Noura Sarraj | Innovator 25 EMEA 2022

Noura Al Sarraj

Deputy MD, Abu Dhabi 
Weber Shandwick 

Abu Dhabi

“Don’t let a budget influence the ideation process: take the risk and be bold without forgetting the purpose behind your campaign."

The highly experienced Noura Al Sarraj brings expertise in consumer marcomms, corporate reputation destination marketing, issues and crisis management, reputation management and senior executive coaching for clients ranging from the UAE Ministry of Culture & Knowledge Development, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Emirates Nature-WWF to her role heading up Weber Shandwick’s Abu Dhabi office. She’s been with the Interpublic agency since 2004 and worked her way up from senior account exec level. During her rise up the ladder, she took a sabbatical to complete a scholarship programme at the US Department of State, including a compressed executive education programme at the University of Pennsylvania. The bilingual Al Sarraj also sits on boards at Abu Dhabi University and for the Middle East PR Association (MEPRA), and regularly speaks at Zayed University. As a working committee member for the Arab Business Group, she’s helping lead efforts to draft and implement gender un-stereotyping codes in advertising.  
How do you define innovation?
Simply put: innovation = impact through brave ideas! Innovation for me is taking insights to create a campaign that solves a specific challenge or issue, which is fuelled by technology to drive it to the audiences it needs to reach to create meaningful connections and drive lasting impact. It's not a 'one size fits all' approach; it requires creativity, being bold and in some cases, a few extra $$$.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
I actually think some of the most innovative ones came out during the pandemic - think Ikea (#StayHome) or KFC ("It's Good") - because they touched on emotion and/or legacy. Most recently, we made a huge buzz for our long-term client, Warner Bros. WorldTM Abu Dhabi to find a way to cut through the noise as the UAE’s entertainment space is one that’s highly competitive. Together with strategic partners, we surprised passengers arriving at Abu Dhabi International Airport with a special welcome gift and an unexpected appearance from some of their all-time favorite Warner Bros. characters giving them a chance to reconnect with characters they grew up with or that their children are growing up with today. The creative stunt generated a total of 151,393 impressions, 1.5 million views and received key placements in tier-1 lifestyle, consumer and trade media in 11 markets just one week after its release with a total reach of 82,541,903.
In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
Weber Shandwick, naturally! But seriously though, I also believe that food service and FMCG brands like Dove and McDonald’s tend to hit the nail on the head when it comes to impactful campaigns based on a social issue or trend.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
A few years ago, it was late night when I came up with this crazy [award-winning] idea to have a children's book published for our client - a children's hospital - ahead of a big launch they had coming up. Many questioned why we'd create a product when we could just coordinate media tours or interviews. We pitched the concept, found ways to engage partners who'd offer their services at cost rate or as a goodwill gesture, then managed the entire project from A to Z. To this day, the book is still putting a smile on the faces of all its readers, leadership still reference it, and the awards we won are still glistening atop our shelf.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
In 2017 I had the chance to see Tony Robbins live in LA, California and was awe struck at how he can move an entire stadium of people to tears with his passion. He created a multifaceted business empire by preaching a gospel of self-improvement, and part of that is giving back to the community whether it be through meal distribution or otherwise. He believes that each one of us has everything we need to succeed within ourselves, if we can only learn to access and maximize it. He created his empire by offering people a diverse range of products and services that could be accessed by anyone, anywhere and at any price point. So even if you couldn’t afford his 5-day workshop, you could buy his book or listen to his podcast series. He’s pure genius.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
It sounds so cliché, but honestly, working out and taking that time to completely disconnect always helps.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
I don't let a budget influence the ideation process; so I say: take the risk and be bold without forgetting the 'purpose' behind your campaign. That, and getting enough sleep – many people underestimate the power of a goodnight’s rest.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I thrive on seeing people thrive. I've always had a passion for cascading knowledge to others so I would be a [communications] trainer - public speaking, media engagement etc. or a panel moderator!

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
I love Jay Shetty's podcasts - they're short, insightful and memorable. His voice also has a calming effect on me.

How would you like to see work culture, and the role of the office, evolve?
Having a positive work culture is key to individual and corporate performance and I see 2023 being the year that companies work on shifting gears in the post pandemic era and focusing on getting the work culture right. However, everyone involved has a role to play, naturally. It's on the leadership to implement a value-based culture strategy which sees them be transparent, inspire innovation, reward creativity, grow people, respect diversity, and create meaningful connections across the hierarchies. It's on the employees to bring the best version of themselves to work and enjoy the ride.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
The pandemic showed us that hybrid work actually works, but we must not forget that human connections is important in harnessing creativity, celebrating one another’s differences and communicating effectively despite the madness. Listen to your teams and fulfil your promise to be a more consciously inclusive employer of choice.