Turning the pandemic into potential
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Turning the pandemic into potential

To many, 2020 dealt a career blow as COVID-19 took a devastating toll on employment and pay. For some, however, the pandemic proved an opportunity to switch careers and pursue a long-held passion.

DUBAI | Jennifer Bell

With 30 years of experience in managing events and providing professional entertainment in the UAE, Phil Richardson was a familiar face on Dubai’s quiz scene. The lockdowns were an instant blow to his company, Richardson Events.

“Our entertainment stopped pretty much overnight in early April. We have an advertising arm, and all advertising stopped, too,” Richardson says.

He was forced to find a way to keep his company busy. Having done a stint as an on-air presenter on now-defunct Fujairah station Rock Radio UAE, he felt there was room for a dedicated rock music radio programme.

“We thought about it, and I said, ‘Right, we are not doing anything else. I have thought about it for eight years, no one else is doing it - we are starting a radio station’.”


Thus, RAK Rock Radio was born, with Richardson selecting a cloud platform from French-based provider Radio King. The team made its first daily broadcast in May, with a morning, lunch and afternoon show.

“On Radio King, we began with being ranked 2,458 out of 2,500 radio stations. Now we have a ranking of 87. I want to be in the top ten,” Richardson shares.

RAK Rock Radio features classic hits from Meatloaf, Scorpions, Queen, and The Who, as well as the best of country and blues music. Richardson also gives airtime to up-and-coming unsigned artists looking to promote their music following the cancellation of live gigs.

Even though event bookings and advertising are slowly returning, Richardson wants to press ahead with the radio station.

"I have ideas where I would like it to go. It is crying out to be an FM station, and I am sure it would be a success. It takes a lot of investment so, ideally, we would love an investor to come in and take us to the next level. “

Richardson points out it was risky to start a new project during a pandemic and a recession, but he urges others to follow their passion.

“There is no point sitting at home and worrying and fretting. If you are stuck at home, start something, learn something, follow a long-held dream.”


Natasha Hatherall, founder and CEO of TishTash Marketing and PR in the UAE, saw her company lose 70% of its clients almost overnight because of the pandemic. Having survived the "emotional rollercoaster” of the initial lockdown weeks, she decided to expand her work options and do something to help the SME community.

“One day, a slightly crazy, out-there idea came to me. In two weeks, we created a whole new concept, developed a brand, built a website and launched The SME Rise Collective. The platform offers individuals and companies in the community the chance to come together and buy packages from local marketing and communications agencies that will be used to sponsor and support other local SMEs, in a ‘pay it forward’ kind of way.”

The five-month-old initiative has so far provided 152 SMEs with marketing and PR support for three months to get them back on their feet.

"Looking back now, honestly, it probably was the best thing we could have done for our business in this time,” Hatherall shares. “We have received a lot of publicity, which has helped both the company and my profile. We have won business as a result, including some big global companies asking us to do their PR and only wanting us after what they saw us do and achieve.”

“I do feel that COVID has helped me to get to where I was meant to be career-wise and personally, and I hope in a year or so, I can look back and be strangely thankful."


Dubai residents Lisa Lazarus and Hannah Bradley also started their new business during the pandemic. Their venture, Hi Maintenance, is an online women’s fashion boutique.

“We consider ourselves lucky that we had been working on Hi Maintenance for two years and were finally ready to launch in June,” the founders say. "We went ahead and launched during the pandemic because we knew that many people are working from home and not going out as often.”

"With the many restrictions on normal day-to-day life and travel, we were able to invest even more time and focus on Hi Maintenance. We tailored our launch and our marketing strategy to be sensitive to the global pandemic and to ensure we are in а prime position to offer the best service to our customers.”