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PR in the Middle East

When we meet with our PR network and Clients based in Europe or the US and they talk to us about public relations in the Middle East they always refer to Dubai as being representative of the region and tend to think of the entire region as one homogenous unit!

This view is not a true reflection of the business or political scenario neither as far as Dubai is positioned or the Middle East region as a whole. The truth of it is, the Middle East is a varied, fractious, exciting and brilliantly challenging region to operate in and to cover from a public relations perspective.

Managing public relations programmes for the Middle East region at Active is rather like handling all of Europe out of the UK! It’s a challenging, exciting and ever changing experience that we find keeps the team at Active very process driven. We are very conscious of the need to stay in touch with the changes taking place around us in the region and we believe it is key to be organized and focused on maintaining standards even when this is not necessarily called for in some markets around the region.

Some facts and figures that may help to give an insight into the rich diversity of the region and put it into context:

There are over 13 different countries in the Middle East, ranging from a very conservative Saudi Arabia to, what is considered on a Middle East barometer, a liberal Lebanon.

There are four to five different languages used and this is reflected in the media. Arabic, French, Farsi, Berber and English are all used across the region and the titles and media vary from country to country; there are over 500 media titles covering each country and some covering parts of the region, over 200 TV stations national, regional and satellite beamed in from outside, and a population of some 77 million* across 9 of the markets and excluding Iran and Egypt where the combined population adds another 140 million people to the total!

The United Arab Emirates and Dubai specifically is the headquarters of many of the PR Agencies operating in the region and drives the Middle East regional PR activity. In addition many of the regional media covering the Middle East, North Africa and the Levant have their regional HQ’s there.

With the recent economic downturn, clients from outside the region see the Middle East as an important growth area for their EMEA business footprint, and the potential and the scope for organizations already in or planning to launch in the Middle East region is very positive and the outlook on the future is extremely positive.

However, in our experience, clients in Europe and the US rarely see the need to regionalize the messages or make their positioning relevant to the individual markets of the Middle East region, preferring instead to adapt the key messages or dictate these from the centre of operations wherever that may be.

Each country in the region has a very varied set of media and these require different approaches and different emphasis as well as the necessary language skill needed when briefing them! CSR, internal PR programmes and public affairs campaigns vary in effectiveness and relevance in each of these markets and add to these challenges.

Working and developing Clients key messaging and communications in two languages, and ensuring that the actual meaning of the communication is not lost across the varying dialects of Arabic alone is a real challenge, one of the necessary pillars of a PR partner in the region that is adding value to Clients coming to, and operating in the region. When communicating with media in different markets in the Middle East, it is essential to be sensitive to the way they prefer certain messages to be communicated in Arabic as this varies a great deal, in dialect and words used to express the same message. There are also different cultural sensitivities, working hours, approaches and many more elements that we need to be aware of and never overlook when liaising and communicating with media across different markets.

Change is in the wind of course and this is being driven on all fronts – Agencies educating and developing Clients, the media evolving and trying to develop a stronger voice in a region, struggling with its democratic interpretations and clients who are seeing the benefits of broader aspects of the public relations tool set.

At Active we are well aware and experienced in handling such language led challenges and we enjoy finding ways to overcome them & get the necessary message across to the target audience and the media. Nothing is taken for granted, and at Active we uphold a personal approach with media at all times as we believe this is critical in ensuring successful Client PR campaigns in different market across the region. We take pride in the strong relations we have built over time with media in the ME region and see it as a priority at all times.

*Source CIA Worldbook – Updates Estimates of July 2006 combined with Wikipedia References

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