In his 18-year career with Emirates, Boutros M. Boutros, has played a key role in building the company's global brand presence through strategic sponsorships and integrated marketing communications programmes. Image Credit: Supplied picture

Dubai: Emirates increased its corporate communications budget to nearly Dh1 billion including sponsorship advertising and public relations, a senior company official told Gulf News.

This is about 2.2 per cent of Emirates Group revenue of Dh45.4 billion reported at the end of its last financial year ending March 2010.

Boutros M. Boutros, Divisional Senior Vice-President, Corporate Communications, Emirates Airline and Group, told Gulf News that his organisation will soon roll out a new branding strategy that will take the brand image of the world's fastest growing airline to the next level.

Emirates has recently assigned StrawberryFrog, a branding agency, as its global lead communications partner to develop a branding strategy.

As head of Emirates' Corporate Communications, Boutros is responsible for all marketing and communications activities across the globe for the 40-plus businesses under the Emirates group umbrella.

In his 18-year career with Emirates, Boutros has played a key role in building the company's global brand presence through strategic sponsorships and integrated marketing communications programmes.

In an exclusive interview with the Gulf News, he elaborated his views on the company's branding, advertising and marketing strategies.

Gulf News: How difficult is it to manage the image of such a huge global brand as Emirates?

Boutros Boutros: Having worked within Emirates for over 18 years I have witnessed the brand evolve and grow significantly.

As Emirates continues to expand we have had to assess how our Corporate Communications team can better serve the brand. There are numerous facets to a company as large as Emirates and it is critical to maintain a certain level of consistency across each of our brands.

At the commencement of this year our department underwent a major restructure which has been put in place to meet the needs of the company's varied departments and brands more effectively.

Our team consists of a number of departments including Advertising, Public Relations, Sponsorships, Events, Digital Communications and Visual Services.

Each one of these divisions works in tandem with both the business unit and the other communications disciplines to ensure we offer each part of the Emirates Group a 360 degree approach to all activations.

I am proud of what the Corporate Communications team has achieved and I am confident that as we move into a new era we can continue to deliver the spirit of Emirates, through our varied communications platforms.

What is your strategy to take the brand image of Emirates to the next level as it is touching the lives of more people from across the six continents? Are you planning a new strategy?

Emirates has recently selected StrawberryFrog, the world's first Cultural Movement agency, as its global lead communications partner. StrawberryFrog will be responsible for developing and rolling out a new brand platform for Emirates that will reflect the airline's ambition to become one of the worlds most recognised global brands. We are still in the planning stages of our new brand platform so watch this space for things to come.

Emirates has been very strong in sponsoring sporting events, clubs and venues. Why is that? If you had invested similar resources in other events, areas and sectors, would you have secured such huge mileage?

Emirates has been involved with a wide range of sporting events and teams around the world for over 20 years. In 1987, only two years after its inception, Emirates began to build up its sponsorship portfolio. Today the airline is linked to some of the world's leading sport events spread across the six continents to which Emirates flies non-stop from Dubai.

From the outset our objective has always been about acquiring key sponsorships that will provide maximum reach for our brand. Each sponsorship is carefully assessed and the return on investment (RoI) is measured to ensure we receive the greatest benefit for our investment.

With the Emirates brand now recognised globally we have been able to branch out to other areas of sponsorship. In addition to sporting events and clubs Emirates also has a strong tie to the arts, such as our ongoing sponsorship of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Australia.

Locally we also support initiatives such as the Dubai Shopping Festival, Dubai Summer Surprises, the Rugby Sevens, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the Dubai International Film Festival and Skywards Jazz Festival.

What are Emirates' core strengths that helps you in brand management?

We are fortunate to have a great leader in Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates airline and group. He is a visionary leader who is not restrained by convention, allowing us the freedom to implement brand strategies that we believe will further boost our profile and highlight our strengths.

We also have a highly skilled team of communication professionals working within Emirates. In addition to this we have over 125 agencies globally that are an extension of our already strong team.

How do you fight the negative perceptions of the global media when it comes to Emirates? As the airline expands operations and eats into other carriers' markets, it is increasingly becoming prone to smear campaigns and attacks. How do you counter or manage these?

Any company that achieves success to the level that Emirates has will always come under attack from its competitors and the media. Emirates does not conform to the norms of our industry, we buck the trends and push forward during times when many of our competitors may be pulling back.

We are confident in the strength of our product and firm in our determination to succeed despite naysayers.

How much of Emirates' revenues are spent in public relations, advertisements, branding, sponsorship activities annually?

Our annual budget for Corporate Communications is in the vicinity of $270 million.

You have a team at the headquarters that look into the local and regional public relations activities. How do you manage the same in other markets?

We have an excellent global team of PR and advertising agencies that work hand in hand with the team in our Dubai head office. Each market has varying needs and requirements and we have worked tirelessly to ensure that our brand remains consistent across the globe. Our global agencies are the best in their field and are an extension of our team.

How big is your team?

We have a strong team of around 150 personnel working in corporate communications for Emirates.

What is your view on the way the local media portrays Emirates. Are you happy with their coverage?

The UAE is our home and we have always maintained an open dialogue with the local media. We have excellent professional relationships with the media here and thank them for their continued support.

What about the international media? What do you think of their coverage?

The media internationally have always been very fair to Emirates. We achieve good and consistent media coverage across the globe. In particular during the recent financial crisis Emirates appeared in the media as a beacon of hope, providing positive growth stories during a time where the rest of the world were reporting losses and redundancies.

Do you have a crisis management team to respond to emergencies?

Contingency response planning is a critical part of our business and we have dedicated resources to manage this. Within the Corporate Communications department we also have a robust team that has been well trained to deal with any crises.

When Emirates adds a new destination to its network, how do you promote it in order for Emirates customers to understand the new offerings?

We have a varied multi-channel approach to help promote our new destinations. This includes activities such as road shows, advertising, in market promotions, email alerts to our customer database and public relations activities.

What does it take to become a successful corporate communications professional?

To succeed a corporate communications professional must be highly qualified, passionate about the brand, open to new ideas. creative and have excellent communication skills.