Karim Nour, CEO, Tarek Nour Communications
My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions because we simply can’t help ourselves. Extracts from our conversation this week with Karim Nour, CEO of Tarek Nour Communications and our friend and partner here at Enterprise.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m the CEO of Tarek Nour Communications, the Middle East’s home grown marketing-communications rainmakers. That’s the job title, but what I do is manage an organization of highly talented people and teams that exercise influence for clients with big dreams.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
That manifests itself in several ways — from 30-second ads to 30-minute TV programs. From pure-play digital comms to on ground events and exhibitions that engage our clients’ customers face-to-face. So that means running ad agencies, media companies, original content outfits, and broadcast networks. We offer influence across all mass mediums, centrally coordinated, and with us being ultimately responsible for the entire process, its output, and its effect on the partners we work for. The company is 40-years young and holds a great portion of the region’s advertising heritage.
What’s your morning routine?
At 4:30am, my eyes open. I read in bed for 30 minutes.
5am: I make a pot of coffee and head to my desk to write / learn / plan. I try to write a letter a day to someone — physical or digital. I always admired ‘men of letters.’
7 am: I call my “Friends at Enterprise” who are winding down their day after dispatch at 6 am. We discuss the stuff that makes us go, ‘Hmmm.’ Things like, “Are we as a country creating sustainable jobs or just day jobs?” Or “How does one not get paid like a dentist?” Or “Why is Mohamed El Erian such a rockstar?” Or how I hope my kids turn out to be nerds. Afterward, I often reflect: How cool is it that I know people who wake up at 3am and wind down at 7am?
8:00 am: I’m working out. Running, lifting, bear-crawling on non-concrete surfaces anywhere I can. It sets the day up right.
9:30 am: First meeting in the office either at our HQ in Cairo or our offsite facility in El Gouna, which we use for multi-day creative and strategy sessions.
What does the rest of your day look like?
The rest of my day is spent with different members of our leadership team, in strategy sessions with our partners, or in long-form content development meetings.
What’s the best thing you’ve watched / read lately?
Too many to mention, but Yuval Harari's 21 Questions for the 21st Century is a keeper. With gems like “Being black in Baltimore does not mean you understand lesbians in China” — how can you not marvel at the mind that wrote that? There is also a crazy-dark South Korean movie called The Handmaiden that I came across while looking for a chick flick with my wife. It ended up being anything but boring — very multi-layered.
What’s the origin story of Tarek Nour Communications?
Tarek Nour was a DJ at a radio station. The station needed money. He did not know anything about advertising at the time, but because he was a keyboardist and lead singer in a band called “The Mass,” he could write and sing songs. So he wrote a jingle for EGP 20 for a clothing store in Zamalek We saved the piano he wrote it on — it is in our company museum, a testament to Egyptian entrepreneurship and our shrine to how modern advertising started in the Middle East.
[Editor’s note: The shop above was named after a men’s magazine brand with an icon derived from a rabbit. The name will trigger the algorithms that govern our deliverability to inboxes.]
What’s TNs’ niche?
We serve large and medium-sized companies who have big business objectives locally and regionally. We excel at holistically tackling business challenges through insightful mass communication.
What do people not understand about your business and your company?
About our business? I think people genuinely underestimate the power of proactively isolating, articulating, and communicating their business “difference” consistently and creatively to their future customers (not the ones they already have). It is a mindset that is anchored in short-term utilitarian concepts like “a good product sells itself.” In this hyper-fragmented digital and traditional media landscape? While constantly being bombarded with noise? If it were only that simple. This underestimation leaves a lot of value on the table. We have seen that bold promotion and real brand building is one of the single most game-changing forces in business in this part of the world, but it requires decisiveness, real goals, and of course an influential communications company to be responsible for both comms and process.
About our company?
Although we have four decades of collective experience and heritage, we are run by the most energetic group of young “doers” you will ever meet. That we think very differently about communications. That our culture is deep, absolutely unique, and produces meaningful and memorable business results for our clients.
How is the industry — communications and broadcast — changing?
The conduit is changing rapidly. We are witnessing fragmentation and this makes real brand building more important than ever. Advertising will look less and less like 30 seconds on TV only. Successful communicators will have to manage multi-channel communication programs that are content driven, insight led, that are long-term, and that make use of appropriate media. With information overload a real thing, there is a desperate need for experienced communicators with focused and powerful capabilities, in digital and traditional mediums, that can create meaning for brands.
So the robots won't take over the advertising jobs?
When we ourselves become robots, they probably will. But as it stands, we don’t understand human consciousness well enough to teach a computer to eventually do it better than us. Making meaning is still the privy of humans. Creative industries are probably safer than most.
What one internal or external force will create the most change in your industry?
There are many forces at play in our industry. The one that stands out for me is the increasing abundance is information and choice. People can choose what they consume, they can choose their world view (and the algorithms on social media will echo and reinforce that). The concept of captive audience is being actively deconstructed, although there are still opportunities of mass viewership aggregation (like Ramadan) that other markets would kill for. Choice and media fragmentation is both a challenge and an opportunity for marketing communication. ‘Spray and pray’ will no longer work. You must really understand your business goals, what role communication plays in those business goals and move with purpose.
What Is something recent you are really proud of?
We produce Al Abakera, the region's only edutainment show, in partnership with one of our oldest clients, the National Bank of Egypt. It does a lot of good for education in Egypt. Scholarships, grants to rebuild schools, the whole nine yards.
What do you do in your free time?
I write on walls, make paper airplanes with my daughters. I read and write. I move my body. I’m a pilot and try to fly whenever I can.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?
“Don’t go cheap on the faucets — they’ll leak then you’ll have to replace the floor.” I think I read it in a fortune cookie. Also something I heard for a pilot from Barbados — we were both training in flight school in Florida. He said, “Speak it, and it will be man.” You have to imagine it in a Barbadian accent. It was deep.
How do you stay organized?
I wake up early —I would never trade the day for the night — and then write my intentions in pen and everything else in pencil. We run organized short “start on time, finish on time meetings” in the office —and sometimes use standing desks to make meetings quicker. I do not use messaging for any “meaningful communication.” It is only good for coordination. I consciously stay away from my phone when in scheduled meetings, and I keep a calendar and not a to do list.