The public relations industry in the MENA region has reached a level of maturity that matches the global practice but must prepare to operate with greater innovation, concluded communications experts at a roundtable recently organized in Dubai on the state of the regional communications industry.
Communications experts and senior executives from leading Middle Eastern companies including Etisalat, Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) and Gulf Craft convened at the roundtable entitled ‘Transformation: The Communications Industry in the MENA Region Today’, jointly organized by TRACCS, the largest home-grown public relations network in the region, and The Holmes Report, a global authority on the PR industry.
The in-depth discussion was moderated by Paul Holmes, Founder of the Holmes Group, with the participation of Dr. Ahmed Bin Ali, Senior Vice President Corporate Communications and Official Spokesperson of Etisalat Group; Bassem Terkawi, Senior Director of Strategic Communications at TDIC; Erwin Bamps, Chief Operating Officer at Gulf Craft; and Mohamed Al Ayed, President and Chief Executive Officer at TRACCS. The roundtable focused on key issues affecting the growth and sustainability of the public relations industry in the MENA region’s rapidly evolving business and cultural environment.
One positive development highlighted was the universal acceptance that in-house PR departments and agencies no longer needed to prove their value to senior management, and that the function of PR was widely understood and increasingly taken seriously. Etisalat’s Dr. Ahmed Bin Ali emphasized that PR is “no longer an accessory to a business, it is a necessity that is paramount to creating the identity and vision of the organization.” According to TRACCS’s Mohamed Al Ayed there are five critical phases in the transformation of any industry: realization, understanding, growth, maturity and innovation. He added that the PR industry in the MENA region has now reached maturity and provides a clear value proposition within the communications mix.
There was widespread agreement that more effective metrics to assess performance outcomes and impact were needed notwithstanding a weak will in the industry to introduce effective reporting parameters.
All participants agreed that social media has resulted in a fundamental change to the entire communications landscape in terms of speed, approach and results. Erwin Bamps highlighted the issue of brand ownership in the age of social media, stating that at no time has it been more starkly evident that ‘a company does not own a brand, a brand exists in the public domain’. Mohamed Al Ayed said that in today’s changing communications landscape, PR professionals have three choices – ‘adapt, migrate or become obsolete’. Paul Holmes added that today a PR practitioner is ‘expected to do everything’ and that is changing the core nature of the business and the skills required to succeed in it.
With regards to the question of how being geographically headquartered in the Middle East affects a company’s global messaging and perception, Bassem Terkawi said that for a company like TDIC being tasked with developing internationally-recognized museums such as the Louvre and Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s position on a global stage has definitely helped accelerate communications but it has also put all efforts under intense global scrutiny. All the participants agreed that internationally there was a significant distinction between being a “Middle East” brand and a ‘UAE brand’ and that an association with the UAE came with the expectation of surprising and over-delivering on all promises made.
“The ‘Transformation’ expert roundtable is one of several key initiatives undertaken by TRACCS to develop the communications industry in the MENA region, and the first of its kind to be organized in the UAE following PR Forums organized by TRACCS in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Lebanon,” said Mohamed Al Ayed, TRACCS President and Chief Executive Officer. “Over the past 16 years we have been committed to building local talent in each of the 13 markets in which we operate. Today, the TRACCS team consists of more than 200 dedicated PR professionals with an 85% Arab workforce. Training and equipping Arab PR professionals with the tools they need to function in a globally-competitive industry is one of our primary focus areas and also one of our biggest competitive advantages in a rapidly maturing industry,” he added.
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