Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19
Muddassar Ahmed, one of the UK’s most prominent communications executives, has praised Saudi Arabia for its handling of G20 and Hajj during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 November 2020

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19

Prominent communications executive hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘admirable’ Hajj and G20 amid COVID-19
  • Founder of Unitas Communications says Kingdom has ‘set a precedent’ in its handling of both events

LONDON: According to one of the UK’s most prominent communications executives, Muddassar Ahmed, Saudi Arabia has “not only done an admirable job but has set a precedent for other nations to follow” with regard to its handling of Hajj amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s decision to suspend the Hajj pilgrimage during the pandemic was a brave one, all the more so because it is a religious occasion that hundreds of thousands of people spend their lives preparing for,” Ahmed, the founder of Unitas Communications, told Arab News.

“To tell people making a once-in-a-lifetime journey that their plans must be put on hold cannot have been easy. But it was without a doubt the right thing to do. In our religion, the protection and preservation of life are of paramount value,” he added.

Ahmed, one of the UK’s top 1000 most influential people, also praised the Kingdom’s handling of the G20 summit last month after deciding to go fully virtual, calling it “absolutely the correct course of action.”

“In both instances, Saudi Arabia has set a precedent for other countries to follow. We can contrast its proactive, forward-thinking and compassionate approach, as well as its own COVID-19 statistics, with other countries’ track records,” he said.

Countering extremism as a British Muslim

Ahmed is not only known for his role as a communications expert, but also as a leading figure in the Muslim community in the UK, countering hate speech and the rise of extremism as an advisor to the British government on anti-Muslim hatred.

“As a born-and-bred British Muslim, this is not just important to me on a policy level but on a deeply personal level. I have dedicated my life to improving relationships between Muslim and other communities and I believe that, through Unitas and other projects I have dedicated myself to, we have made tremendous progress in improving the image and position of Muslims in Britain and the West,” Ahmed, who was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims worldwide three times, said.

Before founding Unitas, Ahmed was an activist campaigning against the Iraq war and founder/host of East London’s Radio Ramadan shows.

“I soon realized that adversarial campaigning only went so far. I was concerned by the growing divide between Muslims and wider society, between the Islamic world and the West, and I wanted — I needed — to help heal these divides, to bridge these allegedly irreconcilable narratives,” he explained.

Soon after, he teamed up with fellow East Londoner and childhood classmate Shiraz Ahmad to give birth to the world’s first public relations agency dedicated to bridging the gap between the Islamic and Western worlds: Unitas Communications.

One of the group’s first clients was the National Health Service, which needed to access hard-to-reach minority communities in East London.

It was not long before their work earned the attention of people invested in efforts to do the same. A few years after the start of the Iraq War and after the 7/7 2005 London terrorist attacks, community cohesion in the UK was at an all-time low.

The UN’s Alliance of Civilizations then reached out to Unitas to “see minority and Muslim communities have the training and develop the skills necessary to engage effectively and constructively in wider British society.”

Ahmed and Unitas’s work is not restricted to the UK alone, with the group and its founder earning praise and recognition from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and by the City of New York.

Brexit and what is to come

While many businesses have been critical of Brexit and its potential consequences, Ahmed looks to the bright side of matters and instead calls it “an opportunity for Britain to reset its narrative on the world stage.”

“I have every confidence in the ability of the British nation to reinvent itself,” he added, explaining that “Unitas operations extend across continents in order to connect people, cultures and ideas and to make communicating effective and impactful.”

With regard to what the future holds for Unitas in such uncertain times, Ahmed remains optimistic.

“The future will see Unitas continuing to work with leading international brands and expanding its presence across Europe and the Middle East and deeper into Southeast Asia. But I should also say that a major priority for us has always been the US. We’ve had major American clients, like the National Football League and the US State Department,” he said.

“We will continue to choose clients who contribute to making the world a more understanding place, and we will engage those relationships to improve the world, to leave things better off than where they were when we started.

Because this work isn’t just a business to me or my team. It’s a moral calling.”


Cannes Lions completes jury presidents’ lineup for 2021

Cannes Lions completes jury presidents’ lineup for 2021
Updated 23 January 2021

Cannes Lions completes jury presidents’ lineup for 2021

Cannes Lions completes jury presidents’ lineup for 2021
  • “We know that after the postponement of last year’s awards, our jury presidents are eager to get going,” said Philip Thomas
  • This year, the jury president lineup is comprised of 57 percent women — the highest in the awards’ history

DUBAI: International advertising awards festival Cannes Lions has confirmed its jury president lineup for the awards scheduled to take place in June 2021.
Bozoma Saint John, global chief marketing officer at Netflix; Merlee Jayme, global president at Dentsu Mcgarrybowen; and Geoff Northcott, managing partner and chief experience officer at AKQA, complete the full line-up and join the jury presidents initially appointed for the 2020 awards.
“We know that after the postponement of last year’s awards, our jury presidents are eager to get going,” said Philip Thomas, chairman, Lions. “They will be leading juries in a unique year, awarding Lions for both 2020 and 2021 — no small job but one that will provide a crucial reflection and insight into the industry’s recent unprecedented journey.”
This year, the jury president lineup is comprised of 57 percent women — the highest in the awards’ history.
One of them, Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB, who is this year’s president of the titanium jury, said: “Advertising at its creative best is one of the most powerful economic-driving, business problem-solving, culture-changing agents in the world. By celebrating the work at the Cannes lions festival, we are reminded of our potential and inspired to live into it.”
Judging will take place during the festival in June. The hope is for the judges to be physically present together but if they are unable to do so, the festival has created a remote judging experience, which was implemented at its regional awards. “It (the judging process) is a crucial part of all of our Lions awards; a human experience but also a rigorous and robust process,” said Simon Cook, managing director, Lions.
Cannes Lions is scheduled to take place from June 21-25, 2021, and will incorporate the awarding of both the 2020 and 2021 Lions.
The full list of jury presidents for 2021 is:
Titanium Lions: Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB, Global
Design Lions: Pum Lefebure, chief creative officer, Design Army, US
Film Lions: Richard Brim, chief creative officer, adam&eveDDB, UK
Mobile Lions: Andrew Keller, VP, global creative director, Facebook
Outdoor Lions: Luiz Sanches, chairman, chief creative officer & partner, AlmapBBDO, Brazil
Print & Publishing Lions: Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, and worldwide chief creative officer, Publicis Communications NA
Radio & Audio Lions: Merlee Jayme, global president, dentsu mcgarrybowen and chairman Dentsu Jayme Syfu
Digital Craft Lions: Jax Ostle-Evans, managing director, Stink Studios, UK
Film Craft Lions: Kerstin Emhoff, president, PRETTYBIRD, US
Industry Craft Lions: Jayanta Jenkins, EVP, head of marketing, Disney+, global
Entertainment Lions: Jae Goodman, CEO, Observatory (A Stagwell and CAA Company), global
Entertainment Lions for Music: Wyclef Jean, president and chief strategy officer, Carnival World Music Group, US
Entertainment Lions for Sport: Ben Hartman, chief client officer, International, Octagon
Brand Experience & Activation Lions: Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer, Havas, UK
Creative Business Transformation Lions: Geoff Northcott, global chief experience officer & managing partner, EMEA, AKQA
Creative eCommerce Lions: Tiffany Rolfe, global chief creative officer, R/GA
Glass: The Lion for Change: Bozoma Saint John, global chief marketing officer, Netflix
Sustainable Development Goals Lions: Eduardo Maruri, VP global creative board & president/CEO Europe, Grey worldwide
Health & Wellness Lions: Tom Richards, global chief creative officer, 21GRAMS
Pharma Lions: Anne de Schweinitz, global managing director, Healthcare, FleishmanHillard
Innovation Lions: Claudia Cristovao, head of Google Brand Studio, APAC
Creative Effectiveness Lions: Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO, Pernod Ricard NA, US
Creative Data Lions: Maurice Riley, chief data officer, Digitas, Australia & New Zealand
Creative Strategy Lions: Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup
Direct Lions: Reed Collins, chief creative officer, Ogilvy, Asia
Media Lions: Philippa Brown, worldwide CEO, PHD
PR Lions: Gail Heimann, president & CEO, Weber Shandwick
Social & Influencer Lions: Debbi Vandeven, global chief creative officer, VMLY&R