“There may be more women CMOs in the Top 50 list, but does that statistic apply to the Top 100 list? Not only is that still dominated by men, the pay gap still exists.”Ayeshah Ahmad
A UAE based Rooibos stan and ambitious marketer, Ayeshah is definitely here to slay! The Grand Hyatt Dubai Marketing Communications Manager talks about the adversities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic on the hospitality sector and provides a how-to guide for online learning for those looking to be ahead of the curve. Let’s dive into this segment of Women In Marketing
THE JOURNEY TAKEN
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in marketing? How’d you end up at Grand Hyatt Dubai?
Firstly thank you for asking me to participate in this interview! My full name is Nur Ayeshah Ahmad, and I go by Ayeshah. I come from a tiny country in South-East Asia that is often unknown to many, and definitely not as popular as our neighbours like Indonesia & Malaysia.
The Abode of Peace A.K.A Brunei is where I was born among 6 sisters and 1 brother, and raised by amazing supportive parents. I am the 4th child out of 8 and yes, we could definitely be our own netball/basketball/5-aside, football team.
As for “ending up at” Grand Hyatt Dubai, it was my last semester at Les Roches, and not only was it filled with the stress of final exams, but I also had to look for a job! It was a huge turning point because this next step wasn’t just an internship, I did not have the “luxury” of knowing that I was going to go back to school for another year of studies – this time there was no end date in sight.
Fortunately, I managed to get an interview with Grand Hyatt Dubai and began my journey with Hyatt in September 2013, as a Team Leader at Peppercrab – one of their 13 restaurants and bars. However, my experience at Peppercrab was cut short as I was reassigned to a junior role in the coveted events department. At this point, I am sure you’re thinking “what about the marketing career?”.
I think I can safely say that my career in marketing was unexpected, but a pleasant surprise. After my two year stint in event sales at Grand Hyatt Dubai, I joined the marketing team at Hyatt Regency Dubai as an executive, and eventually had the opportunity to progress to the Food & Beverage Marketing Manager. In addition to that, I was part of various hotel projects, such as the re-branding and renovation of 5 restaurants (including the staff cafeteria – now known as “The Avenue”), and assisted in the redesign of the Hotel Apartment tower.
In 2017, I transferred back to Grand Hyatt Dubai and continued to work on amazing projects and initiatives, from transforming the staff cafeteria to “The World of Hyatt Cafe”, to revamping and enhancing our social media presence, to being an integral part of the Inclusion & Diversity Committee. Fast forward to now, I am currently the Marketing Communications Manager at Grand Hyatt Dubai.
What have you learned at Grand Hyatt Dubai that you had not learned at previous companies?
Hyatt’s purpose is “to care for people so they can be their best”, and at Grand Hyatt Dubai these were not just empty words in a prospectus, and that allowed me to truly experience ‘strength in unity’ despite the differences amongst our team.
You obtained a BBA Honours at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education (girl you fancy!). In an article written by Glassdoor, it has become seemingly easier to apply for work at companies such as Google, Apple and Starbucks as they do not require applicants to have a degree. How can young women utilise the internet to upskill themselves particularly if they cannot afford to obtain a formal education?
It ain’t that fancy when you’re on stewarding (dishwashing) duty for the whole student body!
All jokes aside though, the term “formal education” is evolving as we speak. Presently, with the current pandemic, almost every student that is enrolled in an educational institute has been on e-learning. I myself am using the Duolingo app to try and learn a new language, and that is completely free. Young women and people from all walks of life can easily upskill themselves, perhaps even upstage those that have received formal education.
I would say the main challenge with online learning is finding a credible resource that is free/affordable and cutting through the noise of the internet. It takes patience, perseverance, and vision. I believe that good companies/employers should be more interested in what you can bring to the table and your willingness to learn – there are a few out there, and they are not limited to Google, Apple and Starbucks. At the end of the day, I think it is what you do with your education, regardless of how or where you received it.
As a woman in the marketing and communications environment, what challenges do you face within and outside the organisation? What message do you have for other female professionals in the fraternity?
The main challenge I face as a marketer in Hospitality is the perceived value of marketing in this industry. It is sometimes difficult to justify every activity that we require funding for, and the lack of definitive ROI always deters properties from investing in much-needed marketing. In regards to being a woman in my profession, throughout my experience, my gender has been secondary to the challenges I have faced and the successes I have reaped.
ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
What does your typical day of work look like? How does your calendar look and are you a coffee or tea kind of person?
“Typical” is starting to blur and change these days, but pre-COVID19, I would get up at 7:00 am to get ready for work, and aim to be in the office by 8:30 am. Then grab a coffee and bite to eat at The World of Hyatt Cafe before catching up with the team at 9:00 am. Depending on the day, I usually have at least 2 meetings to attend to and I try my best to schedule most of them before lunch.
After that, I take care of my administrative duties, such as reviewing and replying to emails and most importantly take the time to check up on my team and their progress in completing their assigned tasks. When I have time to gather my thoughts, I like to find new ways to promote our product, work on improving our marketing plans and/or concepts, and also think of how to keep the team morale up and consequently happy and efficient.
I am a coffee and tea kind of person, and contrary to popular belief, it’s all about the flavour for me,not the caffeine. There is just something about the smell and taste of coffee in the morning, and the mellowness of tea in the afternoon or after a meal. Also, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention my love for South African Rooibos – absolutely love it.
Forbes has an annual ‘The World’s Most Influential CMOs’ report. For the year 2019, one of the key highlights from the report was that 31 of the 50 CMOs were women whilst there were 19 men. In your opinion, is this a positive representation of gender equality?
Yes and No. I am glad that there is a “seat” amongst top tier management where women are the dominant leaders, it is definitely a positive representation of women but not necessarily of gender equality in my opinion.
Throughout my career, most of the marketers I have met are women, and naturally, increases the possibility of the women ascending to the role of CMO. Interestingly, the CMO role seems to be the only C-level position available, or rather more attainable for women. If we were to compare ‘The World’s Most Influential CMOs’ with equivalent Forbes lists for CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc, you will notice that there is still a considerable gap in gender equality. However, if we were to compare the progression of women assuming CMO positions over the past decade, there has been steady and positive growth.
Closely linked to the previous question, several studies reveal that women account for the majority of purchase decisions including traditional male products such as automobiles, consumer electronics as well as home improvement products. Despite this, surveys further show that advertisers still do not understand women. Why do you think this is the case and what should change if research says that 50 of the most influential CMOs are in fact, women?
There may be more women CMOs in the Top 50 list, but does that statistic apply to the Top 100 list? Not only is that still dominated by men, the pay gap still exists.
Here is some food for thought, firstly, people at managerial and c-suite levels are deemed to have higher purchasing power in society and if statistically, the majority are men why should advertisers consider marketing their products to anyone else? (They definitely should regardless – but the reality of the aforementioned does not force advertisers in any way to change).
Secondly, these “traditional male products” you mentioned should no longer be viewed as products only meant for men. Not only does this outdated categorization touch on gender inequality, but it’s quite sexist. Priorities of organizations need to change – gender equality being one of them. Now more than ever, inclusion and diversity need to be applied on all levels of an organization/company/business.
COVID-19 has been a disruption to a number of organisations. So much that several businesses, small and big alike either having to cut down on staff or being forced to close down. On the same token, however, several organisations have used this time to regroup and use this as an opportunity for change in structure and processes. How has your organisation and specifically, your department, countered against the impact brought by the pandemic?
Grand Hyatt Dubai, unfortunately, had to close their doors when the pandemic was in its early stages here in the UAE. As a result, difficult decisions had to be made for the better of the business, and most importantly for the wellbeing of our guests, associates, and stakeholders.
Systems around remote work and video conferencing are increasingly becoming a staple to most organisations. To illustrate this, according to the infographic created by Visual Capitalist, Zoom is now worth more than the 7 biggest airlines in the world at a whopping market capitalization of just over $40bn. Working from home/remote working is an aspect of modern-day work that has been long overdue. Why do you think most organisations who are seemingly able to convert to this way of work have struggled to convert? Furthermore, how have you and your organisation structured your work since the COVID-19 pandemic? Any key lessons?
Change is always difficult, and it’s even harder when it’s unexpected. I believe most organizations have been able to successfully implement “Work from home” strategies/arrangements, however, the people who have probably struggled the most have been those that don’t usually work remotely, and also rely on that “work office environment” to be productive.
Hospitality is a little different, especially for those that are not in administration. It has been difficult for me to work from home, but I have also enjoyed being able to “clock in my hours” whenever it suits me, rather than having to commit to strict office hours. With Dubai slowly opening up, offices and businesses have been given guidelines to adhere to and should there need to be at the office, the necessary measures are taken to ensure the safety for all is maintained.
Storytelling seems to be the next rising buzzword. What’s the Grand Hyatt Dubai story? How are you telling it in an interesting way?
Grand Hyatt Dubai’s story is all about the people, and it being a Grand Destination. It is an ‘oasis in the desert’, and a ‘getaway without going too far away’ for residents of UAE. But these features would not be the same without the people that bring it alive.
What have been some of Grand Hyatt Dubai biggest successes in marketing over the past 12 to 18 months?
Our Oktoberfest in 2019 was probably the biggest success. It was an exemplary campaign that was praised by many and shared with Hyatt Hotels in the region. With a good balance of traditional and digital marketing, and a well-planned campaign, we were able to contribute to a good portion of the revenue and it helped to build more strategic and collaborative partnerships.
BCG published its innovation report for 2019 and at the core of its selection criteria are companies that have successfully married Artificial Intelligence in their products and services. According to you, what makes something innovative? How do you define innovation at Grand Hyatt Dubai?
Innovation at Grand Hyatt Dubai is achieved by listening to our guests and associates, then taking action. It is more than just “out of the box” thinking and AI in my opinion. Sometimes the most innovative ideas are actually the simplest ones, and I believe today we get really caught up in coming up with the next best (complicated) thing. But AI is definitely a hot topic, even in hospitality.
At the time of publishing, an article from The Digital Marketing Institute estimated that the influencer marketing industry will hit the $10bn mark by 2020. Whether it is B2B or B2C, it is evident that brands and organisations have had their own success with this model of marketing. How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect this industry going forward and do you believe there is still a place for influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing was not something that we relied heavily on at Grand Hyatt Dubai. It was the strategy we adopted, however, we did not shun the use of it either. I believe there is still a place for it, but influencer marketing is also an ever-changing game. I am excited to see what that might evolve to, and how that impacts businesses that have been relying on this strategy.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I’d like to think I can live without everything digital! But I would say that for work, myself and my team can’t live without Asana (I won’t let them live without it). Personally, I can’t live without a camera, whether it is on the phone or an actual mechanical/electronic one.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
Checklists. As mentioned previously Asana is a program I use and introduced to my team. It allows everyone to monitor the work being done and assists in the delegation of work. I guess that isn’t really a hack, but when you start ticking things off, it really boosts your morale and in turn your productivity – unless that list doesn’t get any shorter!
What are your thoughts on Marketing and Sales alignment? How do you align your Marketing and Sales team at Grand Hyatt Dubai?
Well, you don’t often see marketing come before sales in a sentence!
Marketing and Sales alignment is always a hot topic, and in hospitality, it is no different. I believe Sales is always perceived as the dominant one in the relationship because they effectively and outwardly “seal the deal”, and typically, due to the lack of knowledge, the potential of marketing in the sales cycle is overlooked.
The moment these teams become truly in sync, the results would be tremendous. Fortunately, at Grand Hyatt Dubai, marketing is not only perceived as a centre for content and artwork, but we have also been able to align the teams through educating each other on our roles, and continuously discuss ways to overcome challenges as a unit.
2020 AND BEYOND
What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information? Physical book vs eReader?)
I am currently reading ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg Mckeown. I generally like non-fiction books where you can gain a different perspective on things. But when I need a light read after a long day, a good Romance novel will always take my mind off things!
What is on your Netflix watchlist/How do you relax?.
I have got a bunch of things on my list but ‘Friends’ is always a good go-to, and ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’.
But when I am feeling hungry for something educational I go for a Docuseries. My favourites have been ‘Explained’ and ‘History 101. One series I highly recommend everyone to watch is ‘Space Force’ – intellectual and good for laughs.
A unique message for all young professionals in the marketing industry
Don’t doubt your worth, just know you are worth it.
Stand up for what is right, no matter who you might be standing up to.
You know what you’re doing, and if you don’t, find someone who can help guide you.
What haven’t you solved? What challenge is on your plate?
I always feel the need to do better and be better, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that! The challenge here is making sure I stay kind to myself – I am my own worst critic. In addition to that, I would like to really shake up the marketing scene in the hotel industry, somehow, someway – I will do it.
Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read
I would love to know what my good friend Joan Tuano has to say, although if I’m honest I might already know some of her answers.
Any bucket list items (professional as well as personal)?
Professionally, as I said earlier, shake things up in the Hotel Marketing world, and create the most mind-blowing apprenticeship/training program that will help budding marketers advance in their careers. Perhaps even teach part-time at a university or school to instil that interest and share my knowledge.
Personally, I want to get to a point where I can buy a house – somewhere around the world – or even build one, and make a home out of it.
Who are some of your female heroes?
I can’t say that there has been such a figure in my life – male or female – that remains a constant hero. But currently, I admire Lady Gaga (for her musical talent, queerness, and tenacity), and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (for her leadership).
I think I have the tendency to idolise moments in history, a scene in a movie, a paragraph in a book, or the talent of a person – just snippets – rather than the entirety of something or someone.
What does the word feminist mean to you?
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of feminist or feminism is the movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels’ – one of my favourites. A feminist to me is someone that believes in, and supports gender equality, and takes action to ensure women of all colour, creed, and creation, are as deserving as men and have a ‘seat at the table’ – every table.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
Attention to detail and perseverance.