As Racha Makarem, completes her 4th year as the CEO of Starcom, Communicate sits down with her for a chat to uncover her journey as one of the few women CEOs in the region.
“I started my career with Publicis Groupe, working with the research and insights division. Four years ago, I got the opportunity to run Starcom for the MENA region and I thought it’d be an interesting challenge to be on the other side of building the business and connecting the multiple solutions that sit within the group for our clients,” Racha Makarem, CEO at Starcom across the MENA region told Communicate.
Makarem took charge as CEO at Starcom 4 years ago, navigating the media agency’s growth through the pandemic into the ever-evolving digital media landscape we are in today. As someone who has been empowered to thrive in times of uncertainty with a “put in the work” mindset since she was a child, Makarem has significantly contributed to developing organizational agility and resilience for Starcom.
\Communicate sat down with her to uncover her journey and her approach to scaling Starcom’s organizational agility, especially as an expert in research and development.
You’re one of the few women CEOs in the region. How would you describe your journey in this position?
When the opportunity presented itself, I thought it’d be interesting to apply. I went back home and had a very open conversation with my husband. I have been very passionate about this brand, but we knew that the position was going to ask for a lot and I’d had to stretch myself out - as a professional and as a mother of two. But, I remember not having a plan set in place and still taking it, because I was passionate. A very integral part of my journey in this role has to be the incredible support system that I have – my family and the team that I am a part of.
The biggest learning for me along the way has been to ask for help whenever needed. As mothers, we often tend to be too hard on ourselves, and in a position so demanding, I always try to lean in and ask for help whenever needed.
In your tenure of leadership, how far do you think the MENA region's progressed? How did you manage to turn the tables for Starcom, surfacing its creative game across various regional and global awards?
I think that there is an incredible opportunity to connect, engage and drive relevance to impact in this part of the world. Every time I go to Saudi, for instance, the energy is incredible and I feel like a part of the movement that’s shaping the future. There’s a generation right now that wants to own that narrative, tell their stories, drive authentic conversations, whether it’s through a communication or within organizations, and I think that is refreshing. The role that media plays in this is very powerful in shaping this narrative, and that’s what I try to do at Starcom. There are many stories to be to be told in this region and I’m glad I get to do that with our partners. We aim at driving that relevance and impact in people's lives. The creative community is flourishing and we're actively working to become a part of that moment.
As someone who comes from a research and development background, what parts of that experience aid your growth in the current role?
What has been happening for a long time in the region is that the advertising industry has been targeting a very large audience with generic content. There is a bigger movement right now that it's much more local, making it more relevant and personalized. Data outside of context is just a number, it means absolutely nothing, but, data in context is more much more powerful. So, I still believe in the old school of finding insights that provoke human emotion and curiosity. It’s crucial to dive into the psyche of how the consumer makes decisions and the psyche of what's going on in their life. And as a researcher, I’m always inquisitive, trying to figure that out. Data is just like water, we pour it anywhere and it just filters itself.
What stark differences have you noticed in the industry's ability in curating creative and effective work in the post-pandemic era as opposed to pre-COVID?
Creativity for the sake of it means nothing. What is it about when you're being creative? While media can make sure that you reach the right people at the right time, ultimately it’ll all only make sense if your people are able to resonate with the messaging. At Starcom, we often talk about consumers’ needs versus the brand’s. These tension points are what we're trying to focus on through creative media solutions. We’ve unlocked more solutions that have been amplified by great creative work because of the diversity of the talent and capabilities that sit within the group. The ‘Power of One,’ mindset has enabled us to unlock growth for our partners in these times.
I feel that one of the conversations that we've been very actively engaging in is being a little braver when it comes to creativity because not all brands are necessarily as courageous to push boundaries on engaging conversations and spaces that aren’t as openly discussed.