As an Egyptian PR professional employed in the UAE, I have always been intrigued by the PR industry in my home country. I have never actually worked in Egypt, but being an avid reader of Egyptian media and having been on a recent trip back there, I am struck by the distinct difference between communication and messaging pre- and post- the 2011 revolution.
Being the most populous Arab country, Egypt has by far the largest number of publications in the region and these cross all fields, from politics and the economy to niche sub-culture art and music guides. Numerous new publications appeared in Egypt shortly after the January 25th revolution of four years ago, redefining the country’s media landscape. Most of these had a focus on the country’s political scene, its social development and nation-wide socio-political reform.
The most visible effect in the media following the revolution was a new-found freedom of expression, which has resulted in something of an upheaval in the industry. Suddenly and after almost 30 years of media suppression, the ability to express views freely has become the norm. Print media especially seems to have taken this to heart, with publications now keen to seize the opportunity to talk about subjects that were previously taboo.
This brave new world had a significant impact on PR agencies operating in the country. Almost overnight they had to come to terms not only with exaggerated media databases and communication channels, but also with a paradigm shift in news and what audiences wanted to hear about. Journalists’ ethics and working practices also began to change, with reporters becoming more fastidious and selective about which news to cover and which not. Adding to the PR professional’s increasing challenges was a new sense of importance being attached to the nascent political media, which flourished. Allied to this was a concomitant decrease in luxury lifestyle magazines, which came to be regarded as frivolous and trivial in the new climate. Titles such as London Runway and Chloé suffered as a result and have since shutdown. Capping these issues off is the perennial problem of the sheer size of Egypt and the competition between publications for share of voice.
Despite this change in the industry’s landscape, a large proportion of the media in Egypt remains consumer driven, even though individual as well as corporate purchasing powers have decreased. The country acts as a substantial market for communication around FMCGs in particular. This new reality has manifested itself with increased advertisements and public relations related to food items and retail, with decreased communications around finance; namely insurance, credit cards and banking products and services. In terms of messaging and orientation, the majority of communication is targeted towards the youth, as they are the driving force behind consumption and indirectly influence purchasing power.
The most recent assessment, now that the situation in the country has stabilised, is that Egypt’s media and mass communications scene is more active than ever. Online media has especially thrived, with Egypt constituting about a quarter of all Facebook users in the region, according to a recent Arab Social Media report. As a final note, perhaps the most important thing to mention is the burgeoning citizen-based journalism scene, the very thing that laid the seeds for the revolution in the first place!