Marketing | 02.10.2014

The ever rising demand for Arabic talent

In Campaign Middle East’s recently published Power Essays, I shared my thoughts on the Arabic talent gap in the region. Below are some of the key takeaways:


It almost feels like yesterday when, six years ago, I was asked the question “What is the single biggest challenge facing the digital industry in the Arab World?” at the AME Info digital marketing conference. Back then, my answer was, and would still be, “the lack of Arabic talent”. At the time, this answer was relating to the lack of digitally trained professionals coming out of the region’s higher education system. Too few were equipped with both the latest skills in digital technology and marketing and fluency in the Arabic language and culture. Although major steps have been taken to rectify the problem, this doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. Now, nearly seven years after that statement on stage, this issue continues to dampen our future growth. It remains at the top of the list of challenges we must address in order to move forward.  Though it is true that in recent years we have witnessed an influx of young Arabic talent, demand continues to outstrip supply.


Today, more than Arabic speakers, we need people fluent in Arabic writing to handle the content demand in social media and even search. In the last couple of years, social media platforms have grown rapidly to feature heavily in the communication habits of both consumers and brands. It’s about forming deeper and more intimate connections and relationships, on the basis of engaging content. This requires communications specialists who are skilled in written Arabic. Not just grammar or spelling, but skilled in storytelling and copywriting. This demand from brands, ready and willing to embrace this new form of communications, has created hundreds, if not thousands of jobs. The focus on content doesn’t stop at social media either. Our largely search-driven Internet landscape is also focusing more and more on content. If link-building dominated the first decade of Google/search engines, today it’s about the ‘engaging’ content that drives traffic and interaction. Again, Arabic fluency, particularly the ability to explore the richness of written Arabic, is shaping the rapidly growing number of vacancies for content creators and copywriters, especially in the SEO field. All this is even before we start ramping up content newsrooms, like our own Current@ Resolution.


The harsh truth is that, today, most of the Arab graduates who express an interest in our industry struggle with written Arabic. Four years ago, we implemented a reasonably simple Arabic fluency test to all graduate and junior level applicants and the results were disappointing. Most followed courses in English and very few maintained a strong focus on written Arabic. What doesn’t help is the small numbers of GCC nationals, whose education is primarily in Arabic, seeking roles in media, marketing and advertising. Clearly this situation is untenable and we need to address it, individually and collectively. As an industry, we need to become more attractive as a career option for these Arabic wordsmiths who presently aspire to careers in journalism, public relations or advertising copywriting.  This is a reasonably new function in media agencies. More than economics, maths or business graduates, we now need to be on the radar of literary students and professionals.


We certainly can become more proactive in seeking out this talent from universities, educational institutes and countries where Arabic writing talent is nurtured and grown. As a group, we value professional education and certification. In the eight years that our Academy has been in existence, we have provided thousands of training hours and nurtured many a career. We have eased the digital transition and now have a very large group of non-digital specialists Google-certified. A number of steps have been taken to prepare our teams for professional certification, for their own benefit, our clients’ and ours. It’s a win-win-win situation that can break the cycle of insufficient talent availability and inadequate educational output. Developing the skills of fluent Arabic writers, by ourselves or as an industry, in association with educational institutes or not, isn’t hard to conceive nor achieve.

Content is one of several transformational trends for our industry and, as any move away from a comfort zone, is unlikely to come without pain points. The rewards though are worth the effort. And, as they say in Arabic,no sweet without sweat(no sweet without sweat).

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Dimitri Metaxas
RED – Specialist Companies at OMG