Sign of the times: Sami Al Mufleh

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Sami Al-Mufleh: The founder of Hills Advertising is set on leading and developing the Middle East advertising market.

Sami Al-Mufleh: The founder of Hills Advertising is set on leading and developing the Middle East advertising market.

You may not have heard of Hills Advertising, but if you are a frequent traveller down Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, then you’ll be more than familiar with the company’s product. Run by founder and chief executive Sami Al-Mufleh, Hills has grown to become by far the largest player in the UAE’s outdoor advertising industry, with what he says is an estimated 65 percent of the market.

Despite only launching in 2003, the company has tied up with some of the city’s biggest entities, including the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), Meraas Holding and Dubai World Central. The result? A mixture of locations for static banner advertising that have been hard for Hills’ peer firms to compete with.

So it’s not surprising to find that Al-Mufleh, a 44-year-old Jordanian, has so much to say. A 30-minute interview with the man that refers to himself and his workforce as “innovation engineers” ends up going well over the hour mark. And, as he says, the firm is still just getting into its stride.

“Dubai has given us the opportunity to do things in a proper way,” he says. “It’s given us space to innovate. You can’t find such a country and such a city where you can do what we’ve done, with the support that we have had from the top entities.”

While Al-Mufleh declines to discuss exact revenue figures for last year, it’s clear that the advertising sector is growing fast in the UAE. In 2013, total ad spend rose by 5 percent to reach $1.65bn in the country, according to the Pan Arab Studies & Research Company (PARC). Of that sum, 14 percent was spent on outdoor advertising, with by far the largest share (71 percent) still being invested in print.

All that growth comes at a time when the outdoor advertising industry is seeing strong growth on the back of a switch to more digital forms of media. According to Kantar Media, a US-based research firm, outdoor advertising spend in the world’s biggest market rose by 4.4 percent in 2013. The major driver for that, the agency said, was that the digital signage gave operators far more flexibility when purchasing space, allowing them to get a higher price. Kantar also pointed out that over the last four years digital outdoor ad spend has risen five times faster than the industry as a whole.

On the back of those numbers, Hills chose 2013 as the year to invest. In the last year alone, it spent AED150m ($41m) on buying advertising space in three major locations in Dubai.

“Last year, I invested heavily in the company and the city,” Al-Mufleh says.

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