About Natalie Shardan, Managing Director of Serviceplan Middle East

Natalie Shardan, managing director at Serviceplan Middle East, began her career with her BA in graphic design. Natalie’s first steps towards her career in the creative industries began with an interview at BBDO Dubai 18 years ago and the rest – as they say – is history. 

Throughout her career, Natalie has worked on a diverse portfolio of clients for all manner of brands, including car companies BMW and MINI as well as the Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism and Culture, Emirates Airline, PepsiCo, J&J, Unilever, Columbia Sportswear, and more. With experience spanning across BBDO, VMLY&R, JWT (now Wunderman Thompson), MullenLowe MENA and Nomads, she joined Serviceplan in 2018 and has been working to lead the operation here in the Middle East ever since.


Ambition is what drives both the ad industry in the region and the Middle East itself: one-quarter of the population is between the age of 15-29, so you can imagine the amount of energy and resilience this region has. 

Governments realise the potential of these young minds and encourage them in every possible way – especially here in the UAE. The UAE government has appointed one of the youngest ministers in the world at the age of 22. It has launched several initiatives to enhance youth national identity and belonging. There’s even a ‘Ministry of Possibilities’ which is a virtual ministry to apply design thinking and experimentation to develop proactive and disruptive solutions, bringing together federal and local government teams and the private sector. The UAE champions the motto ‘impossible is possible,’ which says a lot about the hunger and drive this country has – something I deeply respect and am proud to be a part of. 

With strong government initiatives setting the standard for ambition, brands in the Middle East are trying to be especially forward-thinking to keep up. International and local brands are doing their best to be locally relevant yet globally valid. And I don’t just mean what we do with our clients and the brands we work with, but with all brands and their marketing teams across the region.


The industry here is largely respectful, conscientious, and ethical. Diversity is a key differentiator in Dubai – across all industries including advertising. You’re respected and heard no matter what your background is. Successful people in the industry are focused and work hard and eventually, it pays off. I started as a junior 18 years ago and now I’m an MD of an agency. Many friends and colleagues are on the same path and have gotten to senior positions in advertising. 

Adding to that, the respect for women in the Dubai ad industry is clearly visible and laudable. More and more women are assuming key positions, which makes representation truly evident in the resulting work. Today, for example, some of our most creative writers in automotive advertising are women, and two of our management board at the House of Communication in the Middle East are women.


Use trends to the biggest possible benefit for brand and communication strategies, without losing sight of human empathy and intelligence. Only then will these trends make the work exciting, inspiring and different.

Let’s take AI as an example: it’s amazing how much it’s developed in a very short period of time. I remember only 1.5 years ago we were trying to understand how NFTs worked. At its very beginning, we even dropped an award-winning campaign with BMW Middle East: https://thebrandberries.com/2022/02/08/bmw-museum-of-sound-nft-a-campaign-by-serviceplan-middle-east/

Now the NFT trend is almost history. 

Of course, platforms like Midjourney and ChatGPT will change the creative landscape. But it’s important to always remember that we are real humans marketing products to other real humans. AI might facilitate the way we do things, but it will never replace human empathy and intelligence. Technology will continue to evolve, but the essence of what we do as an industry should always revolve around human empathy and doing authentic work that is rooted in real insights and challenges.