Kaswara Al-Khatib sits onstage in a leather armchair, with a microphone in his hand and fire-engine-red Converse sneakers on his feet. He’s in town for a discussion on the rapidly changing digital media landscape of Saudi Arabia, hosted by the World Affairs Council of Seattle and moderated by digital media entrepreneur Hanson Hosein. The talk is starting late, but with good reason: Al-Khatib just came from a meeting with Netflix, about a possible partnership with his own video content platform, UTURN. And Netflix isn’t the only major company taking notice. Established in 2010, UTURN has garnered considerable global attention for its clever, short-form videos and its refreshing willingness to discuss everything from domestic workers’ lack of rights in the kingdom to nose greetings (a common way to say hello in the country).
Al-Khatib says his ultimate goal for UTURN is to air content that reflects the true lives of Saudis, versus what mainstream media often portrays them to be, all while “speaking to the youth.” When we consider the country’s large number of young citizens (two-thirds of the population is under 35), these ambitions make perfect sense. Another, more abstract goal of UTURN is to bring a new wave of creativity to a country more known for its merchant history than for its creative streak.
So what can creative and public relations agencies learn from UTURN’s success?
• Push the bar, but don’t break it—learn the difference between the two. Sometimes your audience wants to get out of their comfort zone, but use the shock factor sparingly. It’s all about moderation. One example that immediately comes to mind is the current “pivot to video” argument. In this era of ultra-fast, digestible news, many media outlets are scrapping traditional platforms and opting for an all-video approach to satisfy largely millennial audiences. But this trend isn’t without its consequences. New York City-based International Business Times lost both staff and audience when they suddenly switched their content over to video, with little warning. Fox Sports’ digital site experienced a similar chain of events when they made the switch.
• Let your freelancers (photographers, copywriters, marketers, etc.) do what they do best—don’t micromanage them. Cultivate mutual trust with them, and have confidence that they will deliver. If you’re concerned about finding high-quality outside talent, consider using resources like Creative Circle, Vitamin T, or 24Seven—these staffing firms specialize in finding and vetting top-notch freelancers with experience in advertising, marketing, creative, digital, and interactive projects.
• Know your audience like the back of your hand. Look at your surroundings—what are people interested in? Alternatively, what do they feel uncomfortable talking about? Take, for example, a long-term, well-established client with deep ties in the community—someone very respected, yet whose brand feels stale or stuffy. It’s important to consider the client’s position in the community as well as stakeholder perception. You want to breathe new life into the brand, but not at the expense of the client’s reputation.