In my 13 years of PR experience, the Middle East PR industry has evolved to grow from a handful of fully-fledged agencies a decade and a half ago, to an extensive array of agencies of all shapes, sizes and specialties which offer services and advice comprising of a variety of hues. Fifteen years ago the media landscape in the region didn’t really have any true communication agencies. However the state of play has since undergone a thorough transformation.
The range of specialist communication services on offer today is staggering, with a diverse range of options and approaches available, including Public Relations, marketing communications, social media, experiential marketing and many other innovative communication techniques. This exponential growth is primarily due to an increase in awareness amongst stakeholders of the essential role communication now has for organisations.
When we take stock and consider the point which we have reached today, with advanced communication services that are now either very close to or achieving parity with their global counterparts in advanced global economies, it is quite staggering. Development also continues at breakneck pace month-by-month.
For the industry as a whole, pioneering new waves of innovation within Marketing and PR disciplines would invariably start in the west and take time to arrive in the Middle East. However now our region has moved closer to the epicentre, and is now catching up with pioneering and emergent trends more quickly than ever before.
A new place at the top table
Previously, Public Relations was considered to be a discipline of secondary and unfavourable importance, which was far and away behind its counterpart advertising – which was bold and strident discipline that would greatly draw attention to brands and messaging. PR has now developed to become the bridge, rather than its previous role as previously the sidekick. It now bridges branding, visibility and exposure and relates these to the individual, providing clarity to them with about the message they are seeing.
With the arrival of 24 hour news cycles and the ability to hold minute by minute media updates in the palm of our hands, ineffective PR planning and poor crisis management increasingly impacted on companies’ bottom lines. Through these lessons organisations have realised the importance of not only increasing their visibility and exposure, but also influencing people’s perception. Businesses – whether they are airlines, banks, FMCG, you name it – now realise the importance of effective communication.
Advertising continues to be an important medium, with an effective campaign able to achieve brand exposure and raise awareness of a number of key messages for a number of demographics. It tends to achieve all of this through an asymmetrical model comprising of a one-way information flow. In comparison PR, by its very nature, strives for two-way communication with stakeholders. It delves deeper and helps people learn more about the product, influencing their perception and helping them to understand a broad range of dimensions. The communication discipline has long been important for organisations, however with the advent of social media, a medium which the vast majority of us are now familiar with, organisations are now engaging closer with the public than ever before, who offer immediate and instantaneous feedback to the messages that they see.
This widespread popularity of social media, used by the majority of people who are able to gain access to technology in both developed and developing societies around the globe, has increased the importance of Public Relations, which social media strategies rely upon for setting of its platform, messages and content. Furthermore the public now has widespread familiarity with social media, which has revealed its importance to organisations and verified the importance of PR to them. In turn, this has also made the public more cynical about its methods, particularly as trust levels of organisations widely deplete around the world.
When things start getting real for organisations, Public Relations demonstrates effective results. Modern communication can uncover consumer behaviours along with the reasons for their occurrence. Furthermore as life has become busy, attention spans have become increasingly short and in response to this, organisations have a need for effective, targeted and brief messages – this is where PR can play a major role.
At the forefront of change in the media industry is an important and drastic transformation in communication – the development of storytelling and content journalism. These two disciplines have proven to be highly effective in producing messages which relate to the consumer and are key drivers behind PR’s evolution into an important and effective tool.
The evolution of GCC’s communication industry
The Middle Eastern PR industry has evolved to its current state in a number of ways. On a practical level, we have now moved beyond simply faxing press releases and sending CDs holding information – during a time when the nature of communication was a lot more linear, focused primarily on the company’s services and activities. PR strategies of this era would, at their worst, comprise of an unsophisticated shovelling of information towards the media, with the aim of disseminating as much information as possible.
Since what now seems lightyears ago, there has been a complete transformation in technology, which requires that companies now show their relevance and how they relate to consumers. Audiences are now picky, savvier and have an abundance of choice available to them that extends across the globe, with a variety of qualities and price points available to them. They want to know why you? Why a not b?
In response, the PR industry has now reached a whole new level of development, which requires a carefully crafted strategy for each and every client that is tailored towards its consumers. To ensure that key strategy objectives are achieved effectively the essential starting point is research, to ensure that any approach is supported by statistics, facts and knowledge.
The new core elements of communication campaigns
The core elements now needed to achieve communication objectives are research, auditing, strategy and tactics. Extensive research must now be undertaken to discover the best way to tailor communication to each and every audience. Dependent on what research reveals about your audience this could include strategies outside of press releases – if data shows that communication through newspapers is not effective for them, it may, for example, be better to reach them on the street using a brand outreach approach.
Whatever the best way to approach your audience may be the important factor here is that each and every communication plan should be distinct and tailored appropriately for the client. Deliverables should not just be taken off the shelf and any modern PR plan that takes such approach would be unsustainable and ineffective, especially because customers are now extremely savvy and able to read between the lines.
We are no longer just PR’s, we have moved towards becoming communication professionals, communication consultants and communication advisors.
Towards a brave new world
Clients and audiences have become extremely spoiled and it is now tremendously difficult for brands to make themselves heard above the cacophony of advertising, PR and marketing noise.
With this in mind, it has become important to provide the individual with experience of the product or service in advance. For example there should be an experiential aspect for getaways and spa treatments, with customers living out the experience.
This approach represents a next level for communication, with brands touching customer’s senses to trigger a desired response. It is no longer enough to simply have a booth, feature or poster – customers should interact with the product or the experience.
This latest development in the communication industry represents just one path available to the modern communication professional. Fundamentally, any approach or offer should be tailored to its audience, with carefully considered research undertaken to discover which element will resonate best. The modern Middle Eastern PR industry is now backed up by science, analytics, research and development, achieving an advanced state of affairs offering tangible results for clients, through methods and techniques that can hold their best anywhere around the globe.