The Best and Worst of Media in the UAE

The UAE’s media community has come together to support long-time radio and television host Jeff Price who needs surgery to help alleviate a rare brain condition.

There are days when you see the best in people, and there are days when you feel the opposite. The pas couple of weeks have shown the UAE’s media industry in both lights.

First, at the end of June, there came the news that the UAE’s Radio 1 and Radio 2 stations would close indefinitely. The decision to pull the plug was effectively made by Abu Dhabi Media which withdrew the frequency licences from Gulf News Broadcasting. I did occasionally listen to the channels, and I’ll miss them (I’m probably one of the few people in the industry which values radio’s reach and impact, especially considering how long people spend in their cars in the UAE).

The worst part of the story is the layoff of the production team and talent who worked on the two stations. Between 25 and 30 people have been let go. The below statement was the only public comment that I know of which made on the closures.

“Gulf News Broadcasting LLC is today announcing that with immediate effect it will no longer be managing the Radio One & Radio Two stations.

“This is as a result of unforeseen circumstances, which are beyond the control of Gulf News Broadcasting LLC.

“Gulf News Broadcasting LLC would like to thank all its employees, advertising partners and supporters for their contribution, effort and commitment for the successful management of Radio One & Radio Two stations over the last 10 years.

“No further comment will be made.”

And now for the better side of the media industry. Some of you may know Jeff Price. For those of you who don’t, I’ll quote the words from his own Go Get Funding site.

Jeff has been in the UAE for over 22 years and during that time has hosted numerous radio and TV shows, he helped launch City 7 TV, Radio 1 and 2 and was the voice of family entertainment for many of Dubai’s premium events Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, Legends Rock Dubai Tennis, Dubai Duty Free Tennis and many more. He has lived a high profile life, achieving a huge amount.

What most people don’t know is the incredible amount he’s also done behind the scenes. Jeff has tirelessly championed just causes from repatriating Filipino workers who’ve become too ill to work and can’t get home to raising funds for charities helping construction workers families and those coping with crippling disabilities.Being the Jeff we know and love, he doesn’t mention these projects, causes and achievements, because that is his way.

Yes, he’s worked with everybody from Richard Branson to Chuck Berry, James Brown, and the Black Eyed Peas, and been instrumental in launching the careers of many of our favourite household names, but his passion has always been to help and fight for those unable to help themselves.

Now Jeff needs your help. Urgently.

Earlier this year after searing headaches, Jeff was diagnosed with a rare brain condition that leaks fluid into his skull. Whilst he does have medical insurance, this was not able to cover 2 life-saving operations. Jeff, along with our family, friends and generous colleagues got him through the first two surgeries, but now the money has run out. Jeff needs to raise more than 300,000 AED to have a valve fitted a third time to reduce the pressure on his brain and for further medical treatment required in this complex diagnosis.This is time sensitive as daily his sight is failing and the short–term memory and speech areas of his brain are being damaged.

It’s time to give back to Jeff.

He’s brought joy to countless millions over the years and been a true credit to the UAE expatriate dream, working hard, mentoring others and giving without hesitation to those less fortunate. All while bringing up the two children he adores – 13 year old Maddy and 3 year old CJ, who so many of you also know and love.

We are now asking for Jeff’s vast international family of friends to contribute if they possibly can. Jeff has never shied away from seeking help for those in need, but at a time when he needs that help himself, he feels unable to ask you himself, so we have to do it for him.

We are setting up a fully audited and transparent online contribution blog so that you can pay cash directly and contact others who can help too.

We all know from Jeff being a part of our lives, with his warmth, humour and compassion, that Jeff would help you in a heartbeat.

It’s his time now.

Please give what you can to help us get him the treatment he desperately needs as soon as possible.

Members of our community have helped Jeff reach half his target of 65 thousand pounds. Let’s show how good we are, by donating to Jeff during his hour of need. You can donate at his Go Get Funding page here.

Pokemon Go and the Middle East – Advertiser, Brand and Consumer Reactions to the Global Craze

I wanted to write on something fairly light and fun today in light of recent events in the Middle East and in Europe. So, today I wanted to shine a light on Pokemon Go, the augmented reality mobile app that has become a global sensation (and if you’re asking what is Pokemon Go, where have you been for the past two weeks?). While Pokemon Go hasn’t been introduced into the Middle East officially, people are already playing the game here. And advertisers and brands are also reacting to and using the sensation to market their products.

Probably first out of the blocks were, unsurprisingly to me, the Saudis. Two of the Kingdom’s telcos put out adverts promoting the craze, which isn’t surprising considering that you need a mobile and a data connection to play the game.

Saudi telco Zain became the first household brand to use Pokemon Go when it ran this advert across its social media channels early this week.

Saudi telco Zain became the first household brand to use Pokemon Go when it ran this advert across its social media channels early this week.

Saudi Telecom ran this artwork the same day as Zain's ad. The ad says, "with our network we guarantee you'll be able to catch'em all, but we can't guarantee where!"

Saudi Telecom ran this artwork the same day as Zain’s ad. The ad says, “with our network we guarantee you’ll be able to catch’em all, but we can’t guarantee where!”

Other brands have also looked to leverage off the lovable Japanese characters. Cab booking service Careem ran out an ad, as did Jordan Tourism. The game uses geotargeting to get people walking around a physical environment such as a city, and brand whose services include travel and tourism (or any location-based product) are fast realizing the potential of getting players to visit their premises (or even country) to hunt the digital creatures.

The UAE-headquartered cab hailing service Careem has leveraged Pokemon Go to promote its service and give gamers a discount

The UAE-headquartered cab hailing service Careem has leveraged Pokemon Go to promote its service and give gamers a discount

Even Jordan's Ministry of Tourism has jumped on the Pokemon Go craze, to get visitors to go and take a look at Amman's Citadel

Even Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism has jumped on the Pokemon Go craze, to get visitors to go and take a look at Amman’s Citadel

Users have also been having fun and sharing their own experiences online. Some have been sharing their experiences, including one apparently from the front lines in Iraq and others in more mundane locations, including finding a Pokemon on top of a plate of Kunafe.

It's enough to put you off your dessert! A Pokemon on top of a plate of Kunafe (image thanks to Samer Batter).

It’s enough to put you off your dessert! A Pokemon on top of a plate of Kunafe (image thanks to Samer Batter).

This image is apparently from the front lines in Iraq, which probably isn't the safest place to hunt Pokemon

This image is apparently from the front lines in Iraq, which probably isn’t the safest place to hunt Pokemon

The craze and people’s reaction to it in the region has been picked up by local media. Reports have circulated that people have ventured into all sorts of places as part of the game. Two cartoons below best sum up that sentiment.

With his phone in his hand and an image of a Pokemon monster on the screen, the caption reads, "finally we see you at the Mosque." (image thanks to Yaser Al Amoudi)

With his phone in his hand and an image of a Pokemon monster on the screen, the caption reads, “finally we see you at the Mosque.” (image thanks to Yaser Al Amoudi)

Saudi cartoonist Abdullah Jaber came up with this image of how game players are so engrossed in the game that they don't notice their surroundings

Saudi cartoonist Abdullah Jaber came up with this image of how game players are so engrossed in the game that they don’t notice their surroundings

The craze hasn’t been without controversy. According to Gulf News, Al Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, has condemned the craze about Pokemon Go as “harmful mania”. “If such a game can deceive youngsters, I do not know where the minds of adults have gone. They can be hit by a car while being busy searching for Pokemon,” said Al-Azhar’s Deputy Abbas Shuman, according to Gulf News. Al Arabiya reported that Egyptian cabinet spokesman Hossam al-Qawish said that an investigation into the game’s dangers was taking place. The spokesman added that the government was also considering new regulations to be imposed on online games to limit possible threats to national security.

In addition, Gulf News reported that the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has warned that criminals could exploit the popular Pokemon Go mobile game. Kuwaiti authorities have also warned against those who take photos of sensitive locations in the country. Brands promoting Pokemon have also been targeted, with the likes of Dominos Pizza and others called into question by those who consider Pokemon to be a work of the devil (if you don’t believe me, see below).

Dominos Pizza's efforts to use Pokemon as part of marketing were called into question by one user, who claimed Pokemon were tools of the devil against Islam. The user told Dominos to change its marketing or risk angering the public.

Dominos Pizza’s efforts to use Pokemon as part of marketing were called into question by one user, who claimed Pokemon were tools of the devil against Islam. The user told Dominos to change its marketing or risk angering the public.

There’s no doubt that the Pokemon craze will continue for some time to come, and will only become more intense/insane when the app is officially launched in the Middle East. Pokemon advertising has been used smartly to get a younger audience to engage with traditional organizations such as museums and promote small businesses. Let’s hope that marketers here are just as savvy, whilst being aware of local sensitivities. If you’re not already doing it, get ready to go catch some Pokemon adverts in your vicinity soon!

And as an extra treat, here’s one television news clip on Pokemon from Kuwait, with a particular focus on how its turning youth into addicts.

Out with the old Social Media, in with the new? Twitter & Facebook supposedly declining, Snapchat and WhatsApp on the rise across MENA

Some more stats for you, this time from Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute. And the outcomes are an eye opener.

The survey, which polled 6,058 adults (4,529 nationals) in Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, looked to explore the relationship between cultural attitudes, censorship, regulation and online surveillance, online and social media, film, TV, music, games, sports, news, and children’s media. When it comes to the social media side, the results surprised me. To quote the press release.

Use of Instagram across the region increased by 24 percentage points between 2013 and 2016, and Facebook’s popularity has declined in the last three years by 6 percentage points. Twitter, however, shows the biggest decline over the past three years—17 percentage points—with a 12 percentage point drop from just one year ago. Three-quarters of Egyptian internet users say that concerns about privacy have changed the way they use social media, second only to the 89 percent of Saudis who say the same.

Or, to put it another way.

The survey by Northwestern University in Qatar shows a general decline in usage of Facebook and Twitter, along with an uptake for Instagram

The survey by Northwestern University in Qatar shows a general decline in usage of Facebook and Twitter, along with an uptake for Instagram

Another interesting point that the survey brought to light was usage of instant messaging services. The research found that, “though more young nationals use social media in general, WhatsApp is more popular among the oldest group (45+) than the youngest group (18-24) (83% vs. 74%).” One note on the below – as a VoIP service Viber is banned in the UAE, which may have skewed the results.

WhatsApp is by far the most popular social messaging service, particularly among older users

WhatsApp is by far the most popular social messaging service, particularly among older users

The research asked users what they were doing online, and what they were using each social media platform for. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming answer was to communicate with friends and family.

The overwhelming reason for using social media on most channels is to communicate with friend and family

The overwhelming reason for using social media on most channels is to communicate with friend and family

For you marketers and communicators out there, if you’re looking for more information on social media usage across the region, including a breakdown by the countries surveyed, do go and check out the research here. While I’d take certain findings with a pinch of salt, especially the drop in Twitter usage, do bear in mind that the social media networks rarely share their own internal numbers in the region publicly. So, if you’re looking for statistics direct from the social media networks themselves to create/develop your social media outreach, you may be best off approaching contacts at Facebook, Google and Twitter to try your luck.

Twitter and the need to tackle automated, political hate in the Middle East

Twitter has been a huge hit in the Middle East; it has become the one place where everyone can share their views (image source: http://www.sustg.com)

I’ll admit it, Twitter is my favorite social media channel. I love that little blue bird and how it captures the moment. However, we live in a harsh environment in the region and Twitter isn’t without its issues.

I had the privilege to sit down with and talk to Twitter’s local management team recently. Two topics of concern came up: the first was pornography, which is illegal in the Gulf and which Twitter wants to keep off its network in the region; the second was religious extremism and terror-related content, affiliated to the likes of Islamic State, AlQaeda and others.

While I did in part acknowledge that both were issues to tackle, I didn’t fully agree that they were the most pressing problems for the social network. Pornography is much easier to find online, through the use of a VPN, than it is on any social media channel. With religious extremism, much of the conversation has moved onto dark social which cannot be monitored by governments.

Instead, I threw out a different idea. For me, Twitter is the place to come to for discussion and debate, a platform for use by all. However, recent cases have shown that some are automating conversations to dominate discussion.

An example was uncovered by Marc Owen Jones on his research into Bahrain following recent events there. His blog post, which is well worth your time, highlights a key issue facing Twitter when it comes to automated bots hijacking conversations.

While the notion of bot accounts is probably not news to anyone, the evidence here hopefully highlights that much online sectarian discourse is perhaps inflated by those groups or individuals with specific ideological agendas, and the means to do so. Of course we know PR and reputation management companies offer such services, yet their work is often done secretively and behind close doors. Would be interesting to find out who is behind this. It would also suggest that Twitter needs to better regulate spam.

While this isn’t the first time that social media channels have been used unethically in this region (during 2011 bloggers in certain countries were singled out and targeted for retribution through social media), the danger is that automated bots will become more common, taking over conversations and driving real users off Twitter. 

While Twitter has taken action following the work done by Marc Owen Jones, suspending up to 1800 accounts according to his blog post, the team need to be as proactive as possible to take these bots down to ensure that the platform is still a place that welcomes differing points of view. 

More than ever, we in the region need a place for discussion that is independent and welcomes genuine debate. It’d be a shame to see such actions driving people off Twitter and onto closed apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram. 

Twitter can be a force to engage and promote debate in the region, and I hope that it remains so without such bots hijacking conversations for whatever political, sectarian purpose(s).

The importance of reputation – the examples of Mubadala and IPIC


The concept of reputation, which can be defined as how much stakeholders trust organizations, is often difficult to measure. It’s an intangible, an idea which is often best understood at the most inappropriate time (in other words, during a crisis).

In Abu Dhabi last week news broke about a merger between two government-owned investment vehicles. The deal between Mubadala and IPIC would create a combined fund worth US$135 billion according to Reuters. At a time of budget tightening due to low oil prices, the merger promises to bring about significant cost savings according to media reports.

Reuters had another interesting take on the merger, which I’ll copy from the article.

IPIC is also in the midst of a row with 1MDB. The Abu Dhabi fund has asked a London court to arbitrate in a dispute with the Malaysian state fund over a debt restructuring in which IPIC is claiming about $6.5 billion.

While unlikely to impact these proceedings, the sovereign wealth fund analyst said the scandal had undermined IPIC’s reputation and so a tie-up with Mubadala, which is considered one of the better-run state investment funds in the region, would be beneficial.

The analyst that Reuters spoke to argued that IPIC’s reputation was hit by the issue in Malaysia. In addition, the departure of its previous CEO and dealings in its investments such as Arabtec have also contributed to reputation all issues. In contrast, Mubadala has a strong brand, helped in part to the leadership of its management and financial transparency.

It’s not only communicators who need to understand that every action will impact organizational reputation (leaders of listed companies know all too well what public sentiment can do to the stock price, and their jobs). The Mubadala-IPIC merger is an example of how much both good and not so good reputations can impact the business.

What can Brexit tell us about the importance of listening to communications

Was the Brexit vote a result of politicians not listening to voters? And what does this mean for us communicators? (image source: Asda.com)

For many, the events of last week were a shock of the greatest magnitude. The vote for Britain to leave the European Union wasn’t foreseen, even by the pollsters, those professionals whose vocation it is to use real-time data to build a picture of how the mass population will vote. Even the Exit camp had foreseen a narrow defeat.

Much of the post-event analysis has asked why people voted for Brexit and how everyone misunderstood the public mood. Reporting has focused on those areas of England in the North which have suffered as a result of the closure of heavy industries in the 1980s. One theory as to why more Brits voted for Brexit than for Bremain would seem to be, “we’ve suffered for years, and you haven’t listened. This is our rejection of Westminster and the politics in London.”

It’s an interesting observation, especially when one considers that the areas which pushed to leave the EU received fewer immigrants and received the most aid from the European Union. The idea that the electorate punished the politicians for failing to listen is a compelling one, and it offers a reminder to all organizations that listening to their stakeholders is key to success.

By listening and understanding the views of these groups, be they the public, consumers, customers, or members, organizations can better represent those they wish to engage with and talk to. Organizations, particularly those which aim to speak on behalf of a certain constituency, should comprehend that they can only lead through having the needs of their members at heart, and building trust through asking their stakeholders what is important to them.

The example is no different in our region, where organizations are often led top-down and executives rarely interact with their members or stakeholder groups. If Brexit proves anything to us communicators, it is that we must be the link between those on the inside and others on the outside, to develop and provide the means for these groups to talk to each other and for differing opinions to be heard in an environment which is conducive to understanding. There was little of this in evidence among many Brexit voters, not just during the campaign but for years prior to the vote.

As a recap, active listening helps to improves mutual understanding and trust and enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker’s message. Active listening doesn’t just help with building trust and respect, but it also helps to reduce tension, encourage information sharing and creates an environment that promote collaboration and problem solving. It’s key to communications and is a skill that a good communicator should possess and practice.

Conversely, organizations who don’t listen end up becoming irrelevant, and serve no purpose than to fulfill the wishes of their management rather than those which they aim to represent.

There’s much more to talk about when it comes to communications and Brexit, including the use of positive and negative messaging to influence voter outcomes and why those areas with the most to lose in terms of EU funding voted for Brexit. There was obviously a disconnect between the politicians and voters on the Bremain side, which wasn’t the case with the Brexit politicians. However, as we’re only just at the beginning of this story, I’ll save that post for another occasion.

 

What does Instagram’s UAE communications remit say about how outsiders understand the region?

Instagram has been a huge hit in Saudi, especially among the Kingdom's youth. How will Instagram's comms team reach out to these groups? (image source: http://sustg.com/)

Instagram has been a huge hit in Saudi, especially among the Kingdom’s youth. How will Instagram’s comms team reach out to these groups? (image source: http://sustg.com/)

Client wins can often make interesting reading, especially when the brand is a household name. Last week was no exception, with the Dubai-based House of Comms winning a brief to represent Instagram in the UAE.

The news caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Firstly, House of Comms is enjoying remarkable success; the agency which was founded in 2012 has expanded rapidly, picked up a host of big name clients and won numerous awards for its work. The agency’s growth reminds me of the rapid rise enjoyed by Dabo & Co (which was eventually bought by Edelman). House of Comms does have an affiliate network across the region, including in the Gulf.

What struck me was Instagram’s choice of market to enter into. While the UAE is the regional public relations hub of the wider Middle East region, I would have thought that the company would have taken a more regional approach to public outreach (Editor’s Note: the agreement with House of Comms is for the UAE, but also includes advisory work for other markets). For instance, the first market to embrace paid influencer marketing, particularly on Instagram, was Kuwait. In terms of numbers on the platform, Saudi is the largest country in the region by far, with a greater number of users than the UAE. Egypt is another key market for the picture and video service. If you’re looking for details on Instagram usage, have a look at the stats below from the second quarter of 2015 from an earlier blog.

In terms of the Gulf, it’s no surprise that Saudi leads the way – there are 10.7 million monthly active users in the Kingdom (just over a third of the population). The UAE follows with 2.2 million monthly users. And, to the West, Egypt has 3.2 million monthly active users. What’s even more impressive is daily active users – a whopping 6.1 million for Saudi, 1.2 million for the UAE, and 1.1 million for Egypt.

In addition, there’s the parent brand to think of. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has its own PR agency in the region (which is regional). Up until recently, that agency was supporting Instagram. So, why the change? Would having two agencies for the two brands help or hinder media outreach, especially when Instagram is known as a Facebook product?

While the agreement is only for the UAE, I hope that Instagram, one of the most popular social platforms in the Middle East, expands its regional approach to engagement. The Instagram team should have oodles of data to look at when it comes to usage in each and every different country, and they’d be smart to look at Twitter’s model of engaging with influencers to get them onto the platform. Let’s hope that as a digital business, Instagram takes a data-based approach to engagement in an emerging market and work in key markets, rather than follow the much traveled path of using a hub to work remotely instead of actually doing the hard work and going in-country.