Duri Ajrami: Championing online media in the Middle East

Duri Ajrami is Managing Director of Mind Share Interaction and has been a pioneering figure in the region's online advertising scene for several years, working on both the media selling and buying sides, playing a key role in educating clients on the value of online media.

 

Q. Kindly give us a brief intro about yourself.

I am an online marketing fanatic, and would like to believe I played some role in the formation of the digital media scene in our region since 1998. Since starting the first online sales unit in arabia.com in 1998, I grew with Arabia to become the Sales & Marketing Director in 2002 based in Dubai, and then moved to launch the first Internet Media House in our region: NetAdvantage in 2003 which represents today the leading regional websites like Aljazeera.net, Alsaha.com, Hawaaworld, Kooora.com. In 2005 I joined forces with Dubai Internet City and

The British Standards Institute (BSI) to establish the Arab Internet Standards Organization, a pioneering initiative for creating Quality Standards for websites. I also started IGENCY, which later was merged into MindShare Interaction, the digital media arm of M Group in the MENA region.

Q. You worked on the media side, selling online advertising, and now you're on the online media buying side. How has the industry evolved on both sides?

The industry has changed 180 degrees since I started in it 9 years ago. From a handful of generic websites, to 100s of vertical, highly trafficked, specialized online portals. And from a buyers market where a few clients dominated the dos and don’ts of online advertising, to a sellers market, where websites applied their own rules and regulations and rates on an eagerly growing list of hungry online advertisers.

Q. What's your view on the current percentage of online expenditures in the region relative to other media? Can you mention any numbers in this regard?

Its still embarrassingly too low. Despite the fact that in some Arab countries internet penetration has reached close to 40%, those countries still spend less than 1-5% of their budgets online, even when those budgets concern IT based products / services. It is growing rapidly, but not fast enough to meet internet usage growth, and certainly not fast enough to mimic global trends.

Q. What is the level of online awareness among clients in the region and the levels of 'online strategies and presence' of major brands?

Still very low, very few leading brands have tested the market well enough to create a stand alone online marketing strategy, as most of the agencies still do not possess the adequate amount of knowledge and expertise, and even resolve to push their clients online. For many it is still a second thought, mainly because of resistance to change, they still find more comfort on the pages of print media and TV screens.

Q. There is a sense in the Arab World that online advertising is a Dubai-centric, or GCC only, activity. Why is that, considering the number of potential client and already existing users in Egypt and the Levant countries?

Very simply all the leading multinational agencies, who manage the leading brands are either entirely based in Dubai, or have their key account management teams here, thus most of strategic budgeting happens here. This is why all leading portals have established regional offices in Dubai, and these offices generate their highest income as they are closest to the “main tabs” of budgeting and decision making.

Q. Tell us about some of the major projects/campaigns of MindShare in the online field.

We are working on diverse online projects with many of our key clients, that in addition to typical online marketing activities, also involve digital branding, information architecture, and community building. The list is long, but to mention a few: HSBC, Coca-Cola, Nestle, MTC, NBK, Nike, Motorola, SABB, IBM, Al Aan are a few of the active clients we have been working with over the past few months.