How not to pitch to the media – examples from the Gulf

I wrote recently about pitching to the media, and I thought I’d share two examples of how not to approach journalists which have been shared with me by a couple of editors here in the Gulf.

The first is from a local company in the UAE. Written by a former editor (who should know better), the message ticks off the media for not running the release the day before. Is this really going to get your news published? The short answer is most likely not.

Telling off the media isn't the best approach to getting your news published

Telling off the media isn’t the best approach to getting your news published

The second pitch is more brief, but just as useless, in that it doesn’t tell the journalist anything. Instead, it almost shouts we’re here so publish something. For a pitch about a fashion collection, so much more could have been done particularly around visuals, to get the news published.

Yes, this is the pitch.

Yes, this is the pitch.

Pitching to journalists isn’t the easiest of things to do – they’re a difficult bunch at the best of times (and I’m including myself in that description as well). However, a well-crafted pitch explaining the news and why it’s beneficial to the journalist’s readers will go a long way to help you achieving your goal of publishing your news.

And to show that journalists also get it wrong, have a look at this piece highlighted by The Media Network.

The Daily Telegraph, published in Sydney by News Corp Australia, has made an embarrassing editorial blunder, by running a headline stating that Australian bombing raids killed dozens of terrorists in the UAE, according to the newspaper’s online platform.

While the story referred to bombings in Iraq – in which Australia’s super hornets conducted a total of 43 flights over the country since becoming operational almost two weeks ago – the prominent headline told a different story.

The headline has since been amended to citing the Middle East instead of the UAE, though the original URL remains.

First there was #MyDubai, and now we have #InAbuDhabi – Promoting a city on social media

Will #InAbuDhabi do for the capital what #MyDubai has done for Dubai’s social media presence?

There’s a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then #MyDubai, the social media campaign which was launched to give the city’s residents a way to tell their own story, now has another honor to its name in addition to the one million Instagram uploads.

Abu Dhabi has followed in the footsteps of #MyDubai and launched its own hashtag to share experiences. To quote from the Khaleej Times:

Residents and visitors to the Capital have a new platform to share their experiences and events: #inAbuDhabi.

Announced on Sunday by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA), the new online service is meant to promote the emirate’s culture, entertainment, heritage and hospitality both at home and abroad.

“The #inAbuDhabi campaign will be wide-reaching and rolled out across all communication channels of our visitabudhabi online resource. It will be used across social media for maximum reach and impact and will be a tool to tell the destination story locally, regionally and internationally,” said Mouza Al Shamsi, acting executive director of Marketing and Communications at TCA.

So far, so good. However, despite launching the campaign on October 20th it’s probably fair to say that the #inAbuDhabi hashtag is yet to trend among social media users. Most of the usage has been by corporate accounts related to tourism such as @VisitAbuDhabi, @AbuDhabiEvents and @EtihadAirways.

The hashtag #InAbuDhabi had a strong start but has tailed off rapidly since its launch

The hashtag #InAbuDhabi had a strong start but has tailed off rapidly since its launch

Will #InAbuDhabi become another #MyDubai? Does it have the emotional resonance with residents of the capital? Or should Abu Dhabi’s Tourism and Culture Authority not imitated Dubai and done something completely different? What do you think?

Should executives say sorry? Just Falafel’s ‘we forgot about the food’

Do you agree or disagree with what  Mohamad Bitar did, and why?

Do you agree or disagree with what Mohamad Bitar did, and why?

Should we admit when things don’t go the way we planned? It’s a tough one. Few corporates hold up their hands when plans go awry (unless there’s a crisis of biblical proportions). US-based corporates such as Walmart are now taking on media outlets to argue their point (this post from Walmart is a remarkable example of fighting back).

Even fewer company bosses in the Gulf go off track and talk from the heart. However, as with everything there are exceptions. Just Falafel is often touted as a home-grown success story, a tale of how a local brand has become global. Founded in 2007 in Abu Dhabi, the falafel-focused outlet has approximately 52 stores in 18 countries according to its website.

However, the chain isn’t to everyone’s tastes. A news story on the English-language website Arabian Business which announced the reasons for the departure of the chain’s former CEO Fadi Malas was used as a comment board by readers to explain their reasons for not liking the brand’s falafel.

Fair enough you may say. But what followed was either inspirational or horrifying depending on which side of the open/control communications fence you’re on. The Just Falafel founder and MD, Mohamad Bitar, took to the site’s comments section to explain how the company had “forgot about the food”.

The comment as written by just Falafel's Bitar on ArabianBusiness.com

The comment as written by just Falafel’s Bitar on ArabianBusiness.com

The hacks at Arabian Business then took Bitar’s comments and span out a new story, to which readers took to explain what they believe went wrong and how Just Falafel can put it right.

For some consumers, an admission of error can be a powerful tool to reassess and re-engage with a brand. For others, it’s all about projecting an image that others can believe in, and not deviating from that message. Is Mohamad Bitar’s message a moment of genius (if we were in America, I’m sure we’d be calling his move crowd innovation), or does it signal a need for someone to crack the whip at the brand and get everyone on message?

Your thoughts?

#Hajjselfie, Whatsapp and smartphones – how is technology changing Islam and Muslims?

We’re a funny bunch in how we can change so quickly and then justify how we’ve changed 180 degrees. I remember how up until ten years back, camera phones were banned in Saudi Arabia. And today, the hot topics are #Hajjselfie and how modern technology is making its mark on Saudi society.

The beginning of October was the timing for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. During Hajj Muslims are to abstain from all temptations which may lead to sin; in essence, the pilgrimage is a time for renewal for the two million plus Muslims who take the rite of passage annually.

This year, one of the major stories which broke at Hajj was the #hajjselfie. You’ll probably know of the selfie, a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone and then shared online via social networking services. This year, the selfie was introduced en-mass to Hajj. To quote from Saudi Gazette and AFP.

Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father near the Grand Mosque in Makkah as they grin for a selfie — a craze that has hit this year’s Haj. But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping “selfie”, photographs taken of one’s self, as they carry out Haj rights.

From Tawaf — circumambulating the Holy Kaaba — to prayers atop Mount Mercy in Arafat, and stoning of the “devil” in Mina, the key stages of Haj have all been recorded on cameras and smartphones for posterity, and for instant sharing through social media.

“As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me,” Ali, 24, told AFP, snapping a picture of himself with a green sign reading “Big Jamarah”, which refers to a wall where pilgrims ritually stone the Satan.

“Wherever I go, I take pictures, especially since nowadays we have these little cameras… that offer a full view of the area,” the bearded Kuwaiti said with a smile.

The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among conservatives, however, with some taking to Twitter to criticize pilgrims who take selfies.

“When we went for Umrah in the mid-90s, Dad nearly had his camera confiscated to shouts of ‘haram!’ Now, #HajjSelfie is A Thing. What a world,” wrote one Tweeter.

Another user named Kahwaaa wrote: “It’s a time to connect to Allah and purify my soul. #hajjselfies selfies shouldn’t be taken.”

But others said the issue was being blown out of proportion.

“People creating a huge issue about #hajjselfies. If photos are allowed during Haj then what is wrong with selfies?,” asked Abdul Mufeez Shaheed.

Nothing at all, says Ali’s father Mohammed Ali, 65.

“A person taking such pictures is documenting a rare event”, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many Muslims, he said, wearing a traditional white robe.

“This is a symbolic place representing history,” Mohammed Ali added, pointing to the three sites which pilgrims began stoning on Saturday at the start of the Eid Al-Adha feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

Two women covered in traditional black abayas and veils hurried toward the Big Jamarah wall, but not without stopping for a quick self-portrait along the way.

“My daughter and I are taking selfies to show our Haj pictures to our family in Paris. It’s also a nice memento,” said one of the women, a Saudi pilgrim from Jeddah who gave her name only as Umm Abdallah, 44.

Her daughter Wafaa Ahmed, 19, said: “I love taking many selfies wherever I go to keep them for myself, as well as to show them to my friends and brothers.”

Speaking to AFP by telephone, a professor of Islamic Shariah law Riyadh said that “if photographs are only for personal memory and not for disseminating, then no problem.

“But if they were for the purpose of showing off, then they are prohibited, such as the photography that takes place at the (Haj) rites.”

The scholar requested anonymity.

“It is better for Muslims to avoid them,” he said of selfies.

For the teenage pilgrim Wafaa Ahmed, “this is not a convincing view” because taking selfies “has nothing to do with religion”.

The elderly pilgrim Mohammed Ali also discounts the scholar’s opinion.

He says the camera “is a tool such as mobiles, used even by religious scholars who have not prohibited them, so why prohibit another tool of the modern era?”

As he speaks, a group of young Saudi men gather for a group selfie in front of a Jamarah wall before they stone the “devil”.

Analytics of #Hajjselfie by Topsy. The trend peaked on October the 4th.

Analytics of #Hajjselfie by Topsy. The trend peaked on October the 4th.

The #hajjselfie wasn’t the only social media story coming out of Saudi Arabia this month. A recent piece in Saudi Gazette bemoaned the erosion of traditions surrounding the vacation among Saudi nationals.

“Take for instance the recent Haj holidays where it was common practice to visit relatives but several people did not do so,” said Omar Yousif Tobbal, a senior projects manager in a government firm.

He said that these occasions allow families to spend time together but people are increasingly resorting to calling or texting their relatives to extend their greetings instead of actually visiting them.

“If it hadn’t been for modern technology, families would meet, dress up and generally enjoy themselves,” he said, adding that before the advent of technology, Saudis had more time for each other and talked for hours on common themes of interest. However, there are some who still observe the occasion in accordance with tradition, he noted.

It’s not all for the worse however. One positive which came out of the combination of social media and Hajj this year was the appreciation show to the security teams who were working to ensure the safety of the two million pilgrims through the use of the hashtag #thanks_security_men. This time from Arab News.

Photos and videos of security officers from various military sectors assisting and providing services to pilgrims during the Haj season have been trending across social networking sites, such as Twitter. A number of religious leaders and media personnel have devoted their pages to discussing the positive role of security authorities in Saudi Arabia in the success of this year’s Haj season.

Active users on social networking sites produced various hashtags, notably #thanks_security_men, to express their gratitude and appreciation for their humanitarian efforts and positive representation of Saudi Arabia.

What are your thoughts on the above? Do you think #Hajjselfie is halal or haraam? Let me know your thoughts, especially if you were on Hajj. And have a look over the #hajjselfie images below from BuzzFeed, from what is one of the most amazing spectacles on earth.

Thinking of drinking and driving? @TimHortonsGCC criticized by Dubai Police for social media blunder

There’s a fine line between engaging and offending online. The popular Canadian coffee shop chain Tim Hortons got into trouble this week with a post which went on on its @TimHortonsGCC Twitter account and its Facebook page.

The post below went online on the 14th of this month. Almost immediately after posting, the picture was attacked by the brand’s followers as being inappropriate and encouraging dangerous driving.

Do you drink and drive? The image from Tim Hortons GCC was criticized both by fans and by the Dubai Police (image source: http://www.7daysindubai.com_

Even worse for the brand, drinking and eating whilst driving is deemed as an offense by Dubai Police. The social media team’s image was in contravention of the Emirate’s laws. You pretty much know you’ve boo-booed when the police tell you off.

Speaking to local English-language newspaper 7Days, Dubai Police’s Colonel Saif Muhair Al Mazroui explained following such advice could risk lives on the roads.

He said: “Any motorist who doesn’t pay attention to the road is endangering the lives of others. Eating or drinking inside the car while driving is prohibited as it might cause accidents when the motorist gets busy and doesn’t focus on the road.”

Tim Hortons GCC did pull down the advert after it was posted and the CEO issued an apology shortly afterwards. Santhosh Unni explained that the image “was meant to reflect a common consumer behaviour pattern. We do not promote reckless driving and request our customers to always be careful on the road.”

However, brands need to think twice particularly when the issue of safety is involved. The Tim Hortons GCC Twitter feed and Facebook pages haven’t been active since the posting, which may suggest the brand is having a second look at how it manages its social media. The next time you think of drinking and driving, remember Tim Hortons GCC.

Are Snapchat users in the Gulf abandoning the picture app after latest hack?

Are Snapchat users in Bahrain, and the rest of the GUlf, leaving the service after the latest hack to affect the service? (image source: http://www.adweek.com)

Bahrain’s Al-Bilad newspaper printed an interesting piece today following the latest hack on the popular photo-messaging application Snapchat. The app is best known for allowing users to share videos and images which disappear 10 seconds after being received. Explicit images sent via Snapchat have reportedly been leaked from a third-party app in an event being dubbed the “Snappening”. Hackers are threatening to post online a large collection of photos, including nude images, sent by 200,000 Snapchat users (it is possible to save the pictures by taking a screen grab before the images are deleted).

The piece in Al-Bilad claims that dozens of Bahrainis are leaving Snapchat following the hack. There’s little to back up this assertion and no information on how many users the app has in Bahrain or in the Gulf. However, it’s entirely plausible that this is the case. Snapchat is best known for the sharing of images of a personal nature. If these hacked images are leaked, and there’s 13GB of photos that hackers are threatening to share online on the chat forum 4chan, then Snapchat users in the Gulf could be affected. For a region that is known for its conservatism and for the concept of honor, particularly among its women, any public distribution of personal images would be disastrous for women in the Gulf.

You can read the piece here (which is in Arabic), as well as comments by Ali Sabkar, the President of the Social Media Club Bahrain, on how to avoid being the victim of such hacks in future, especially for people who use closed social networks. Few Gulf brands use Snapchat (one exception is Dubai Media Inc), but the app is huge in the US. The application’s designers claimed in June that over one billion images were being shared every day via Snapchat.