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2020 AME Grand Jury POV Interview: Donya Abdulhadi

2020 AME Grand Jury member Donya Abdulhadi is Regional Director of Public Relations for Leo Burnett. She is a hybrid communications strategist with multidisciplinary experience across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and North America.

New York | October 23, 2019

The AME Awards honors not just campaigns that are creative, but campaigns that hit the bullseye for brands, triumphing in both creativity and effectiveness and AME’s Grand Jury are the genius minds behind many of AME’s award-winning entries.

AME’s Grand Jury is the powerhouse behind the prestigious AME Awards, their high standard of excellence ensures that AME’s 26-year legacy is upheld and respected globally both by winners and industry reports measuring creative distinction. Their dedication result in truly award-worthy work being recognized.

2020 AME Grand Jury member Donya Abdulhadi is Regional Director of Public Relations for Leo Burnett. She is a hybrid communications strategist with multidisciplinary experience across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and North America. Prior to joining Leo Burnett as Regional Director of Public Relations, areas of focus include international media relations, journalism and market research, brand strategy and advertising strategic planning for regional and multinational companies. Her client experience portfolio includes global and regional B2C, B2B and government accounts including, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Dubai Airports, Kenwood, InterContinental Hotel Group, Investment Corporation of Dubai, QNB, LG, Bridgestone, Gulf Business Machine, Microsoft, Rolex, Damas Jewelry, Shell, Siemens, Jebel Omar, and the European Union’s Consumer, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency.

AME Awards: Tell us about your process of creating and delivering effective results.

Donya Abdulhadi: I believe that the best results are often driven by campaigns of people who all work on achieving a common goal, so I always try to listen carefully to both my client and my team to understand both stated objectives, underlying objectives as well as stated challenges and underlying challenges. I believe our job as strategists is to catalyze effective results, not just to transactionally deliver insights and creative communication platforms. Our role is also to be clever, creative and insightful in the way we influence the work and our clients.

AME Awards: As a strategic creative, what do ads that have taken the brief and turned it into a campaign that transforms opinions, evokes action and raises the bar for the brand have in common? 

Donya Abdulhadi: Clients who know what they want, agencies who understand the client’s core business, and precise execution.

AME Awards: Why are effectiveness competitions like the AME Awards important?

Donya Abdulhadi: Competitions have a critical role in setting the industry’s values and standards and have an even more incredibly important role in setting the aspiration for younger talents in the industry. Competitions should never echo the status quo but truly celebrate the best work in all its facets: including the team dynamics and behaviors that lead to the effective campaign (although I understand that this may be difficult to quantify).

AME Awards: What is your favorite most effective ad and why does it hit the bullseye for the brand?

Donya Abdulhadi: In my view, truly what effective advertising is – or should be – is turning brands into cultural staples; this is how I believe brands become immortal, so to speak. Ads that come to mind are Barilla’s legacy ads in Italy, with its famous tagline “where there is Barilla, there is home” which turned the pasta brand into a significant identifier of what it means to be Italian. Vodafone Egypt’s “Power to you” which happened to air shortly before the 2011 uprisings; “Two India’s” by the Times of India featuring Amithab Bachan; “Lean on Me” by SickKids Hospital in Canada which speaks to Canadian values, also come to mind. These brands are among many that weave the story of a nation in its DNA and carve out a role for the brand in the context of national identity.

AME Awards: What multi-channel techniques are being used most to strategically and effectively set apart brands from the pack?

Donya Abdulhadi: Across categories, I have observed that in-store experiences and public relations are beginning to be the driving forces in attracting and retaining customers. The role for traditional advertising is shrinking, and brands who understand that are investing more in starting conversations by way of experiential and public relations marketing. Tech companies are adopting biophilic design approaches in their stores to start conversations about the role of natural elements in enhancing the retail experience; credit card brands are redefining the role of financial technology in financial inclusion through the press, automotive brands

AME Awards: In your opinion, which brands are doing the most effective millennial friendly creative?

Donya Abdulhadi: There are so many sub-sets of millennials that I’m afraid I can’t answer the questions without mentioning the fact that as strategists we should focus less on labeling our audiences and focus more on actually understanding them and how to help our clients persuade them.

AME Awards: What campaign or campaigns are you most proud of and how did it move the needle for the brand?

Donya Abdulhadi: The campaigns I am most proud of are the ones I felt I had the most impact on and two come to mind: the first has to be the “RumorControl” digital campaign I led on behalf of the Prime Minister of Libya’s Office in a post-revolution context. The campaign helped tackle one of the country’s most pressing issues: rumor-driven conflict that led to several casualties in all parts of the country. The second is the work I’ve done on Damas Jewelry helping shape the communication plan for the brand’s gold collections targeting Indian women in the region. I spearheaded a long and very deep data-mining project whose insights led to a large overhaul at Damas across the region, impacting hiring decisions, brand ambassador selection, media channels employed and the brand tone, look and feel.

AME Awards: What cultural and/or social changes do you think will influence this year’s work?

Donya Abdulhadi: More and more, across the region and the world, clients look to agencies for real understanding of business, not casual references to sales. I think agencies recognize this more, and it will impact the metrics by which we hold ourselves accountable – more and more KPIs will tie in directly to the bottom line rather than solely brand metrics.

AME Awards: What do you do keep your creative and strategic juices flowing?

Donya Abdulhadi: In a nutshell, I consume information I wouldn’t spontaneously be exposed to.

AME Awards: Who is your inspiration and how has this philosophy made you who you are today?

Donya Abdulhadi: Many people inspire me daily but I will single out one in particular: my mentor, Dr. Graham Knight, former Chairman of the Sociology department at McMaster University who imparted the value of research and inspired me to be a “professional thinker” as he puts it.