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Marketing a city
“Most of us consider Marketing as a frivolous occupation. it is not so, Marketing is serious business. You have to satisfY people with different tastes and convince all of theM to buY Your ideas,” saYs abdulrahiM al ibrahiM, director of the pearl-Qatar central authoritY directorate (tcad).
By Sindhu n a i r
e should know, since he was selling and promoting The Pearl Qatar (TPQ), an address that was branded as the most glamorous in the Middle East, when it was just a concept. He was involved in the project from the start – the reclamation, the handover and now the management of the property. He speaks to Qatar Today of the euphoria and the responsibility associated with marketing an island built on water. TPQ was a new concept of luxury residential property in Qatar. What were the challenges that you faced in building an iconic brand? The reclamation of the land started in 2004 as did the marketing. The concept was one-of-a-kind, a very creative project with a design that was clearly opulent and innovative. The challenges were massive, in construction and of course in marketing as well. When we started, the real estate market was steady and then came the boom in the sector. Prices escalated, material as well as labour cost went up; there was a shortage of materials and all of this made it extremely difficult for us. But we had support from HH The Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa AlThani and the government and this helped us a great deal. Proper planning by
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United Development Company (UDC) put us on a strong foothold and we could see the completion of the project rising above the various setbacks. Because we pioneered the idea in this country, it captured everyone’s attention and wonder, locally and internationally. When I joined UDC, in the position of General Manager of Marketing, our challenges were immense; the whole group was just a small team of 60. We are now 1,200 employees. We have expanded in all spheres and auxiliary units. All this is part of the success story of TPQ. Was it difficult to sell the concept internationally at a time when the country was not well recognised? What marketing strategies did you adapt? Proper planning and the way the country has projected itself, as the largest supplier of gas and as a country with robust economy with its massive oil and gas resources, made it easier for us to market the project. Initially we were treated with scepticism, people did not know much about the country. But the uniqueness of the concept, the massive campaigns to promote the project globally through commercials, advertisements, billboards, exhibitions, road shows, etc, helped garner interest. Luxury outlets were initially sceptical of coming to the region, not just Qatar. We were selling based on plans. But now you can see all the brands that are here at The Pearl. According to me, the project in itself was the main factor, its uniqueness and beauty, the 10-themed districts, each with its own
We have had some oWners Who have sold their investments at a profit. so the global recession did not affect us much.
that even now the value of the property is increasing. We have had some owners who have sold their investments at a profit. So the global recession did not affect us much. We are still attracting retail stores; we have store openings regularly, on a monthly basis. This was because this was the only project of such magnitude in the country and the finished product was also much appreciated in the real estate sector. We have around 3,000 people living on the island and by the end of 2011 we are going to open two major precedents, Qanat Quartier and Medina Centrale. We are also opening a Spinney’s here soon. We want the Pearl to be a city in itself. TPQ had some bad press too. How did you handle the bad press, especially those which used to touch on the environmental aspects of the project due to the huge reclamation associated with the construction of the island? The dredging technology we used was such that it would not harm the eco-system. Before we embarked on the project, an environmental assessment was conducted by Cowi and all recommendations made was followed to ensure that the eco-system of the place was not compromised. It’s true to say there are more living creatures in the sea around the site than before the reclamation. We take extra measures to maintain safe environmental levels; we conduct air quality and noise pollution tests on an annual basis. Garbage collection is through a single
distinct style of living, helped in attracting investors from all around the world. The economic stability of the country was another important factor. At a time when global recession had downsized the thriving real estate sector how did TPQ manage to remain unfazed? How were the sales figures in those difficult times? We started marketing from 2005. About 90% of what we marketed is sold now. When the crisis hit, we had already sold close to 80% of the projects and we were getting busy with hand-overs. That worked to our advantage. As we were in this handover stage, it helped our cash flow. We are still busy with hand-overs and I can tell you
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if We are faced With challenges, We adjust to meet them all. on the other hand, if the atmosphere you Work in is too relaxed and indulgent, you slip and fail to deliver your best.
point, plastic bags are banned in the area, even in our retail premises, whilst fishing is also banned in our beaches. At the beginning of the project there must have been a few speculations but now, as we have made our intentions clear, the international press is aware of the precautions we take to maintain the eco-system to deliver a clean sustainable city. What is the role that you have now taken on and how different is it from your earlier division? What are the challenges you face? Our marketing team initially consisted of just three or four people and the pressures at that point were immense. All of us worked hard and in coordination with the rest of the UDC family with the single aim of delivering on promises. I headed the Marketing and Public Relations Department for two years and was in charge of marketing the Pearl to the outside world, such as identifying an agency who would work on our image, monitoring their work and finalising the finished product; the videos, the TV and print campaigns, outdoor campaigns, 3D renderings. . I then moved to Corporate Planning and Developments, creating new business units, negotiating JVs, etc. I was in this department for two years and am now in charge of The Pearl-Qatar Central Authority Directorate (TCAD), which can be simply explained as a sort of ‘Municipality’ that governs all post-construction activities, that makes sure of the smooth functioning of life at The Pearl. We are in charge of the issuance of title deeds, coordinating the issuance of residence permits, in coordination with the Ministry, for those who own property at The Pearl. All residents who own a property at The Pearl are entitled to be a resident of the country for a lifetime. We are the single window for all governmental liaisons. This ensures a stress-free process, a five-star facility to all the property and retail owners.
Technology and dependency: IT’s parT of lIfe now
to deliver your best. Do you have a mentor? Life is my mentor. Each day I learn from the people I interact with and the experiences they impart. I learnt from the Japanese the skills of negotiation and the art of patience. Every culture and nationality has its own way of doing business and I have tried to imbibe from all of them. I have learnt a lot from each of them through my business associations. What do you think the country will look like in the future? Any success I had is because we were in a country that had the foresight to build on its resources. I think Qatar will have a major facelift now. Tourism will be given a major boost, the infrastructure will be improved, there will be more places to visit, to enjoy, such as recreation centres. Qatar has a long coast line which will be utilised to add to the popularity of the country. Do you believe anybody with vision, and consistent hard work will make his/ her way to the top? Do you think being a Qatari has helped you in your country or has it posed more constraints as you had to constantly prove yourself ? Vision and hard work are necessary but you have to be creative as well. Nothing reduces the importance of creativity. Being a Qatari is more of a constraint. We have to work alongside so many other nationalities who are educated and skilful professionals, so I feel wehave to constantly prove that we are equally competent. What do you think are the prospects for the new generation in the country? I think the new generation is blessed. We have a revolution of education and the resources are like never before. So the younger generation can leverage the best of the Universities here in Qatar. The market is getting bigger and opportunities for Qataris are increasing
Cars and drIvIng:
agaIn a necessITy, noT a fashIon sTaTemenT
FrIends and TheIr role:
ramadan Is The perfecT TIme To rebuIld frIendshIps. every evenIng we have a meeTIng In The majlIs and gaTher To speak abouT whaT Is happenIng around The world.
YoU are IndebTed To:
my parenTs, my moTher In parTIcular, for her supporT and blessIngs.
deTox sessIons InClUde:
readIng. presenTly workIng my way Through ‘secreT lIves of greaT auThors’ by roberT schnakenberg. I make IT a poInT To go To bookshops In all The counTrIes I vIsIT. I also encourage my chIldren To read.
a daY wIThoUT lUxUrIes?
luxury Is now a necessITy; IT Is an essenTIal parT of lIfe and an arT In ITself Too...
How do you infuse creativity in your daily work schedules? Creativity comes foremost in UDC. We have to continuously innovate and create new amenities for our tenants. Creation of such a new unit as TCAD was by itself such a move. We try to give our residents the perfect life at The Pearl. We are in process of creating a guideline that will not be restrictive to our residents but will ensure an easy life on the island. I have had to take care of various departments within UDC and each has been a learning experience. The atmosphere at UDC is so competitive that you have to be creative. I feel that if we are faced with challenges, we adjust to meet them all. On the other hand, if the atmosphere you work in is too relaxed and indulgent, you slip and fail
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