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‘The work culture in Dubai promotes a healthy exchange of ideas’

From a junior executive to becoming an associate director in just six years, read the inspiring journey of this Apeejay alumnus from Dubai



Saad Aqueel, an Apeejay Panchsheel Park alumnus, has been working as a Public Relations (PR) professional in Dubai for many years now. Currently, he is the Associate Director of PR at Watermelon Communications. In an interview, he shares insights about the career opportunities in Dubai, its work culture, and more. Edited excerpts:

What was your journey at Apeejay like?

My father used to work in Saudi Arabia. I was in grade 4 when I moved to Delhi. My journey started with Apeejay School, Saket. I was there till class 11 when I flunked in Science. I always had the inclination to study Humanities and that is how I moved to Apeejay School, Panchsheel Park.

Back when I flunked, like any other student, I felt like a loser who would not be able to do anything good in life. When I look back now, I realise those were the days when I had directed all my attention to sports. Besides, I think Science was never meant for me; my area of interest was different. At Apeejay Panchsheel Park, principal AP Sharma motivated me, which was reflected in my performance in the board exam. In grade 12, he also made me the cultural president, which was a big source of motivation. Despite the initial failure, the learnings in my journey actually made me a better human being—it has taught me how to respond to difficult situations in life.

Even at Apeejay Saket, there were teachers who believed in my potential and encouraged me. As someone who was new to Indian culture, I was very shy and did not have too many friends. In grade 9, I was fortunate to get my class teacher Sangeeta Tulsi ma’am as my mentor. Apart from that, Meenakshi Bhatnagar ma’am and Meenu Kharbanda ma’am, among other teachers, played a huge role in my life to make me realise my potential. They always supported me and believed in me.

You went ahead and opted for graduation in Mass Communication. What inspired you?

When I was in grade 9-10, Sangeeta ma’am used to push me a lot, along with some other teachers, to participate in debates, street plays, etc., which really helped me transform my personality and identify my talents. There was a personal connection between each teacher and student at Apeejay. I was in grade 10 when one of my teachers told me I was best suited for public speaking. Even in Apeejay Panchsheel Park, my class teacher instilled in me the thought that I was suited for Public Relations. When I was in grade 12, I researched a lot about this field, and I really liked it. At college, I got the opportunity to participate in a lot of cultural activities through which I realised I could not only connect with people but also help them in decision-making. That was the time when I decided to pursue PR; it has been seven years now.

How did you decide to shift to Dubai to pursue your career?

After college, I worked for about a year in a Gurugram-based firm. My father, however, pushed me to explore job opportunities outside India. So, I just updated my CV on some of the online portals, and I got a call one day from a company in Dubai. I went through the job description and things worked out! I reached Dubai in 2016 to join a firm called as Junior Executive. After working with them for a year, I moved to an agency, which I think is the best place for a young PR professional to grow. My current organisation is the third agency I am working with.

What kind of growth opportunities does Dubai provide for professionals?

If you decide what you want to be, this alone inspires you to be better in life. Dubai is a land of opportunities; expatriates can explore various career choices here. The government is also quite supportive. I just think you need to have the right connections in this city. For those planning to apply for a job here, more than your CV it is your Cover Letter that plays a big role. I think the required skills can be developed while being on the job but how you present yourself is important. Those who have a zeal to learn and grow professionally can excel in UAE. From being a Junior Executive if I can become an Associate Director in six years, I am sure it is possible for many others. You just need to be consistent, work hard and be honest with yourself and with the organisation you work with.

What is the work culture in Dubai like?

Most of the companies in Dubai, especially the MNCs, have a multicultural environment where people from different parts of the world are collaborating. Naturally, it promotes a culture of exchange of ideas. So, you get to understand the perspective of the other side as well. That is something I really enjoy here. You also have a lot of Indian companies in Dubai that have a complete Indian workforce. Having said that, if you are indeed planning to move out of India, you should look for options where you get the opportunity to learn. The labour laws in UAE are very good, which makes sure you are completely protected and feel safe. They make sure whatever contracts are made are abided by. Now, there is a lot more transparency between the government and the expats. You can directly approach a lot of departments and get things done yourself. Overall, the city offers a good work environment. Interestingly, when the world economy is facing a crisis, Dubai is showing signs of growth.

How have PR trends evolved in the past few years? What impact did the pandemic have on your industry in Dubai?

The pandemic did have an impact on all verticals of the business. More importantly, it changed the whole work culture. The media landscape—which is relatively smaller in Dubai with just four tier 1 English publications, five Arabic publications, and online portals–changed completely. There was pressure on publications for revenue generation influencing commercial commitments. Besides, work from home became the new normal because of which we could not do media rounds. If a PR professional from India wishes to work in Dubai, he or she has to do proper research about the industry first. It is also important for the person to have an inclusive mindset where you respect the culture and practices of other people.

Can you recommend some skills that one needs to make it in the PR industry?

One of the most important things in the industry is people management. If you are able to manage and handle your clients well then 90 per cent of your job is done. Another critical element is media relations; any PR professional must look at strengthening that aspect. Content is again an important aspect. You have to be good at administration, researching for clients, client servicing, and communication skills. In our industry, how you present yourself also plays a key role.

PR professionals should remember that what the media wants from them is something that will add value. Unless you know something more than the journalist, you will not be able to achieve that. You need to be aware of what exactly a journalist is looking for. You should know to whom you are reaching out. And that is one of the practices we follow in our agency. PR is an industry where you have to learn every day.

Your word of advice for young Apeejayites.

There is no shortcut to success. It is not the end of the world if you are not doing too well academically. There is always more to life. Just keep believing in yourself.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.