Food For Thought - Racha Makarem

4 min read

DMS (the digital arm of Choueiri Group) recently hosted the first edition of its “Food for thought” webinar series. Moderated by Ziad Khammar (DMS’ COO), the event invites industry experts, influencers and thought leaders to share their journeys, life experiences and industry related developments with the DMS team during lunch on the last Thursday of every month.

We kicked off with our first session in May and invited Racha Makarem, CEO of Starcom MENA, to talk us through her exceptional journey in the ever-evolving industry of media and communications. With a career that spans 17 years, Racha herself has seen firsthand the shift from traditional media to data driven digital media. “It feels like I have had so many different jobs over the past 17 years” she remarks, but one thing that has always remained a constant has been her passion for helping her clients in their growth journey.

Racha has always looked at the idea of ‘growth’ from a very human aspect, and strongly believes that driving relevancy for people, and adding value to consumers plays a key role in unlocking growth opportunities and solving for client’s growth challenges. Her transition into the role of CEO at Starcom only accelerated this way of thinking, as Starcom’s obsession with understanding human behavior and desires, as well as what client’s brand’s needs, play an important role in creating Human Experiences that drive human outcomes (how people think, feel and behave) as well as business outcomes.

Shedding some insight on her management style, Racha said that her inspiration can come from anywhere and anything, be it books, a movie script, her team, everyday situations, and interactions that shape her views and offers her another’s perspective. Observe, empathize, be curious and always look to the future is what she considers key to a successful career. She gave the DMS team some advice on career building, “Think of it as a 70:30 formula. 70% of your time invested in delivering on your job and focused in building your core competency, and the remainder should focus on how you invest in building capabilities and skillsets needed for your next job role or promotion”. Racha also believes in “Setting an hour a week to be consciously inefficient, meaning consciously allocating time to connect with peers and building a culture that thrives on curiosity and human connections.” These connections can happen whether you gather in the office cafeteria for lunch, or a cup of coffee on Zoom, the idea is to create a connected community. “We are a very diverse culture and come from different backgrounds and incredibly rich experiences, so being curious to learn from and about one another can help celebrate our diversity and our ambition to be more inclusive”.

Speaking on industry specifics and media planning trends, Racha agreed that Social Media is growing at an accelerated rate, as is video and e-commerce. Touching upon the dreaded P word (pandemic), Racha recognizes that some marketers may have lost momentum on brand building, as they shifted their focus more towards performance media during times of uncertainty.  As we slowly come out the other side of the pandemic, marketers are again talking about ‘growth’, and Racha believes that content plays a key role in building brand stories, establishing relevance and driving sustainable growth over time.

We work on some of the worlds and regions most exciting brands, which provides us a great opportunity to create moments of collaboration with clients and partners to leverage human insights and behavioral data to drive relevance in an authentic way.”

For Racha, data in the absence of context and cultural relevance is just a number and is of little value. “We need to ask ourselves, what role can the brand play, what value does it bring to the people we want to reach, connect and engage with, can the brand advance culture, can it create one? Is the brand being authentic? Where can we push the boundaries and experiment? Can we ensure that all these experiences are measurable and how do they impact and amplify the customer experience and journey?”

So, where does the role of independent publishers come into the planning mix? Racha acknowledged that right now, publishers are usually an afterthought when it comes to the planning mindset. However, there is always an opportunity for publishers representatives like DMS to work collaboratively with the planning teams. Racha believes that nobody has greater understanding of this region than the publisher community when it comes to audiences, relevancy, creativity, and insights. Insights are what goes beyond the data and DMS has a big advantage to play in contextualizing this data and provide relevant insights for brands to move at the pace of people and culture.

Off course, this is all easier said than done, but when there are more and more publishers in the playing field, how does one like DMS stand out from the crowd? It all goes back to understanding key business priorities for your agencies partners and clients. What is their language and approach? What is their way of thinking and what is framework? Knowing these things will help you when you engage in conversations with your agency partners. Racha also pointed out that many clients have cycles filled with annual launches. We don’t always know what they will be, but we do know when they will take place, and this gives planners and DMS a great opportunity to collaborate, leverage past learnings and work together in advance of receiving briefs.

Racha concluded the session with some very sound advice on staying motivated: “We all have our moments and no day is like the other, especially with the year we all experienced. I think to stay motivated you need to continue to remind yourself of the ‘why’, and always focus on the bigger picture. Ask yourself what drives you? What can I do differently today to break the cycle? Who can I connect with? Whether it’s a mentor at work, or a team member that can show you a different perspective, look for those individuals who are energy givers, not the energy takers. I know for me personally, I get gratification seeing our business partners and clients grow, and for our teams to thrive.

She also left us with some tips on sustaining corporate leadership: “As leaders we all have a vision and drive and there are always challenges to overcome and you can’t solve for things on your own. What I have learned is surround yourself with the best talent and empower individuals to drive initiatives and craft solutions.