Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, Asdaa and OSN and when the client apologized before the agency

Have you ever heard of a client apologizing a week before the agency sends out a correction? (image source: http://www.tumblr.com)

There are few surprises left for veterans of the media, marketing and communications industry in the Middle East. However, every now and then something pops up that can raise a smile or cause a roll of the eyes.

One such story is the unusual case of the UAE-based Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla. Through its public relations agency Asdaa, the law firm put out a release entitled ‘Mergers and acquisitions boom in Middle East’, which laid out the most notable M&A activity in 2014 and Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla’s predictions that cross-border mergers and acquisitions would pick up pace in 2015. The original story is still online here at Khaleej Times.

All well and good we all may think. Except, there was a mistake in the release. And it wasn’t a simple typo or grammatical error. No, it was much more serious. Have a look at the below paragraph.

The Media and Entertainment sector was the largest recipient of inbound M&A activity in terms of value with almost 36 per cent share. This was driven by the $3.2 billion sale of Orbit Showtime Network Co, a Dubai-based owner and operator of TV station, to an undisclosed US private equity firm. This is also the largest deal since 2010.

There was a problem on the above information about OSN’s sale. It never happened. Dubai-based business monthly Trends Middle East was the first publication to point this glaring error out in a blog post. Trends’ editorial team did what any good bunch of journalists should do, and they verified the facts contained in the release. Unfortunately, a number of other publications didn’t (the list is on the Trends website).

The Trends team then reached out to all the parties involved, including Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, Asdaa and OSN. OSN issued a statement denying the information in the release. Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla also put out a statement to Trends which you can read below.

“Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla would like to clarify that our recent analysis regarding M&A activity in the Middle East was based on data from Thomson ONE Analytics, part of Thomson Reuters. “The data comprised announced deals as of December 14, 2014, including the proposed sale of OSN. Thomson Reuters’ criteria for announced deals include deals that are completed, intended, partially completed, pending and unconditional. We apologize for any unintended misunderstanding regarding the status of OSN’s proposed sale.”

However, despite reaching out to Trends and two days after the press release was issued, Asdaa hadn’t gotten back to Trends with a clarification (as per Trends’ own website). A statement was sent out to the media by Asdaa nine days after the incorrect release was published, and a week after Asdaa’s client had gotten back to Trends with the correction email. The correct as of January 6th is below.

“Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla would like to clarify that our recent analysis regarding M&A activity in the Middle East, issued on 23 December 2014, was based on data from Thomson ONE Analytics, part of Thomson Reuters. The data comprised deals announced during 2014, including the reported approach by an un-named US private equity firm for the acquisition of OSN, which did not proceed. Please note the reference to the sale of OSN was incorrect.

Although an offer was announced in July 2014, the offer was rejected by OSN’s shareholders in August 2014 and OSN continues to be wholly owned by Panther Media Group Limited. We apologise for any unintended misunderstanding regarding the status of OSN’s ownership.”

I have to ask, is this the first time a law firm has apologized before its agency? It’s normally the communications and public relations firms who advocate for a quick and speedy apology. When it seems that a quick and speedy resolution could have brought this to a close, especially in a social media age where the recommended response time is literally 15 minutes, why did the client say sorry before the agency? If the communications industry is to consult and advise clients in a trusted manner, we really have to do better. Let’s hope that those involved have processes in place to both fact-check and, when something goes wrong, get back to media in as short an amount of time as possible.

What are your thoughts?

Lost in the fog – is Etihad’s social media crisis down to an operational failure?

For some passengers, the experience of the fog and resultant delays weren’t helped by Etihad’s social media support despite the best efforts of the social media team (image source: http://www.todayszaman.com)

I love challenges. I’m an even bigger fan of crises. They seem to bring out the best in us, pushing us to our limits and testing our abilities. While I admit to enjoying being put through the ringers, I do feel for Etihad’s social media team during a bout of fog at the beginning of January. On the first Saturday of the year, during a peak time of year for travel, think fog descended on the UAE’s capital and closed Abu Dhabi International Airport for just over an hour. The airport’ closure affected Etihad’s scheduling for several days.

Before I go further, let me brief you on the airline’s communications outreach. Etihad has a sophisticated social media set-up, including a dedicated Twitter account for Etihad’s customer service, at @EtihadHelp, as well as customer support on Facebook. Etihad’s response time is usually less than 20 minutes, and each and every customer correspondence from the team is signed off by the team member’s initials.

The fog literally consumed the social media team however. As people, the one instance that we can all agree on is that we hate anything going wrong when we travel, including travel delays and lost luggage. Stories of delays, including passengers stranded on the tarmac for half a day, without food or information, made headlines globally. Etihad’s social media channels were replete with angry passengers looking for a solution to their problems. Have a look at some of the exchanges below as well as media coverage.

This is one example of many of the discussions that took place on Facebook between Etihad and its customers following the fog

This is one example of many of the discussions that took place on Facebook between Etihad and its customers following the fog

A number of thoughts come to mind. While Etihad has a stellar social media operation, how much leverage does the social media have over operations. Or to put it slightly differently, what accountability is there between operations and the social media team. Does the organizational structure, either formal or informal, help or hinder the social media team’s operations on behalf of customers? Etihad is a large organization of just under 15,000 employees; what can the social media team do on the customer’s behalf?

I’ll admit, these are special circumstances. Thousands of passengers were either stranded or had their luggage misplaced. However, we now live in a connected world where consumers’ expectations are amplified. While social media can speed up communications with consumers, is social media being set up to fail if operations cannot keep up? What are your thoughts?

Social Media trends for 2015 – Instagram hacking

We’re only a few days into 2015 and yet we’ve already seen one trend that is likely to become a major issue in the Middle East. Over the past two weeks a number of Instagram accounts of celebrities and well-known figures have been hacked. The first to be targeted, at the end of 2014, was the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

Nancy Ajram’s account was hacked at the end of December

Ajram was only the first of a spate of hackings. Only this week the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed’s Instagram account was broken into by a hacker called @MRJL6H, who posted a number of images with text which can be translated as ‘we do not claim to be intelligent, but seek to destroy those who themselves claim to be intelligent.

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed's instagram account was hacked for only a short period but the hacker posted a number of images

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed’s instagram account was hacked for only a short period but the hacker posted a number of images

The hacker @MRJL6H posted several images highlighting his/her views on Sheikh Hamdan's Instagram account

The hacker @MRJL6H posted several images highlighting his/her views on Sheikh Hamdan’s Instagram account

Yesterday, a Bahrain-based actress and model Shaila Sabt was hacked in a similar manner to that above by @2h2, using presumably the same techniques used to hack into Sheikh Hamdan’s and Nancy Ajram’s accounts.

Bahrain-based actress Shaila Sabt had her Instagram account hacked by @2h2 in what seems to be a copycat of the hack on Sheikh Hamdan's account

Bahrain-based actress Shaila Sabt had her Instagram account hacked by @2h2 in what seems to be a copycat of the hack on Sheikh Hamdan’s account

There seems to be no reason to attack these Instagram celebrities, besides from the number of their followers. However, the compromising of these accounts is a reminder to everyone online to be aware of their security and initiate two step authentication where possible. If you’d like to know more about two step authentication read Google’s advice here.

My own feeling is that this trend will only grow during 2015. We’ve been fortunate to avoid hacking incidents, despite the popularity of social media in the Gulf. That may change over the coming 12 months, and we may see many more social media celebrities being hacked, either for fun or to spread a particular political or social message.

The curious case of the Dubai TV station which was fined for not airing an interview

Lights, camera, and no action! The Dubai-based station was found to be acting unprofessionally by a Dubai court for not showing an interview, and fined 100,000 Dirhams for its improper conduct (image source: http://www.dreamtek.wordpress.com)

Are you looking for a bizarre story to start off the year? If so, you’re in luck. Dubai’s English-language newspaper Emirates 24/7 reported on the case of a Dubai TV station which was fined over 25 thousand dollars for not airing an interview. Yes, you read it right. The station was fined by a court in the Emirate for not broadcasting a pre-recorded interview. You can read excerpts below.

A well-known guest won a court case and was compensated Dh100,000 by Dubai Court from a TV channel which did not broadcast his interview. A person sued a satellite channel after it hosted him in one of its programmes and did not broadcast the episode after broadcasting advertisement on the channel of his interview and instead broadcasting the interview of a different person.

The plaintiff said that the TV channel approached him for an interview and sent him air tickets and booked him into a hotel. It also recorded an interview with him and said that it will be broadcasted on a particular date.

The plaintiff added that on that day, the TV channel announced that the interview would be broadcasted at a particular time. However, on that time, the TV channel aired an interview with a different person and did not show his interview.

The plaintiff added that he got in touch with the TV channel and tried to find out their reason for not airing his interview, but the TV channel did not give him any answer.

He also said that he requested the TV channel to make an apology for not showing his interview, but there was no response from them.

This, according to the plaintiff, affected him and caused moral damages to him and he filed a lawsuit against the channel before the Dubai Court to compel the TV channel to pay him half-a- million dirhams.

The Dubai Court of First Instances ruled in favour of the plaintiff and that he was eligible of Dh100,000 as compensation for his subsequent psychological and moral damages.

According to Emirates 24/7 the case was reviewed by both the Court of Appeal as well as the the Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation said in its ruling that the TV channel was guilty of misconduct, and that the station had failed to comply with professional ethics as well as the Press Code of Ethics.

The report doesn’t refer to a specific code of ethics document; in 2007 the UAE media adopted a code of conduct. However, this agreement was based on principles such as respect for the truth, freedom and integrity, fairness to all, transparency, rightful acquisition of information, accuracy in reporting, elimination or minimizing harm, especially in relation to children, credibility in reporting, and respect for personal privacy. The agreement did not seem to be a binding legal contract, and there is no mention of a scenario such as the one above in the reporting on the code of conduct.

I have to hold my hands up and say I’m dumbstruck by this news. For a legal professional to pass judgement on what is essentially a business decision by a news outlet is illogical. The channel did not breach any laws, and it is the right of any media outlet to decide what does construe and what does not construe news. The plaintiff was not out of pocket as his expenses were paid for. His only loss was his time.

The above sets a dangerous precedent for both the media and communicators in the region. While I’m all in favor of professional behaviour for journalists, I also understand and support the right of media outlets to air or publish news as they see fit. The judiciary stepping in to penalize media outlets for simply doing their job is a dangerous precedent for all of us. This is one precedent that I hope is not considered again in any repeated legislation.