually out and about trying to find a new place to devour hummus in between buying outrageous t-shirts and polishing his aviators.