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?

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