Charting the future of public relations
Are Middle East PR Firms Ready To Expand Beyond Dubai?
Alex Malouf
Holmes Report

Are Middle East PR Firms Ready To Expand Beyond Dubai?

The key to understanding and engaging with key stakeholders is through an in-country approach.

Alex Malouf

Are Middle East PR Firms Ready To Expand Beyond Dubai?

Dubai has long been the hub for a region that is rapidly establishing itself as a public relations hotspot. The Middle East is an exciting place to be for young, energetic and ambitious communications professionals looking to make their mark. And Dubai has positioned itself as the center of the region’s communications industry. The Emirate offers much in the way of support – an ostensibly tax-free environment, foreign ownership and a lifestyle that would appeal to many who are looking to stretch their legs, leave the Americas, Europe or Asia and work in a new, maturing environment.

The growth of agencies in Dubai are a testament to its position as the place to be for a communications professional – there are hundreds of organizations in the city which offer public relations services. But the industry in Dubai doesn’t just position itself as a service provider for the country. No, Dubai’s PR scene serves the Gulf market.

Some agencies go so far to as to provide services in countries as far away as Morocco, a country that is almost 9,000 kilometers away on the Atlantic coast. Armed with an email spreadsheet, social media handles for key journalists or specialized software, it’s easier than ever to reach out remotely to get a presser published in a foreign publication.

We’re fortunate that there are agencies which aren’t taking the hub approach to communicating across the Middle East region. Instead, they realize that the key to understanding and engaging with key stakeholders is through an in-country approach, which is based on hiring and developing local talent.

The heads of these agencies appreciate the differences in culture, in language (while it may be the official language across the region, spoken Arabic is even less uniform than English), in beliefs and in societal structures. The more local these agencies become, the more sophisticated the approach they are able to take and the more impactful the results for clients.

An insight that can often be lost on or forgotten by many in Dubai, and not just those working in public relations, is that the Middle East is one of the most diverse places on Earth. Even within countries, differences are discernible; Saudi’s west coast city Jeddah has a culture and diversity that is far removed from Saudi’s capital Riyadh.

Social media and digital media have exacerbated these differences. Governmental systems and business customs also vary – for example, Jordan’s concept of government and elected parliament lends itself to a specific form of public affairs which could not be replicated in neighboring Saudi Arabia and its consultative council.

I’d judge that very few experienced agency practitioners would argue for a hub approach to public relations in a market such as the United States. The days of working for San Francisco from the office in New York are long gone. And yet, I am yet to see many Dubai-based agencies dipping their toes in-country and developing local networks.

Sure, there are challenges. Local ownership, government bureaucracy, the difficulty in finding local talent are just some of the obstacles to be overcome for those looking to open operations in most of the region’s countries. But for those that do and dare, the rewards far outweigh the consequences of standing still. It’s time that we as an industry go forth and head in-country across the Middle East.

Alex MaloufAlex Malouf is vice-chair of the Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA).
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