LONDON: After Rani Raad, the most senior Arab to lead an international media group commercially, announced his departure from CNN, former colleagues and a number of MENA region’s media leaders reflect on his legacy and time in the role.
Former CNN Emerging Markets editor and anchor John Defterios said that “all of the feature programming, plus the bureaus/content hubs in the Middle East, are a product of a vision (Raad) created over a quarter century at the network.
“One could certainly make the case; it is his work that put the rising economies the MENA region on the global map.”
Rani Raad, who first joined CNN’s parent company Turner Broadcasting, New York, in 1998 as an intern, is leaving his role as president of CNN Commercial Worldwide, a global position the company introduced for the first time when he assumed it.
It is likely that Raad, whose CNN departure was announced Monday, will join another leading media group in a leadership position, where he will advise on international expansion, strategic direction and investments, media industry sources told Arab News.
“There are plenty of possibilities for his next destination,” the sources said, “but it will most likely be in the Middle East region, where there is not only the ability to invest and expand, but also a new atmosphere of rational decision-making and hiring the best global talent to make sure investments are strategic and in the right direction.”
In addition to having managed Turner Broadcasting’s portfolio of general entertainment and kids channels in Turkey, the Middle East and Africa, Raad led the commercial strategy for an international news and information portfolio, including CNNI, CNN en Español, CNN-IBN, CNN Turk and CNN Chile. He also oversaw advertising and content sales, business development, international research, and marketing activities.
“It is hard to sum up 25 years of incredible memories and milestones in one email,” Raad wrote, Monday, in a message to CNN staff.
“Every single day I have had the privilege of working for a brand that has such a profound impact on the world,” he added, “There is no way those business milestones would have been achieved without the ambition, skills, attitude and passion of those at CNN Commercial. And there is no way we could have done it without the dedication and integrity of our editorial colleagues.”
Raad was appointed president of the CNN International Commercial group, London, in Feb. 2016, after leading the company as its Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer since its creation in 2013, according to a Warner Media press statement.
At the time, Turner International President Gerhard Zeiler said that Rani had “a remarkable track record in leading a diverse portfolio of commercial initiatives across international markets.
“He has built a new digital team that is the authority in this space and has transformed the commercial operation for CNN internationally, bringing in a new leadership team to deliver best-in-class and award-winning ad sales solutions as well as re-setting the licensing and content sales businesses to yield a suite of new branded initiatives around the globe.”
Meanwhile, Faisal J. Abbas — Editor-in-Chief of Arab News described Raad as a “legend in his own right.”
“If Messi is the 'Greatest of All Time' in football, then Rani Raad would absolutely be the equivalent in running global news channels commercially,” said Abbas, who has known Raad for nearly twenty years.
“I have first met Rani in the early 2000’s when I had just started as a media reporter for a sister publication in London. Many of the things I have learned and adopted today in building the Arab News brand and expansion, I have learned from Rani’s career as I witnessed how he turned around CNN International from a sideshow to a core business for the network,” he added.
Alarabiya's current UK bureau chief Rima Maktabi, who worked at CNN with Raad during the period from 2010 to 2012, said: "Oftentimes, big international news channels miss out on understanding certain cultures and politics in the Arab world. Yet Rani was able to explain the Arab world in depth to the editorial team, when needed."
"On the commercial side," Maktabi added, "Rani enriched CNN’s shows with sponsors without compromising the integrity and editorial independence of the content."
"With Rani’s leaving, CNN has lost yet another skilled professional who was able to add to the network’s commercial success worldwide."
During his tenure as commercial president, Raad delivered a data-driven strategy, equipped with digital capabilities, for all the group’s platforms, meeting market needs in over 200 countries.
Raad first joined the company’s New York headquarters as an intern, right after graduating from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Within five years of joining Turner Broadcasting, Raad, fluent in English, French and Arabic, got promoted to vice president for regional advertising sales in the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe.
In May 2020, he was named President for CNN Commercial Worldwide to expand CNN’s new business pathways. He worked closely with the sales department of Warner Media, oversaw CNN’s distribution activities globally, led the company’s business operations outside America, and maximized the news network’s business potential.
He had told Arabian Business he was from a “media family.” His father, Ramzi, established the advertising agency TBWA/Raad in 2000, after about three decades in the field across EMEA, while his brother Reda heads the group.
In recognition of his contributions to the media industry, including the initiation of CNN’s programming sponsorship initiatives Inside the Middle East, Marketplace Middle East, Business Traveller, and Eye on Series, the World Economic Forum named Raad in 2011 a Young Global Leader.
Arabian Business named him in 2013 among the world’s most influential Arabs in its Power 500 list, ranking 71st, and listed him in 2015 the 13th most influential Arab under 40.
Prior to that, Raad was shortlisted in 2010 for Media Professional of the Year at the Festival of Media Awards in Valencia.
In a note to CNN staff, obtained by Arab News, CEO Chris Licht wrote that Raad, who is leaving Warner Bros. Discovery, will be replaced by Phil Nelson, who had been leading “the CNNIC team over the past weeks.”
“I’m sure there are many questions about structure and how we will interact with the Sport team,” Licht wrote, “We will work through all this as soon as possible.”
Raad concluded his farewell email to CNN staff: “Now it is the right time for me to move on to new challenges and pass that stewardship of this amazing group to new leadership.”
“CNNIC, you got this!”
Arab News tried reaching several serving CNN members for comment. However, no comment was obtained and all attempts were deferred to the above statement. Rani Raad could not be reached for comment.