The Business Year

Khalid Alkhurdair, CEO of SMC

SAUDI ARABIA - Sports

Khalid Alkhudair

CEO, SMC

Bio

Khalid Alkhudair is CEO of SMC.

“The pandemic accelerated digital transformation by about seven years, according to a study by McKinsey & Company conducted back in 2020.”

Khalid Alkhudair, CEO of SMC, talks to TBY about the media industry, increasing competition, and creativity.

How did covid impact and revolutionize the media industry in the region? What are the current trends defining this sector?

Khalid Alkhudair: The pandemic accelerated digital transformation by about seven years, according to a study by McKinsey & Company conducted back in 2020. Businesses had no choice but to pivot fast to provide an online platform to stay connected with their customers as the world interacted in a purely digital space. On the flip side, we saw a lot of brands pause spending for digital media because it was the easiest thing to do over canceling more traditional media. Now however, we’re seeing a spillover of extra media budgets in a post-Covid world, which is being allocated in a much broader way. Brands are coming round to thinking digital-first, but that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘digital-only’. Instead, they are looking at a range of channels to both tailor and amplify their message to the biggest, relevant audience. E-commerce is one area that has massively increased its investments on a local, regional and global scale. It may have slowed down from the rapid growth witnessed in the early days of Covid-19 but this is a channel that’s ripe for further development. In this sector, particularly in media during Covid times, it gave an assurance for businesses that online investments were the way to go to ensure long-term sustainability for their enterprise. Now as more tech emerges to make shopping online even more of an experience, and a seamless one at that, prepare for even more advancements in this sector. As for trends, today we’re seeing many more investments in terms of media exposure, with performance as a deliverable becoming a key component of measuring success. It’s become a prerequisite for any activations online, whether it’s social or non social etc., companies are very keen to ensure that the ROI for every dollar spent is accountable.

How are you capitalizing on technology and AI to deliver tailor made solutions and tools to fulfill the needs of your clients?

Khalid Alkhudair: Today we are in an era where technology isn’t an afterthought to how businesses run; it’s fully integrated on every level to ensure processes and efficiencies are effective. I’ve always said that ‘tech feeds in media’, not the other way around, so for any business, regardless of the industry, this needs to be a fundamental component in how media is offered. In terms of the kind of tech we use at SMC to support our clients, we provide a direct link to their ROI and expected deliverables to be able to track performance. We also use a lot of DCO (Dynamic Creative Optimization) that balances automation with effective creative. This is the most efficient way of delivering a campaign while utilizing AI to select the most relevant creative to connect users with the brand itself. The engagement factor is very important in order for us to track, measure and record users interacting with any given brand.

How are you working towards building a strong image of the sport industry through event sponsorship and branding activities? What opportunities are currently presented in this field? 

Khalid Alkhudair: As we continue to build a strong image within the sporting industry, today we represent beIN Media Group and SAFF, we also represent and manage Mrsool Park, which is the heart and soul of any activities regarding sport and event sponsorships. We are capitalizing on this to host renowned sporting events in the region. The way we are building on this is based on technology, sponsorships, contacts, clientele and our user base in the region to really reinforce our brand presence, especially as the whole media scene in the Kingdom is familiar with Mrsool Park. Although we can’t disclose too much at this stage, we have locked in a significant amount of prestigious events that will run through until the end of the year and that’s based on space, branding and exposure. The opportunity is based on media opportunities that we extend across TV, print and digital of these events as we host them.

SMC aims to become a leading global media power-house with a focus on advertising media sales and sponsorships across Sports & Entertainment. How will you expand SMC’s role in a market characterized by fierce and increasing competition?

Khalid Alkhudair: This is where SMC is focused on identifying the value for clients, users and the ROI that is linked to any deliverable we’re trying to capture from our brands. We look at the type of technology, leverage the prestigious digital assets that we represent, the database and the audience segmentation tools to see how we are complementing a collection of user behavior online along with AI and various tech in order to host those campaigns. Contextual targeting is another tool that is key in developing effective campaigns, using it in context on articles, in video, in images etc, and using computer vision technology to detect sentiment and emotions on that page to then create relevancy for users to connect with the brand, which then helps drive a better performance. That’s how we are capitalizing on our services in order to stand out from competition. Also, we have digital assets that are number one in the region. We have our investment in MMS, digital assets with SRMG, SBA, Rotana FM and many others, which give us a significant powerhouse positioning within Saudi Arabia. We are driving forward the empowerment of technology and capitalizing on this by using the right digital strategies to deliver efficiency, effectiveness and a significant amount of ROI.

Creativity is an asset in your industry. How do you foster and retain the best and most talented human capital to ensure the successful operations of your company?

Khalid Alkhudair:I think a lot about how to recruit and nurture the best talent in business today, especially when it comes to those in digital specialisms. There isn’t an exact science, but I think you need to find people who are hungry and passionate first and foremost. Skills can be taught, but attitude is so important in shaping the right work culture. I believe in giving people autonomy to try something new, consider different approaches or bring new ideas to the table. By making them accountable, their own personal investment is so much higher. As a leader, the focus should be on promoting a growth mindset and cascading this down to employees, helping them to realize their full potential. I’m a firm believer that we’re never done learning and this is something I encourage in all my teams too.

As far as regional and international expansion is concerned, what specific areas are in your radar?

Khalid Alkhudair: I think we need to stop referring to KSA as a market with potential; the potential is already here, so our job now is to guide this potential to greater success. SMC is an educator, partner and a trusted advisor in accelerating the digital transformation for media – this is the message we want to elevate throughout the Kingdom and beyond. We don’t shy away from the big challenges – we embrace them, investing in knowledge, the right technology and the right people so we can drive actions that make a difference to the bottom line. That’s what’s important for us as a company – show the value, the purpose and the ROI in the media solutions we provide.

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