EmenaComm 2019: Key Takeaways

Bringing together senior communicators from across the region for two days of conversation and insight, the IABC in Bahrain hosted the inaugural EmenaComm conference on 11th and 12th February 2019. I was lucky enough to attend, along with a group of UK IABC members and board members attended, hosting sessions on sustainability messaging, the power of listening, social media and content marketing. Here are our takeaways from the event.


From Howard Krais, President at IABC UK

As I sit in the lounge at Bahrain international airport, a day after the conclusion of IABC’s EMENA Conference, I am left to reflect on what has been an inspiring week, for several reasons. I often talk about how important the I in IABC is. Demonstrating how the organisation is truly international, bringing together communicators not just from Europe and the Gulf, but also the US and Australia shows what it’s all about. Realising how many issues and challenges we share, how much brings us together, and yet how much we can learn from the different cultures and ways of working present can be truly humbling.

Continuing the theme of our IABC year, together with Mike Pounsford and Kevin Ruck, I was delighted to run a workshop on listening. We shared the highlights of some recent research we’ve done about listening which has thrown up several interesting issues. We looked at what listening means to individual communicators and to organisations. We also looked at the best way of using some of the many channels we have available to listen. And we’d love to listen to more people – we are just finalising a date to run a similar workshop in London in April so look forward to continuing the discussion then.

I’d say if you ever get the chance to go to an international conference of peers then take it. You’ll find your horizons being broadened and your eyes being opened. You’ll grow your network and you’ll have a fantastic experience.


From Georgia Halston, of Halston Marketing

Broadening your horizons is an understatement. The value that can be gained from throwing yourself into a completely alien scenario is incomparable. From experience in public speaking, never before have I been met with an audience so diverse and as any advocate for diversity will tell you, the exposure to new points of view make it invaluable. The feedback, questions and intrigue from the audience and delegates in general did not disappoint – I’ve been met with points of view I would never have experienced if it wasn’t for a platform of this magnitude.

Quick-fire learnings –

  • Lewis Woodward – Purpose is made powerful through daily actions
  • Joss Mathieson – Make the leadership team visible and accessible and through the use of local communicators (#letstalk champions) you share ownership of the conversation
  • Joe Lipscombe and Nick Driver – Make your audience the hero of the story
  • Brad Jennings – Communicators are meaning makers and meaning shapers

My real stand out moments –

  • Yasser Zaki gave insight into B2B strategies with a concise case study and explained how his company not only penetrated but smashed their way into the Egyptian market. What I took away from this session is that B2B marketing is so similar in terms of strategy, no matter where you are and no matter what the product is. It’s the execution that bears the cultural differences and it was amazing to be in a position to really learn something here
  • Aimee DaBrule introduced a case study on the benefits of building on purpose. The work being showcased was multi-faceted and delivered insight on how a campaign can help to deal with the media, the audience and regulatory compliance.


From Casilda Malagon, Past president, IABC UK

I have a confession to make. I was very skeptical about speaking at EmenaComm. It is the height of the sustainability reporting season, I have a small child and Bahrain is so far away. I also had ethical reservations about the choice of venue, its regime and human rights record made me ponder.

However, over the years I have learned that faith in the IABC colleagues always pays back. And this was definitely not the exception. Doing my research, I realized that the Gulf region is not even represented in the Dow Jones Sustainability Emerging Markets Index, so that infused me with a double call to action: give back to IABC and take the sustainability message to the region.

I chaired the sustainability track and present alongside Helen Lamb and Matt Painter from IPSOS, and Monaem Ben Lellahom a MENA sustainability consultancy. It was such a rewarding experience. We discussed trust, evidence-based decision making, the role of communicators and had a spirited debate over CSR vs Sustainability. I had one goal in mind when I prepared, inspire our audience. At the end of the session, we asked them one question: How do you feel right now?

Their answer is what we work for.

My lesson: step up and say yes. It pays back.


Mike Pounsford, Past president, IABC UK

The theme for the conference was Transformers: Communicators driving strategic change.  Maybe you just hear what you want to hear but I loved:

  • The lessons about the importance of clarifying and communicating purpose with passion, great storytelling and authenticity that came through Colin Hatfield’s session, Lewis Woodward from EY and others in different ways
  • How to help people cope with uncertainty because of change, change, change: digital, disruption etc and in particular Brad Jennings talking about his experiences of helping to get the voice of disruption and the voices of the people into the executive suite
  • Celebrating and using diversity – which played out in front of our eyes in a room full of different cultures, backgrounds, ages, organisation and gender
  • The listening session I ran with Howard Krais and Kevin Ruck because of the challenge around how to make sure that better listening improves the quality of the business

A bit like Casilda I was in two minds about whether this was the best use of my time when faced with so many pressures and priorities in life.  But, again and again, I am struck by the quality and warmth of the IABC crowd.  It is such a good network of like-minded, argumentative and challenging colleagues who share a passion for what they do and an openness to share their ideas and support each other.   I know we will do more on listening because the session went well and with Howard and Kevin we’ve got a team keen to take this further, and I know it’s a topic we will all get value from.


My own reflections

As I reflect on my whistlestop visit to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and then Bahrain for EmenaComm I am reminded what a unique opportunity this was to forge new partnerships, new friendships and learn more about global communication. As well as the formal sessions, lunches and dinners provided a great opportunity to understand the nuances of doing business in the region, and to workshop individuals’ own challenges. Through relaxed, honest conversations I gained much more of a sense of the region than I had in the past, travelling more widely than more usual destination of Dubai.

Hanisha Lalwani was confident on ‘how to say no’ in the workplace – always a challenge but ultimately such a great approach to avoid disappointment and misunderstanding.  There was a fantastic, and energetic final panel moderated by Amith Prabhu from a team of senior Indian communicators on migrating their comms campaigns from tactics to strategy – my primary takeaway from that was the notion of ROO (Return on Objectives) as a more realistic/real-life alternative to ROI (Return on Investment). Here are some additional takeaways from the first ever EmenaComm, expertly organized by Alex Malouf:-

Joss Mathieson outlined how GSK streamlined its internal comms to deliver clearer messages to staff, streamlining 100+ newsletters into one with a single editorial process. Guidance on how to really cut through? Keep messages simple, work as one team and focus on outcomes now outputs. On the critical success factors for internal comms success – leaders must be human and visible, you must listen and involve your people, and you

Jon Hammond delivered practical guidance on how to gain more presence in your presentations and communications: be confident about yourself and you will be confident in your presentations; create stories that will resonate with your audience

My own session on the Power of Brand Journalism was well received – the power of informative, broad and wide-ranging articles posted on your own corporate website to drive engagement and build audiences. Definitely worth making the trip as an extension of my client work and brand building in the region.