x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A small perk of the job

A free Mini Cooper is part of this PR representative's job, just a shame she has to share it.

Shamim Kassibawi is happy to drive around the city in a branded vehicle: "And I am not saying this because I am toeing the company line. It is actually a cool car."
Shamim Kassibawi is happy to drive around the city in a branded vehicle: "And I am not saying this because I am toeing the company line. It is actually a cool car."

Sometimes a driver does not always get to choose their car, especially when they roll out in a company motor. But for this Dubai-based public relations representative, driving a branded Mini Cooper is more than a perk of the job. Company livery on a fleet of cars has become a recent marketing phenomenon in the UAE, as firms use a wide range of autos as moving billboards. Luckily for employees, many bosses are not purchasing any old banger for the streets and, in some cases, people are finding themselves behind the wheel of some great cars, for free. For Shamim Kassibawi of Active PR, driving the Mini around for the past 18 months has made her quite fond of the nippy hatchback.

"The Mini is a really cool and funky car," she says. "It fits in well with our company image." While driving around in a free car has its benefits, a company car is not always to the taste of the driver. But not so in Kassibawi's case. "I am not fussed that I drive around in company branding because I enjoy it and I also like to represent the company. And the Mini markets it very well," the 23-year-old, who is from New Zealand, says proudly. "And I am not saying this because I am toeing the company line. It is actually a cool car."

The Mini Cooper has been used by many companies, such as Red Bull, because of its youthful style. But, Kassibawi reveals that, for her company, it was picked above the others because of her boss's love for the now German-owned marque. "We have had it a year-and-a-half now. It was our boss's idea to have a car as a marketing tool. He has been absolutely mad with the Mini brand for a long time. "It works well. It is an amazing little car. When you are driving out there, you do get noticed and people are recognising the brand," she adds. "I have noticed, when I go to get the car washed, there are people stopping and writing down the website. It does show that branding works."

However, the Mini is not just for Kassibawi. Begrudgingly, she does have to share it with her colleagues. "Usually, if you have a meeting during the day, you will have it," she says. "I use it quite a lot, once or twice a week. Then I have access to it once every four months for a whole month." When Kassibawi does not have the car, she resorts to taxis to move around Dubai. "Luckily, I live really close to work and the shopping malls, so it is not a strain when I don't have it."

Kassibawi arrived in the UAE two years ago, and before getting behind the wheel of the Mini, she went into the rental market. Although the Mini has grown on her, if she were to buy a car of her own, she would get something a bit bigger for the road. "I would consider getting a 4x4. It suits the UAE more than having a smaller car. I don't know which one in particular though." While the Mini, like most small cars, is excellent for darting around the city, she has found that driving here is a challenge compared with back home.

"I think it is horrible to be quite honest. I am comparing it to New Zealand, where the roads are quieter. Everyone is speeding all the time here and barging you out of the way. Sometimes you have to drive like that to survive. "I think I have become a better driver because of it. I am a lot more aware of what is happening on the road. You are always likely to get cut up." Kassibawi is quite philosophical if the worst is to happen and she says that it would not be a PR disaster if a branded car was in an accident.

"The car is insured of course. An accident is an accident and sometimes it is meant to be," she says. "Luckily I have not been in one. Touch wood." For now Kassibawi is content to continue representing the company in the car and she hopes the fleet will increase in size. "As the company grows, I think there will be more cars to represent the company," she says. "They will all be Minis, of course. * Stephen Nelmes