Ladies’ night

In Advertising, Communicate, Dubai, Opinion, Published journalism on November 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

No toil or trouble at Adwomen ME’s first TrendTalks sessions

Originally published in Communicate, May 2010

SCENE I. A desert place.
Thunder and lightning. Enter witches

Ah, the opening of Macbeth. It was the first thing which sprang to mind when Communicate was invited to the inaugural Adwomen ME TrendTalks, a get-together of 50 female members and various speakers organized by Adwomen Middle East. It was hard to escape visions of cauldrons and an evil coven, eager to boil this male journo alive.

Since the more eligible (read female) member of our team had already bagsied a glitzy magazine party the same night, it fell to a Communicate staffer with chest hair (three, we counted) to attend the event and face his doom. Worryingly, he slipped into the talks almost unnoticed. Note to self: ease off on the lip gloss.

Adwomen Middle East is a grass-roots association of women in advertising, recently founded by Preethi Mariappan, creative director at Ogilvy One. Which would explain why many in the audience – not to mention the organizers – were from Ogilvy. Others weren’t, though, and the event was open to all women working in the communications industry. And there wasn’t a cauldron in sight; good news for Communicate.

Instead the setting, at the JamJar art gallery in Dubai, was about as far from the doom and gloom of Macbeth as you could get. Very un-coven-like, in fact. There were beanbags, soft drinks, cupcakes, and pizza. Thinking about it, Communicate could get used to this. It was a bit like our sister’s mysterious all-girl pajama parties when we were kids, except we were invited this time. And unlike our sister’s pajama parties, there was no awkward silence when either of the boys in the building came too close.

The other Y chromosome belonged to Spot On PR’s Alexander McNabb, who was there to address the congregation about social networking. He seemed nervous, and Communicate couldn’t help wondering if he would have “performance issues” facing a room full of intelligent, empowered women. It’s common after all; happens to almost every guy, we are assured.

Sure enough, within seconds of firing up his first PowerPoint slide, McNabb was forced off stage. But it was less a case of the assembled women picking on the pathetic phallus, than pathetic fallacy picking on the assembly. Hail stones pounded deafeningly on the tin roof, and the talk had to be adjourned until the weather’s volume returned to normal.

The second speaker was Tanya Dernaika, director of strategic planning at Memac Ogilvy & Mather. She spoke about the portrayal of Arab women in advertising. Almost at the beginning of her presentation, she announced that, “The problem is men.” (Communicate edged towards the door.) Men think differently, she goes on to explain. (Communicate lets out a sigh of relief. Mind you, if the group had plans to cook any male in the building, the continuing storm would have extinguished the fire.)

Thankfully, her talk turned out to be an examination of what she called “the Stepford Wife syndrome,” where women are too often portrayed as unrealistic domestic bimbos in much regional advertising. A fair point; surely even the dumbest male audience wants realistic domestic bimbos?

Overall the session itself was agreeably civil, informal and intelligent. That’s a change from most industry meet-ups, which can often veer towards corporate chest-banging and individual agendas, no doubt thanks in part to the higher levels of testosterone in attendees. Adwomen’s first TrendTalks offered a more unified approach, and was stronger for it.

Ad women out there should attend future events, for a non-commercial networking and topically informative night. We’re not saying it beats a glitzy magazine party, but it has all the ingredients to cast a few much-needed female spells over the industry. This (now more enlightened) man would happily go back, and he won’t be expecting eye of newt pizza next time.


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