From startup hire to executive director overseeing five offices in four locations across the world, Areej Itani has come a long way. In an interview with BroadcastPro ME, she discusses her role at Total Media Cast and her journey to success.
In the rapidly evolving world of media and technology, Areej Itani, Executive Director at Total Media Cast, a media production and broadcasting company with offices spanning four continents, is testament to female empowerment and leadership today. We first met in Tunisia for the ASBU festival in a rather unconventional setting – a horse carriage used to transport guests from the Laico Tunis Hotel to the Cultural Centre next door.
Itani and her team were at the festival to make new connections and network with MENA customers. As Executive Director, her role has changed considerably since she first began working with the company back in 2012, when it was just a startup in Lebanon. Today, she is second in command and reports directly to owner Isam Ayyad.
“My role is to understand client requirements and ensure that we fully address their business and technical needs,” says the Lebanese national, presently based in Total Media Cast’s Istanbul office. Itani holds a multi-faceted role that includes managing teams across all the regional and international offices, supervising projects in terms of strategy and execution, discussing budget and financial challenges, hiring new talent and addressing marketing opportunities to promote the company. That’s on the work front. At home, as a mother of three, her day begins at 6:30 am with getting the children ready for school, ensuring breakfast is ready and packing lunchbags before heading to work.
Itani has had an interesting career journey that serves as an inspiration to women looking to pursue a career in engineering. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in Communications Engineering and a masters in Engineering Management, she initially freelanced for a production company, where she quickly moved up to the role of post-production supervisor.
Then in 2012 the new tech opportunity came up with Total Media Cast. Since then, she has witnessed remarkable growth in her career alongside the success of the company. Starting with just four employees, the company now boasts a global team of 60 professionals and operates from five offices in Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey, Brazil and the UK
“When I was in university, there were ten of us women and around 100 men studying communication engineering,” says Itani. “Engineering was not on top of most women’s lists, but I was really interested in it. Today, the ability to oversee things on the tech as well as the management side is doubly rewarding.”
She says her tech background and innate entrepreneurial talent helped her to move up. “I was able to offer technical recommendations when clients presented challenges, so I became more important to the team. Along the way, my manager discovered that I was also good at managing the team. And wanting to hone that skill further, I went ahead and took a couple of online leadership certification courses from Harvard online. That gave me more leverage.”
Venturing into New Territories
Total Media Cast’s foray into launching TV channels and studios has been one of its notable accomplishments. The company has worked with more than 13 clients to help launch its TV channels successfully, says Itani. She and her team have also worked with universities in Ramallah and Adis Ababa to put together specialised training studios for their media departments. “These studios help prep their students for future careers in the media industry, equipping them with practical skills and experiences.”
An ambitious company with a motivated leadership team, Total Media Cast has gradually expanded its services to remain competitive.
“We began with systems integration in broadcast, but when we saw that area of the market getting saturated with competitors we moved to a new line of business and added news-gathering coverage to our area of expertise. We were soon approached by regional news broadcasters to cover prominent global events such as elections and sports tournaments. We recently covered the Turkish elections for several broadcasters. Likewise, during the World Cup we had a team in Doha to capture the action. We also had teams in all the participating countries, offering TV channels exclusive access to the fan zones and action on the ground,” says Itani.
Embracing the Digital Era
Recognising the shifting landscape of media and marketing, Itani says the company also saw opportunities to launch two other lines of business: selling satellite space and establishing a dedicated unit for digital marketing and media platforms. She has also often helped identify good business opportunities while adding value on the technical front. She supervises all technical projects, collaborating closely with Engineering Manager Ibrahim Bulbul to ensure optimal solutions for their clients.
Building a Culture of Diversity and Empowerment
Navigating a male-dominated executive landscape in the region has not been without its challenges, but Itani says maintaining a strictly professional approach and being results-driven has often shielded her from the negative impact of gender bias, in addition to the continuous support and trust of owner Isam Ayyad. While she acknowledges the occasional cultural challenges from colleagues and partners, she dismisses them as minor hurdles: “I am pretty much focused on addressing the need of the client, and when you maintain that professional attitude and they see results, then that concern no longer exists.”
Although Itani is the only woman on the engineering side in her company, there are other women in senior roles at Total Media Cast. “We have at least 15 women in our company and they hold prominent roles in editorial, management, finance, HR and legal. We haven’t particularly looked at gender while hiring people. We just look at who is best for the job and hire them,” she says.
What Lies Ahead?
Itani says Total Media Cast is constantly looking to expand into new territories. One ambitious move was into Brazil.
“That’s an untapped market, but one where there’s a lot of opportunity to cover sport and economy. Some markets are saturated with competition, but others are open, and we are looking to enter such markets and carve a niche for ourselves. If you have the discipline and dedication, coupled with the desire to learn, and offer new services, there’s a lot we can do.” She adds that there’s a lot of potential in the market to expand in terms of services and solutions.
Her key advice to women? “Speak up.”
“Women are often hesitant to propose their ideas and thoughts. I have realised that people want to hear other and new points of view, because this will enrich a situation and we will get better results. So I urge women to speak up when they have an idea, even if it contradicts existing ideas.”
Itani attributes her achievements to being able to identify and seize business opportunities. As she looks to the future, she envisions expanding into new territories and carving out niches where opportunities abound.