RIYADH: With New York savvy, Miami flair and a Saudi spirit, Gwen Wunderlich and Dara Kaplan took a chance on themselves and entered the ever-changing space of Saudi Arabia’s women empowerment.
With more than two decades of experience and a solid friendship, they launched the Riyadh branch of their first women-led US-based PR firm Wunderlich Kaplan Communications.
“This will be our global expansion and the MENA division, based in Riyadh at Jax,” Wunderlich told Arab News.
“We partnered this time for this division with Noor Taher, she is partners with Good Intentions and she brought us over here and agreed to partner up with us so generously to bring big projects to us, to guide us and to be a lead here to make sure things go smoothly,” she said.
With so much happening in the Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh felt like the right fit as it is the center of the country and a magnet for talent. It is also easily accessible via air or land.
“It just feels right.”
The two women expect to work on PR communications, marketing branding for local companies that are looking for national exposure, but also US companies that are looking to come into Saudi Arabia and find exposure and benefit.
Women’s empowerment is really rooted in our mission. I thought I’m going to go to Saudi Arabia because the narrative we’ve always been fed is that women are lesser than and they need our help. When I came here, I realized that these women do not need me to empower them. They are already amazing, strong, educated, kick-ass women ... it made me think like, wow, what else do I have wrong?
Dara Kaplan, Co-founder, Wunderlich Kaplan Communications
They started their first official project in the country in December 2022, with the Jeddah Art Project that took place during Formula One.
“It felt very fantastical to do, because we were kind of breaking barriers and bringing new kinds of information and content from a country that really hadn’t been heard of in that light when it came to culture and creativity.
“Those were not two words that really were related to Saudi Arabia in the mind of where we come from. So we worked on the Formula One project, I worked on the Alicia Keys’ concert and Women to Women event,” said Wunderlich.
While sitting in AlUla with Keys, Princess Reema and other women, Wunderlich knew that she was “being part of a great piece of time. History is being made here. That event was probably one of my favorite things . . . I would say in my entire career.”
Kaplan told Arab News that she had a misconception about the Kingdom on her first trip. “Women’s empowerment is really rooted in our mission. I thought I’m going to go to Saudi Arabia because the narrative we’ve always been fed is that women are lesser than and they need our help.
“When I came here, I realized that these women do not need me to empower them. They are already amazing, strong, educated, kick-ass women. That, to me, was a real eye-opener and I talked to so many local women. It made me think like, wow, what else do I have wrong?”
They were appalled at Western media outlets’ perceptions of Saudi women.
While women in Saudi Arabia still have a long way to go, they wanted to ensure that people had a clearer and more accurate picture of women in the Kingdom.
“I think that, unfortunately in the past, how it’s been positioned is so wrong and I think there’s a lot of value in repositioning that story and the narrative that’s been force-fed to everyone and they just don’t know better, and if they knew better, I think there’ll be a lot of support. You know, if the average person knew what we knew about Saudi, I think it would be you having a very different conversation right now with us.”
Wunderlich has visited the Kingdom five times and Kaplan twice. But they plan to visit frequently once their Jax office opens in few months.
“We’re bringing our passion at the end of the day. We run our own business — we do it from our heart. We love storytellers and we love people with great narratives,” said Wunderlich.
• With more than two decades of experience, Gwen Wunderlich and Dara Kaplan have launched the Riyadh branch of their first women-led US-based PR firm Wunderlich Kaplan Communications, with Saudi partner Noor Taher. They started their first official project in the Kingdom in December 2021, with the Jeddah Art Project that took place during Formula One.
• The two women expect to work on PR communications, marketing branding for local companies that are looking for national exposure, but also US companies that are looking to come into Saudi Arabia and find exposure and benefit. They are also launching a new hospitality division in the country — and are recruiting.
The pair want to join the fun and shift the narrative alongside Saudi women who are making that change.
“We want to take meetings with Saudi women, we want people to contact us with interesting projects. We want for the country to start digging deep. We already worked with the Royal Commission of AlUla, which is amazing. And we’ve worked with Craft and we’ve worked with Good Intentions and the people that we’ve worked with so far we have great relations,” Wunderlich said.
“I think what’s unique about us — and correct me if I’m wrong — I know there are local PR firms and then there’s corporate American PR firms, but I don’t think there’s the blend of the boutique firm that’s having startup experience to publicly traded experience with global experience and local experience. So I feel like we do bring celebrity and pop culture and Fortune 500 companies and everything in between. With having a Saudi partner, I think that we are delivering something that’s really different,” Kaplan said.
Their Saudi partner Taher has been at the forefront of the change that has been sweeping the Kingdom.
Taher is the co-founder of Good Intentions along with US legend Swizz Beatz, the husband of Alicia Keys. Good Intentions recently hosted their second Women to Women dialogue in AlUla.
They are a trusted voice in the digital world and they are beyond influencers — they are visionary women who want to go past smartphones and into the IRL space.
While hosting such lavish events in AlUla and Riyadh is something they have a knack for, they are adamant about integrating and inviting motivated Saudis to come together alongside them to build a metaphorical sand castle in the Kingdom together.
They are not trying to hog the mic, take the spotlight or speak for anyone. They want to be in the Kingdom because they simply fell in love with the country and its people.
The women are here for Vision 2030 and everything else before it and after it. And Taher, who is native to Riyadh, is excited to see it go ahead.
“I have known these women for years and there hasn’t been one project or client — no matter how big or small — they haven’t put their absolute all into. What sets them apart is the passion and courage they have to share the untold stories, that’s why I decided to enter into a partnership with them.
Being from Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of stories the world has yet to hear, it took a couple of trips to AlUla together to realize the inevitable. No one tells a story quite like them — they can sell sand in the desert,” Taher said.
Wunderlich and Kaplan were also guests on the Pass the Kabsa podcast, in which talent in Saudi Arabia is at the center of conversations.
They are also launching a new hospitality division in the country — and are recruiting.