h1

Middle East Business Magazine & News: The First Media Publication From Palestine To Serve The Middle East & Arab Countries – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Amal Daraghmeh Masri, CEO at Ougarit Group, Editor-In-Chief and CEO Middle East Business News and Magazine.

February 18, 2016

Middle East 3-3 “Before I did print I knew everybody was going to tell me that I was going against the current and that everyone else was going digital and I shouldn’t do it on paper. I didn’t believe them, though many, many people told me this, including one of our advertisers. And I see our advertisers as our partners. When I asked most of our advertisers about print they told me if I insisted, then go for it, do print and digital. So I went strongly with the website, mobile application and paper and our individual channel, which is all very expensive, but I assure you that people like to see paper because they trust in it more.” Amal Daraghmeh Masri

From Dubai with love…

Reporting from the  FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Reporting from the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai Feb. 10 and 11.

Bringing a magazine to fruition is hard work even in the best of circumstances, but bringing one or more to the newsstand when you’re the first in your country to do it, other than locally, is a true feat indeed. Amal Daraghmeh Masri has achieved that feat. Amal is CEO at Ougarit Group, editor-in-chief and CEO Middle East Business Magazine & News and the magazine’s founder. She is a woman who has held many positions in local business organizations that work for the advancement of women in Palestine, which is her home country, and across the Arab world, including being a member of Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development and a founding member, former President of Business Women Forum of Palestine. Regionally and internationally, she is founder and a former board member of Middle East Business Women’s Network.

And Amal is also an avid reader and extreme lover of ink on paper. Her magazine is her passion and her work ethic and print mission is simple and direct: audience first. Give them what they want when it comes to content and presentation and the magazine will grow from that engaged connection.

I spoke with Amal recently at the FIPP Middle East and Africa conference held in Dubai. We spoke of that passion that she has for print and the mission she feels her magazine accepted from issue one. The audience is her main concern and while she believes in the many benefits of digital, she also knows that for a more lasting and trusting relationship with her customers, print is the deciding factor that brings it all together, despite many who tried to convince her otherwise. Amal is a businesswoman, an entrepreneur and more importantly to her print product, a magazine maker who knows what it’s all about: her audience.

So, I hope you enjoy this motivational and inspiring story from a woman who knows what it means to work against adversity when passion is your driving force; the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amal Daraghmeh Masri, CEO at Ougarit Group, editor-in-chief and CEO Middle East Business Magazine & News.

But first, the sound-bites:

FullSizeRender-2 On the history of her business magazine: This is my second magazine; my first one I sold. The second one covers Arab countries and Middle Eastern countries, which is why it’s in Arabic and English, with 100 pages of different content in two different languages; this is the base. And I love paper; I wanted to produce something that has a face and that you can touch and almost speak with. That’s why we made an individual channel online and the website, but without paper it’s not the same.

On the fact that she started first with an English-only edition: Yes, we started first with only an English version that was published four times a year. And then we thought that we were missing the Arab readers, though there are many in English. Many people had asked us to do another edition in Arabic with the same quality, because it’s a nice-looking magazine with good content. So one day I said OK, I’m going to be crazy and do an Arabic part and do a different one.

On what inspired her to do a totally different issue in Arabic: Most Middle Eastern and Arab readers who are interested in business and economy articles, 98% of them read both languages, so out of respect for their intelligence I gave them different content, because they are all smart and they can choose for themselves. And amazingly, one of the presidents of the chamber of commerce told me that he loved it because when he was tired he reads the Arabic part. He added that when he woke up in the morning and went to his office; with his coffee he would read the English part. These words for me were like a big prize because this was exactly what I wanted.

On whether the magazine will ever have a flip side in French: I thought of it. But it would be too heavy to ship out of Ramallah. (Laughs) I’ve actually had a proposal from one of the Arab countries to make it monthly even. I didn’t want to make it monthly because online it’s ongoing. I think it would be too much because it’s for people who work a lot and every three months gives them enough time to read what’s inside it.

On how big the magazine business is in her country of Palestine: Actually there is none. There are no real magazines in business. There is only a small one about culture, but it’s very local. This is the first magazine that has really come out of Palestine to the Middle East and Arab countries. Usually, the magazines come from Dubai or Lebanon, sometimes from Egypt, but never from Palestine. And I think since my first name is Amal, and it starts with an “A,” I was always called to speak first at school. So, I said that I’d like to be the first to do something like this, though it’s very difficult, but you know, with challenges you create new things to help you overcome obstacles.

On where she came up with the idea to publish a business magazine from Ramallah: I established my business 18 years ago, which is an advertising agency, with marketing and PR. It was called Ougarit Company at that time. A few months earlier we established a printing company with my husband and that was around 1998 or 1999. So now we have two companies, one for printing and one for advertising. And with time you have more ideas and we started doing conferences and then we started training for media. We have a training center for media and anything related to communications and media. Then five years ago we started making magazines.

On whether her belief in print is just from passion or good business sense, or both: In general, businesses are driven by sales and profits. But it’s even better if it’s driven by passion. It’s like a bird with two fabulous wings. When it became English and Arabic, it became like a bird with two super wings. It flew much faster.

On the biggest challenge she’s had to face: I am a stubborn person by nature. So, all challenges for me are fun to deal with. For example, transporting the magazine outside Palestine, because I print and send out to almost 10 countries and it’s very expensive and challenging. And it takes a lot of time. It’s also a lot of follow-up. Sometimes it arrives on time and sometimes it doesn’t. But I spend a lot of energy every single day on the magazine. That is just one challenge.

On anything else she’d like to add: When you do a magazine, don’t make it just paper. It is a paper, but don’t make it just paper. That’s what I tell many of my clients; our magazine is not just paper. And there is a phrase that I use a lot: it’s a mission; it’s a passion; it’s a business, and it’s a partnership.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning: I have a great partner who has been with me since we started our life together 21 years ago. And we establish all businesses together. So, an inspiring husband and a great helper and a cup of coffee in the morning; there’s nothing better.

On what keeps her up at night: It’s how to create great content. I want people to love what we write and I don’t want to write it in the traditional way. What we like to do is sometimes combine curation; people don’t want to read from zero, because people are busy. So we accommodate information together and decide how to present it.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amal Daraghmeh Masri, CEO at Ougarit Group, Editor in Chief and CEO Middle East Business Magazine & News.

Samir Husni: Tell me a little about the history of your business magazine.

With Amal Daraghmeh Masri at the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai, UAE.

With Amal Daraghmeh Masri at the FIPP Middle East & Africa conference in Dubai, UAE.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: This is my second magazine; my first one I sold. The second one covers Arab countries and Middle Eastern countries, which is why it’s in Arabic and English, with 100 pages of different content in two different languages; this is the base. And I love paper; I wanted to produce something that has a face and that you can touch and almost speak with. That’s why we made an individual channel online and the website, but without paper it’s not the same.

Samir Husni: It’s my understanding that the magazine started in English and then you had the inspiration one day to add an Arabic section, but not translated from the English.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Yes, we started first with only an English version that was published four times a year. And then we thought that we were missing the Arab readers, though there are many in English. Many people had asked us to do another edition in Arabic with the same quality, because it’s a nice-looking magazine with good content. So one day I said OK, I’m going to be crazy and do an Arabic part and do a different one.

We designed it as a totally different brand, but the day before printing I woke up at midnight, well, it was probably after, because I don’t sleep before midnight. But I woke up and said, no, I have to put them together in one volume. It was a quite challenging experience and I didn’t think it would work at that time because it was a crazy idea, but it turned out to be very popular. People liked it.

Samir Husni: Most of the magazines that have flip covers or flip sections that I’ve seen in the Middle East are usually translated. What inspired you to do one in Arabic that was different? Did you think that most people could speak both languages, so why give them the same thing? Or were you trying to solicit a new audience?

Middle East 1-1 Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Most Middle Eastern and Arab readers who are interested in business and economy articles, 98% of them read both languages, so out of respect for their intelligence I gave them different content, because they are all smart and they can choose for themselves. And amazingly, one of the presidents of the chamber of commerce told me that he loved it because when he was tired he reads the Arabic part. He added that when he woke up in the morning and went to his office; with his coffee he would read the English part. These words for me were like a big prize because this was exactly what I wanted.

Another thing is the translation can become boring and it’s less work actually. Different content is much better; it’s like two magazines in one. The only thing they have in common is the cover, but with different aspects and different content to make it both concise and completely unique to one another.

Samir Husni: Are we ever going to see another flip side to the magazine in French?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: I thought of it. But it would be too heavy to ship out of Ramallah. (Laughs) I’ve actually had a proposal from one of the Arab countries to make it monthly even. I didn’t want to make it monthly because online it’s ongoing. I think it would be too much because it’s for people who work a lot and every three months gives them enough time to read what’s inside it. And generally, people do not throw away nice magazines that are quarterly. They tend to throw away more monthly magazines that move fast. I think they feel the quarterly magazine is more precious and has more inside, with nicer covers. So they keep it.

Samir Husni: Please excuse me for not knowing this, but how big is the magazine business in the Palestinian territories?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Actually there is none. There are no real magazines in business. There is only a small one about culture, but it’s very local. This is the first magazine that has really come out of Palestine to the Middle East and Arab countries. Usually, the magazines come from Dubai or Lebanon, sometimes from Egypt, but never from Palestine. And I think since my first name is Amal, and it starts with an “A,” I was always called to speak first at school. So, I said that I’d like to be the first to do something like this, though it’s very difficult, but you know, with challenges you create new things to help you overcome obstacles.

So you become adamant to be different and that’s why we’re not local, we’re Middle Eastern and we have an office in Jordan and in Dubai. And we are registered even in Cypress. We have customers from Greece, Cypress, even some of the islands, also from Dubai, Belgium, from many countries and I have quite a lot in Jordan and Palestine. But we don’t spread our magazines according to where our advertisers come from. We make the content for everybody.

Samir Husni: How did you get the, as you called it, “crazy idea” to publish a business magazine from Ramallah?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: I established my business 18 years ago, which is an advertising agency, with marketing and PR. It was called Ougarit Company at that time. A few months earlier we established a printing company with my husband and that was around 1998 or 1999. So now we have two companies, one for printing and one for advertising.

And with time you have more ideas and we started doing conferences and then we started training for media. We have a training center for media and anything related to communications and media. Then five years ago we started making magazines. We did the first one and we sold it. Three years ago I started this magazine and I also collect news for the website. And I’ve done a French one, because I graduated from a French school, so I speak French. And we do another one called EcoMag, but it is local. It’s only for Palestine, so it doesn’t go out.

Samir Husni: So, technically you did a reverse, in terms of first you started with the ad agency and then the printing and then the magazines. Most stories that I’ve heard, they start a magazine, then buy an ad agency and then they buy a printer.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: It’s very difficult. It’s like trying to get an old person to make a baby.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: In this case, I’m a woman and I finally had my baby. (Laughs too) Though it took me more than nine months to do it. The whole thing is about the experience. Graphic design is about thinking and creativity and it’s not about lines and colors. Marketing and communications are about spirit, love to others and love to what you do.

When you go to media, it’s another thing, but needs these bridges to reach the other part, which is the media part of the magazine. Though I don’t consider ourselves a journalistic magazine because what we write about is from people’s experiences. And to their peers actually, to other people who want to know what this particular person has to say. So we depend more on expert opinion so that we pass this passion and love to what we do to other people.

Samir Husni: I saw the article that your husband wrote about the future of print and knowing now that you own a printing plant; an ad agency and another print magazine; is it passion that makes you feel there’s a future for print or is it still a good business and you’re making money from it?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: In general, businesses are driven by sales and profits. But it’s even better if it’s driven by passion. It’s like a bird with two fabulous wings. When it became English and Arabic, it became like a bird with two super wings. It flew much faster. And the same thing comes to the magazine and maybe because I am a good reader, ever since I was six-years-old I have been an avid reader; I have loved the smell of old papers. My grandfather used to be a teacher and he used to bring books with him when he would visit when I was a child. And I would smell them and I thought they smelled beautiful. Until today, I am addicted to the smell of old papers.

I believe that human beings need to touch and see and hear, that’s how we were created. So paper is an important element. We can use online and listen to it and see it, but we cannot say or pretend or publicize that print will disappear. It has been around forever and it will be around as long as there are trees.

Middle East 2-2 I met a lady who had one of the biggest printing companies in South France. She came to see how we print in a difficult situation like Ramallah and she told us that many of her clients used to print magazines with her company and they stopped because people were telling them digital, digital and more digital. So they freaked out and moved into digital and she told me that one year later they were losing so much money that they came back to print again. And this lady is alive and she told me this.

Before I did print I knew everybody was going to tell me that I was going against the current and that everyone else was going digital and I shouldn’t do it on paper. I didn’t believe them, though many, many people told me this, including one of our advertisers. And I see our advertisers as our partners. When I asked most of our advertisers about print they told me if I insisted, then go for it, do print and digital. So I went strongly with the website, mobile application and paper and our individual channel, which is all very expensive, but I assure you that people like to see paper because they trust in it more.

As soon as you show them the magazine, it’s different than showing them the tablet or the website or the mobile application. It’s a totally different thing. So we have to be aware of human beings’ roots, origins and feelings. It’s like fear, when you see something that scares you it’s a natural response. It’s like marrying a virtual woman; would you do that? Human beings still need real people.

Samir Husni: I totally agree with you. You said it very well, as long as we have trees; we’re going to have paper. I always say that as long as we have human beings we’re going to have paper, because of that sense of touch and all of the five senses. But specifically in your case, has it been smooth sailing for you during this journey, or have you encountered some choppy seas along the way? What was the biggest challenge that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: I am a stubborn person by nature. So, all challenges for me are fun to deal with. For example, transporting the magazine outside Palestine, because I print and send out to almost 10 countries and it’s very expensive and challenging. And it takes a lot of time. It’s also a lot of follow-up. Sometimes it arrives on time and sometimes it doesn’t. But I spend a lot of energy every single day on the magazine. That is just one challenge.

I’ve been in the Middle East for quite some time; I’m a founding member of Middle East Business Women’s Network and I’ve been in many organizations on the Arab level. I go to many conferences, so I have the network and the confidence. I know that I can create content and supervise content. But the main challenge was being in another occupation actually.

And creating great covers is very important and we always try to predict what people want. This is another challenge because people want an article so much, but before publishing it I ask myself this question a hundred times and sometimes I ask people I know: would this article be of interest? And if people tell me yes, I think more about publishing it. The human feelings are so important.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: When you do a magazine, don’t make it just paper. It is a paper, but don’t make it just paper. That’s what I tell many of my clients; our magazine is not just paper; it’s much more than paper. And there is a phrase that I use a lot: it’s a mission; it’s a passion; it’s a business, and it’s a partnership.

Samir Husni: I love that; it’s more than ink on paper.

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Absolutely.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning; what drives you to look forward to another day at the office?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: Actually, I usually go to sleep at 3:00 a.m. I read so much. But I wake up at 6:30 a.m. because my husband gets me up for coffee. (Laughs) I’m sure that’s not your typical answer. But I have a great partner who has been with me since we started our life together 21 years ago. And we establish all businesses together. So, an inspiring husband and a great helper and a cup of coffee in the morning; there’s nothing better.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Amal Daraghmeh Masri: It’s how to create great content. I want people to love what we write and I don’t want to write it in the traditional way. What we like to do is sometimes combine curation; people don’t want to read from zero, because people are busy. So we accommodate information together and decide how to present it. When you ask an editor to write, it can get technical and we don’t want that. So, I keep changing the beginnings to make it more attractive and the rest follows.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: