Step up, support the Comms industry. Volunteer for the IABC EMENA Board!

Volunteer

I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s a well-known secret in the communications industry that we’re awful at PRing what we do. The public relations sector doesn’t engage enough with the outside world in terms of what we do and why we’re of real value to any organization.

For me it was exciting to see the turnout at the annual regional Eurocomm event in London recently. The number of professionals who cared enough to travel to London for several days, and engage in learning and debate about the industry, was inspiring. There’s a lot of good will and positive sentiment around the communications sector at the moment, which I hope will long continue.

But, I’m never satisfied. I’d like for us to build on that engagement, and ask you, the communications professionals who I engage with here online, or through social media, to put themselves forward to volunteer to support the industry’s growth and act as leaders and mentors to those who want to learn about and join the sector.

As a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote public relations both globally and throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, IABC works through volunteers. The Europe, Middle East and North Africa board supports activities across the most diverse, and most exciting region for communicators. Under the board, IABC has a host of country chapters that help with everything from organizing our large events (think Eurocomm which was held in London in March), to smaller activities such as media evenings, webinars and training. Volunteers can also help in research work and soliciting ideas and thoughts from our wider family of members.

If you want to give back and help, why don’t you step up and volunteer on the EMENA board? Volunteering is one of the most rewarding activities that I’ve engaged in, and I’m sure you’d enjoy working with a group of people who could not be more passionate about what we do and why we do it.

Please do drop me a line in the comments or send me a message through social media and we can take the conversation from there. You can find more details here on the IABC website. Nominations are open until Wednesday the 17th May.

So, what do you say? Are you up for it?

The Science of Reputation – What issues matter to stakeholders and why

As communicators, we’re often tasked with managing an organization’s reputation. While this may sound simple, the challenge is where do you start with an intangible concept? There are a number of frameworks around which one can begin measuring reputation. One is the RepTrak, a tool developed by the US-based Reputation Institute, which merges seven distinct organizational behaviours (called dimensions) with the behaviours that your stakeholders show towards your organization to create an emotional pulse. It’s an interesting look at how reputation is developed, which you can see below.

The RepTrak is a data-driven approach to understanding reputation based on a number of metrics

The RepTrak is a data-driven approach to understanding reputation based on a number of metrics

According to the Reputation Institute, organizational reputation is driven primarily by seven key rational dimensions of reputation: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance. What this leads onto may be obvious; reputation matters in terms of business. And, the better the reputation, the more support an organization can count on.

Th Reputation Institute has also done a great deal of research here, including surveying hundred of thousands of different stakeholder groups in 40+ countries over a decade. Their studies underline why reputation matters when it comes to influencing stakeholder behaviour.

Reputation can both positively and negatively impact on stakeholder behaviour

Reputation can both positively and negatively impact on stakeholder behaviour

In the video below, Dr. Charles Fombrun, founder & chairman, Reputation Institute, explains the seven dimensions of reputation as defined in the RepTrak model for reputation measurement

While I have questions around these seven dimensions (do they remain constant for example, across geographies and stakeholder groups?), as well as the Reputation Institute’s global reach (it doesn’t monitor in the MENA region for example), it’s good to see one scientific model for measuring reputation and its impact. There are others in use, including those developed by Carma’s Tom Vesey. I’ll share more insights into reputation management and measurement as I have it.

The Role Communicators Have in Promoting Sustainability

ajman-sustainability-day

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have worked with some amazing brands and organizations. In particular, the most forward-thinking have focused on the issue of sustainability. It’s become a passion for me, as I want my daughter to inherit a world that is better than ours.

I’m often asked to support events on sustainability. One such initiative which I’m very proud of being able to help is that of the UAE’s Ajman Center for Social Responsibility. Launched by the Ajman Chamber this year, the Ajman Center for Social Responsibility aims to promote the concept of sustainability for both the public and private sectors as well as create a resource for sustainability across this emirate. Assisted by the consultancy firm Sustainable Square, the team at the Center have set for themselves a vision of becoming the regional and global reference for social responsibility and sustainability practices. And, judging by the energy they have, I feel they’ll reach this goal.

For many of us communicators in the Middle East region, we’ve taken on the mantle of championing sustainability. Sometimes it’s due to reputational reasons; the need to be seen to be doing good. For others, it’s been about the willingness to tackle an issue that isn’t going away. There’s some confusion around sustainability and the role of communications in the Middle East; I remember well one senior comms professional erroneously commenting  during a public meeting that the function has always been with communications, despite all of the literature from the 1950s and 1960s by Bowen, Freeman and others which argues that organizations have a social obligation to “to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.” In short, when it comes to sustainability in the Middle East, we can come across as a confused bunch.

For me, sustainability should be at the heart of any organization – it should be a part of every person’s job function. So, what is the role that communicators should play? We are the change agents, the people whose job it is to tell stories around purpose, and who can best use engagement to win over various stakeholder groups, be they internal (employees, management or shareholders), or external (government, NGOs or the public) as to why there is a need to become more sustainable and how we should get there.

Examples of good sustainability communications work are both global and local in nature. Take for example  the work done by Mars for its M&Ms brand. Mars reached out to the M&Ms consumer base in a smart way, by using the M&Ms characters everyone knows, to talk about initiatives around sustainable cocoa production and other CSR causes by telling the stories through the same M&M characters used to promote the brand.

On a local level, a good communications campaign can be something as simple as promoting safe driving, which environmental and engineering consulting services firm CH2M launched both globally as well as locally.

As communicators, our role is to understand our audience(s), know how to engage with them, and shape messaging that will impact both attitudes and behaviours. It’s never easy to change habits that have been ingrained for years, especially when it comes to sustainability (anyone who has worked on a recycling initiative will know how hard it can be to get people to recycle rather than throw materials into the trash).

However, that’s the beauty of our job as communicators. We’re the front line, the people who take a concept and make it happen with those groups whom we need to come on board. To quote from the United Nations Environmental Program:

Public communication has a key role to play to build on these emerging trends and to make sustainable development approachable and understandable. Informed, motivated and committed people can help us to achieve our sustainability goals. However, communicating effectively about sustainable lifestyles is a challenge. One needs to consider not only what to communicate, but how to communicate it.

Important factors of success include content, messenger, choice of media and tone. Experts are coming to realise that traditional messages from governments and green groups urging the public to adopt the environment into their day-to-day decisions need to be overhauled. Many of these messages are simply too patronising, guilt-laden or disapproving. Instead of turning people on to the environment, they risk switching
them off. The lesson to be learned is that communication styles have to be positive and tailored to different circumstances and cultural contexts.

If you want to know more about communicating sustainable issues, there are people who specialize in this issue. Sustainable Square’s Monaem Ben Lellahom is a great person to approach as he both understands the issue of sustainability as well as how to communicate around it; another person who focuses on sustainability is Stephen King, who focuses on the sustainable development goals. I’d urge you to reach out to either or myself to ask questions about how we can communicate sustainability better in this region.

 

How to fundraise in Dubai (legally)

Dubai’s fundraising law is meant to regulate giving in the Emirate. While the process is long, it is simple enough and will mean that you can fundraise legally (image source: http://www.thirdforcenews.org)

After a number of incidents, I thought it was about time that someone with experience of fundraising in Dubai wrote on how it should be done (I’ve been fundraising here for about four years, and applying for approvals every couple of months with different charities). While there are legal papers on the issue, most notably from DLA Piper, I’ve been through the process and know its ups and downs, which can be different from what is written in the statute books.

So, here goes.

  • Fundraising is regulated. 

Firstly, let’s start with the obvious. Fundraising is regulated in Dubai, and to fundraise you must do two things. Find a charity that is allowed to collect donations. Then you must submit a request to the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities (IACAD). Once this is approved you can fundraise.

If you don’t follow the above, you can face either a year in prison or a fine of up to 500,000AED. And when I mean you, I mean YOU! Even when fundraising is undertaken by a company, an individual must bear responsibility for the application.

  • You have to donate to a Dubai-based charity that is permitted to fundraise.

The number of charities who are licensed to fundraise is short, it used to be seven in total. These include the Dubai Charity Association, Dar Al Ber Society, Dubai Autism Centre, Beit Al Kheir, the UAE Red Crescent Authority, Awqaf & Minors Affairs Foundation, and The Relief Committee.

Other charities have been added to the list since then, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, the Al Jalila Foundation, and Friends of Cancer Patients. For a comprehensive list, do contact the Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s Syed Atif on Syed.Atif@Dubaichamber.com. The Dubai Chamber is particularly active in terms of promoting engagement with charities in the country, and they’ll be able to give you on who and which charity aligns with your cause.

Once you’ve found your charity, you’ll have to talk to them about what you’re doing and why, in order to get their buy-in and support. This may take time, especially when dealing with one or two of the charities on the list of seven above.

Any application through the charities above to IACAD will take up to one month. On the form you’ll need to state what you are doing, why, how much is being raised and how you are raising it. The form is simple enough, and I’ve include it below. You cannot funraised until you have permission from IACAD, who will also follow up after the fundraising, to ensure that the charity has received the money.

There’s another option, which is to support a charity based in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City (IHC). These include Save the Children, SOS Children’s VIllages and UNICEF. In this case, IHC will act as the charity and then route all funds to the intended recipient. This process will take longer than the month mentioned above, so you’ll need to plan ahead.

  • Online fundraising is not exempt from the legislation (and penalties).

Many people I know in Dubai used to fundraise through online sites such as http://www.justgiving.com when undertaking a charity drive. This isn’t strictly legal, as has been shown by a recent criminal case. If you want to fundraise online, then either do it through a registered charity as per the above, or don’t do it in Dubai (ie do it when you’re out of the country and not breaking the law).

To make it as easy as possible, I’m attaching an IACAD form which you can fill in either in Arabic or English. The form is here, and includes contact details at IACAD – Islamic_Affairs_Request_Eng_Arb.

I’ll end on an important note – this only covers fundraising in Dubai. If you want to fundraise in any other Emirate, there are separate procedures you have to follow, or you’ll have to partner with the Emirates Red Crescent, or the Al Jalila Foundation. These are the only two organizations which have the pre-approval to fundraise across the United Arab Emirates.

If you need more advice on fundraising, please do drop me a comment and I’ll help further. While the above isn’t easy, I don’t want people to think that they should stop fundraising. The procedure does take time, but it doable, so keep on fundraising and supporting good causes.

#AylanKurdi, the image that has defined the refugee tragedy and what you can do to help

There are moments when we come across an image that is so powerful that it can drive us to tears. Such an image can galvanize a generation, it can melt the coldest of hearts or it can create a well of emotion inside of us. Think of the Vietnam war’s “Girl in the Picture”, of the naked Vietnamese girl who had been burned by napalm and was in agony, or the picture of the lone student protester who held up a column of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

This morning, I saw another image that was so powerful it literally made me cry just looking at my screen. The images below are of a three year old Syrian boy whose name is Alyan Kurdi. Like hundreds of thousands of others from Syria, Aylan and his family sought refuge and a new home in Europe.

As a father of a young child, all I care about is her safety and well-being. I can not imagine the horror that Aylan’s father, who was on the boat with Aylan and who lost his other son as well as his wife, is now living through.

This image of three year-old Aylan Kurdi is the story of Syria’s refugee tragedy. Alyan drowned while his parents were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish mainland (image source: Reuters/The Independent).

My one hope is that this image and story will melt hearts across Europe and worldwide, and drive people to step up and help those from Syria and other countries who are fleeing violence and who want to make a home for themselves in a new country, a home that is safe where they can live far from the shadow of death.

For me, Aylan’s story and the images taken by Reuters are heartbreaking. I beseech you to take action, especially if you are European. You can either the suggestions from the Independent or donate to organizations such as UNICEF or Save the Children which are supporting Syrian refugees.

Let’s do more, let’s help those in need. Let’s join together to ensure that there isn’t another Aylan.

Coca-Cola, tackling prejudice & swapping television advertising for digital and CSR this Ramadan

Is Coca-Cola's anti-prejudice message a winner this Ramadan?

Is Coca-Cola’s anti-prejudice message a winner this Ramadan?

A global icon and the brand that defined Christmas has been making waves this Ramadan. Coca-Cola, which spent $3.3 billion on advertising globally in 2013, made a surprise announcement this Ramadan through its Egyptian subsidiary. Instead of spending sizable sums of money on television spots during Ramadan, which is the peak viewing season, the Egyptian operation would only spend money on paid digital spots on Facebook and YouTube. To quote from the company’s press release (please do excuse the hyperbole, the writer was probably on a sugar rush whilst penning this):

This festive season Coca Cola is giving back to the Egyptian community by replacing their always hotly-anticipated television ads with a unique campaign against prejudice rolling out exclusively on digital media. Their TV ad budget is instead being poured into their project of developing 100 villages. In recent days they have also galvanised Egypt’s digital population, pledging that for every post featuring a finger raised against prejudice (symbolising one extra second) they will donate one additional pound to their project.

While the idea of saving advertising money by pulling television ads and using that budget to spend on CSR is different to say the least, especially for a household brand such as Coca-Cola (and, which, in any case isn’t true as Coca-Cola has spent heavily on pan-Arab television advertising), the notion of tackling prejudice is an interesting angle for Coca-Cola to take.

Coca-Cola has launched a number of video shorts for YouTube and Facebook about prejudice, with the key tag line that we should look beyond the seven seconds it takes to form an opinion about others. Have a look at the below (unfortunately, they’re only in Arabic).

Coca-Cola Middle East is taking a similar approach to its Ramadan messaging, by promoting a world without labels through abandoning its own labeling.

To quote from Coca-Cola’s own website:

“A limited-edition run of red Coca-Cola cans features the brand’s white dynamic ribbon, but not its signature scripted logo. The backs of the cans include the anti-prejudice, pro-tolerance message: “Labels are for cans, not people.”

“Coca-Cola Middle East also released a video documenting a unique social experiment that highlights stereotyping in society. The short film shows how Coke invited six strangers to an iftar – the nightly fast-breaking meal during the holy month of Ramadan, which runs through July 17 – in the dark. The guests conversed without forming prejudices about their fellow diners based on physical appearance.”

Coca-Cola’s approach to Ramadan has been both welcomed as well as questioned. Dubai-based public relations professional and blogger Alexander McNabb posted a list of hilarious thoughts which he shared with Coca-Cola’s media agency about the announcement. Go have a read, and let me know what you think about what Coca-Cola is doing this Ramadan.

One Day #WithoutShoes – How TOMS is getting consumer sustainability spot on

TOMS' sustainability strategy is simple to understand, its aligned to the business, and it's designed with consumers - and social media - in mind

TOMS’ sustainability strategy is simple to understand, its aligned to the business, and it’s designed with consumers – and social media – in mind

It’s fair to say that getting sustainability right is a challenge for most companies; it’s even harder when you throw consumers into the mix. However, every now and then a campaign comes along that makes you sit up and take notice.

Founded in 2006, the US-based shoe retailer TOMS was founded with a strong sense of giving back to communities in need. The company’s promise was simple – for each pair of shoes bought, it would donate another pair of shoes to a child in need. To date, TOMS has given more than 35 million pairs of new shoes to children in need.

This year TOMS brought their global CSR campaign, which has been running for eight years, to the United Arab Emirates. The company has taken its original premise of “One Day without Shoes”, an event where participants do not wear shoes throughout the day in order to raise awareness for TOMS’ goal of giving shoes to children-in-need, online and onto social media.

The concept is a simple yet powerful initiative where they would like people to take a picture of their bare feet and share it on Instagram. With each picture shared, one pair of shoes will be given to a child in need. A simple picture tagged with #WithoutShoes can help the cause and provide a donation.

As of last Thursday afternoon, more than 296,000 children will benefit from the campaign, according to the company’s website. It’d be interesting to see how many UAE consumers got involved (I’ll see if I can get a response from the UAE retailer which has the TOMS franchise, Apparel Group.

The below are just a sample of the 300,000 plus images which have been generated over the past two weeks, both by consumers as well as celebrities and the media. Let’s hope other companies can learn from TOMS and how powerful a simple concept such as this can be for the brand, the consumer and for communities in need.

For every picture of feet that's posted #withoutshoes @toms is donating a pair to a child in need! #noexcuses #chooselove.

A post shared by Jacklyn's BTQ (FREE SHIPPING) (@fabutiq) on

#WithoutShoes with great friends. 👣#BareFeet #MorningswithMelissa

A post shared by Kenneth-Melissa Paula Javier (@morningswithmelissa) on