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Marketing Game Changers 2019: Asad ur Rehman

Director, media & digital transformation, Unilever MENA

Asad ur Rehman

Director, media & digital transformation, Unilever MENA

Board member, IAA UAE

Board member, The Marketing Society Middle East

Founding chair, The Marketing Society 2016-2018

Years in current position 2

Years with company 12

Size of department 20+

Previous jobs

  • Director, global media, foods: Unilever HQ London
  • Director, media, personal care: Unilever HQ London
  • Director, media, MENA – Unilever

Recent campaigns

  • Omo Tag (Grand Prix at Lynx)
  • Lifebuoy Ramadan (Gold Effie)
  • Lux Spotlight KSA (Two Golds at Spikes 2019 in Singapore)

Recent achievements

  • Started the first ever cross-functional digital transformation work streams across MENA that include work in cognitive analytics and AI, as well as application of wide-scale robotics process automation (RPA).
  • Set up the first ever digital marketing centre (digital hub) with in-housed expertise in data, technology and creative (Unilever Studio)

What is your objective in your current role?

The focus is on helping drive change and transformation across the organisation. It is now a widely established fact that organisations need to seek substantial technology interventions to add efficiency and productivity. It is also known that driving end-to-end brilliant consumer experiences cannot be done without proper investments in technology, data and design capabilities. And most of these capabilities demand change in ways of working and breaking down of now defunct organisational silos of the past. My role is to help drive this change without a negative impact on any of the great work we are currently doing. In essence, building for the future but delivering for today.

What do you look for in agency partners?

Integrity. Hunger. And ability to source and keep talent.

What work do you wish you had done?

Everything Burger King has done recently.

Who inspires you professionally?

I am a sucker for seeing good in my peers and seniors and drawing inspiration and learning day-in and day-out. Oh yes, Steve Jobs, and lately Satya Nadella.

What is the biggest challenge in marketing at the moment?

It needs to go back to basics of building brands and has become way too fragmented, focusing on execution. We need more bigger-picture thinking and less “content, influencer, social media, search” marketing.

What is the next big trend in marketing?

I am not sure what wrapper it will come in, but it will have to be about bringing trust back into consumer relationships. We might continue with Purpose, but I hope that is not – as Alan Jope said in Cannes – “woke-washing”.


Rapid fire

What are you listening to?
Fleetwood Mac. Again.

What are you working on?
Retirement.

What are you reading?
“Tools and Weapons: The promise and The Peril of The Digital Age” by Brad Smith

Who are you following?
Omar Kassim (ex Jado Pado) and HH Sheikh Hamdan.

What are you craving?
A good prime steak from Kobe, Japan.

Who are you hiding from?
Austyn Allison of Campaign Middle East.

Where are you dining?
Current favorite is Akira Bak at W The Palm.

What are you playing?
Fortnight.

Where are you travelling?
Planning Cuba and Mexico for next year’s holiday. Jeddah for work.

What are you watching?
“Abstract” on Netflix


Agency reference

Abdallah Safieddine, regional business director (Unilever) at Magna MENA

Asad is the quintessential game-changer. He has the foresight to articulate a vision and then see it through to successful implementation, through a mixture of operational excellence, consistency, perseverance and skillful rallying. In an industry that is facing immense transformational pressure and fending budding disruptive forces, over the past 18 months he spearhead Unilever’s transformational plan, led its implementation and got the system to support and embrace change in ways that would have been inconceivable to all stakeholders.

Today, thanks to Asad’s leadership, Unilever is emerging as a leading, transformational company in its understanding of the consumer journeys and the level of grip the company musters in driving value to the right consumer at the right time. The marketing communication organisation within Unilever is a best-practice leader in the implementation and usage of marketing technology and harnessing data to power consumer engagement.

2019 witnessed two key launches at Unilever that are soon going to be emulated by other businesses as well: U-Studio to lead on content creation and creative adaptation for agility in response to consumers; and a digital hub to lead on the full data transformation and have a single view on the consumer journey within Unilever.

Asad is top-class professional. He has strong knowledge of the subject matter and keeps himself up to date on the on-going changes affecting the industry and the practice of marketing.

As a client, Asad is an outlier. He leads from the trenches, rolls up his sleeves when needed, and strikes a perfect balance between setting the agenda and allowing the agency to innovate and offer alternative ways and solutions.

He has a clear vision of what his team needs to achieve. He is a fair and empathetic client who works with the agency to make sure everyone is rallied around the task at hand. He sees the value in everyone around the table, respects them and helps them identify the best possible version of their work.

It is not always easy keeping up with his pace in devouring books and articles.

We learned a lot from Asad during the past years but if we were to sum them up in a couple of points, we would chose:

• Using words carefully to explain your point of view without discouraging or offending anyone.

• The journey in life is about self-improvement and learning new things.

• The virtues of slowing down before reacting, the power of being on good terms with all stakeholders no matter how hard the conversation is.

• The upside of running with “good” today instead of waiting for “perfect” to come tomorrow.


Rapid fire

What are you listening to?
Fleetwood Mac. Again.

What are you working on?
Retirement.

What are you reading?
“Tools and Weapons: The promise and The Peril of The Digital Age” by Brad Smith

Who are you following?
Omar Kassim (ex Jado Pado) and HH Sheikh Hamdan.

What are you craving?
A good prime steak from Kobe, Japan.

Who are you hiding from?
Austyn Allison of Campaign Middle East.

Where are you dining?
Current favorite is Akira Bak at W The Palm.

What are you playing?
Fortnight.

Where are you travelling?
Planning Cuba and Mexico for next year’s holiday. Jeddah for work.

What are you watching?
“Abstract” on Netflix


Agency reference

Abdallah Safieddine, regional business director (Unilever) at Magna MENA

Asad is the quintessential game-changer. He has the foresight to articulate a vision and then see it through to successful implementation, through a mixture of operational excellence, consistency, perseverance and skillful rallying. In an industry that is facing immense transformational pressure and fending budding disruptive forces, over the past 18 months he spearhead Unilever’s transformational plan, led its implementation and got the system to support and embrace change in ways that would have been inconceivable to all stakeholders.

Today, thanks to Asad’s leadership, Unilever is emerging as a leading, transformational company in its understanding of the consumer journeys and the level of grip the company musters in driving value to the right consumer at the right time. The marketing communication organisation within Unilever is a best-practice leader in the implementation and usage of marketing technology and harnessing data to power consumer engagement.

2019 witnessed two key launches at Unilever that are soon going to be emulated by other businesses as well: U-Studio to lead on content creation and creative adaptation for agility in response to consumers; and a digital hub to lead on the full data transformation and have a single view on the consumer journey within Unilever.

Asad is top-class professional. He has strong knowledge of the subject matter and keeps himself up to date on the on-going changes affecting the industry and the practice of marketing.

As a client, Asad is an outlier. He leads from the trenches, rolls up his sleeves when needed, and strikes a perfect balance between setting the agenda and allowing the agency to innovate and offer alternative ways and solutions.

He has a clear vision of what his team needs to achieve. He is a fair and empathetic client who works with the agency to make sure everyone is rallied around the task at hand. He sees the value in everyone around the table, respects them and helps them identify the best possible version of their work.

It is not always easy keeping up with his pace in devouring books and articles.

We learned a lot from Asad during the past years but if we were to sum them up in a couple of points, we would chose:

• Using words carefully to explain your point of view without discouraging or offending anyone.

• The journey in life is about self-improvement and learning new things.

• The virtues of slowing down before reacting, the power of being on good terms with all stakeholders no matter how hard the conversation is.

• The upside of running with “good” today instead of waiting for “perfect” to come tomorrow.

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