Have the Gulf’s Media had enough of Facebook & Google? Or are they too late?

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Can print survive in an era of digital dominance? And is the Gulf’s print media ready to adapt to stay afloat? (image source: http://www.manrepeller.com)

If you thought being a publisher was tough in the US or Europe, then try life in the Gulf. Over the past couple of weeks the Editor-in-Chief of the largest English newspaper in the Gulf, the Gulf News, has written two op-eds lambasting the likes of Facebook and Google for essentially taking advertising revenues away from the local papers whilst offering little news in return. Entitled “Stop the local media from bleeding”, Abdul Hamid Ahmad’s first piece spoke of the need to help newspapers from going under due to a decline in ad revenues. In his own words:

In these tough times and the rough waters that all media are treading through — be it the print, online, television and radio — something has to be done to save and secure the future of these media houses.

Here I mean the local media — the one that have grown with the country for the past four decades and established publication houses. They are a part of the UAE’s legacy; they are a part of the fabric of society.

Here in the UAE, we have several titles in Arabic and English – some are owned by the government and others by the private sector.

Most of these are newspapers that have online editions – the online editions being extensions of the print publications.

But looking at them over the past three years makes me feel very sorry and sad.

I am talking about the fact that they are being dried up financially and forced to near closure.

I have been in the business of journalism for more than 35 years now. I have grown from a reporter to copy editor to section head, managing editor to Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director. I have never seen our media in such a miserable situation as today.

Gulf News’ Abdul Hamid followed up this piece with a second a week later, calling for a levy on online ad platforms which could be used to support local media.

I wonder how much Google, Facebook, Amazon and other global titans pay for licence fees in the UAE?

I assume they pay a similar amount like other companies despite the revenue they make from the market…

Amazon pays a similar amount to the grocery next door. And Facebook pays a similar amount to a barber shop in Satwa…

First, we must implement some of the steps that countries such as France have taken — reduce taxes on local media outlets and raise fees payable by these giants that is equal to their stature.

Their giant status and businesses must attract taxes that are commensurate with their size and volume of trade.

Second, governments can step in and support national media in difficult times such as now and help them survive.

This can be done either through direct financing by the government or by instructing big local companies — governmental or semi-governmental — to advertise in local media, instead of changing their structure of payments and giving these giants big money and leaving only a few pennies for local media.

Priority on ad spending should be on the national media and not on international media.

Other steps could also include exempting local media from some taxes.

In fact, in doing this, it will not just benefit newspapers and news organisations, but it will be in favour of national interest and sovereignty.

Because if we do not have our own media, we will not have our own voice when we need it. National media is needed as a matter of national security.

It preserves our identity and social and cultural values — hallmarks of a vibrant society.

Others have joined in, calling for more support for local publishers (have a read of this piece by Aby Sam Thomas, Editor-In-Chief at Entrepreneur Middle East, as well as this piece in the Saudi-based English-language daily Arab News).

On a recent trip to Saudi, the pressures on the local print media were openly talked about. Some journalists spoke of fewer print staff, others that the government would have to step in and subsidize the newspaper industry.

Supporting Local Media

The Gulf’s media isn’t unique in this challenge. Newspapers have been going out of print for years, particularly in places such as the United States; almost 500 newspapers were shut down in the US between 1970 and 2016. Advertising, the main source of revenue, is drying up, and newspaper circulations are dropping. Digital news sites aren’t making up for the shortfall in revenues either.

So, what’s the answer? More and more publications are charging their readers for accessing content. This is a brave decision, especially in a time when the media has become commoditized and services such as Google News offer up the same story.

Charging for content requires publishers to invest in their media staff and produce unique journalism that readers are interested in. This is another challenge that the Gulf’s newspapers will need to face up to. Most of the newspapers are government owned, and they cascade news down from officials to the public. Newspaper management across the Gulf are going to have to start producing content that readers are interested in, as it’s going to be the readers who will pay for that content.

Then, there’s the question of advertisers. Advertisers have shifted online for logical reasons. Online gives them reach at rates that make sense. Online advertising is real-time, the return-on-investment can be more easily measured, and it allows for a simpler path to purchase.

Newspapers such as the Guardian have been quick to adapt themselves to the needs of advertisers, blending trust in their reporting with the requirements of advertisers, to come up with new mediums such as native advertising. If newspapers are to win back advertisers, they’ve got to look to new advertising solutions that readers will also be interested in (if anyone wants ideas, they could have a look at what the New York Times is up to).

An Online Ad Tax?

I doubt that the governments in the region are going to step up and start levying fees on the likes of Facebook and Google, especially when they’re lobbying for these firms to invest more locally to help develop the local tech sector (the operations of these firms are primarily sales).

To date, the only major publication to close down in the UAE was 7Days, which was a privately-owned paper that pushed the boundaries of reporting on more than one occasion. Other privately-held news formats have also struggled, with the owners of the Doha News having to sell their site due to reporting restrictions.

What I have no doubt of is that there’s nowhere near enough investment in journalism, particularly reporting that readers want to see. Consolidation in the industry is inevitable, and it’ll only happen sooner if the media industry isn’t willing to adapt and change. And that will be a loss for us all, particularly for those working in public relations and communications. For me and for anyone who understands communications, print media still matters.

Dubai’s new volunteering law – the basics and what it means for you

Volunteering in the UAE has become more common, but it’s not clear what impact the law will have on volunteer numbers (image: Time Out Abu Dhabi)

Last month Dubai introduced for the first time legislation covering volunteering in the Emirate. The new law, which was passed a week ago, will impact both the public and organizations who want to donate their time and skills for free to local charities.

I’ll share information on the new law below from Gulf News, as well as analysis on the law at the bottom. As the law is now in effect, if you want the most up to date advice you will need to reach out to Dubai’s Community Development Authority (CDA) which is charged with its implementation.

Competencies 

The law grants the CDA a number of specialisations and jurisdictions regarding voluntary work, which include drawing up plans and public policies for voluntary work in Dubai and supervising their implementation, as well as encouraging public and private bodies and enterprises to launch voluntary work initiatives in Dubai.

The authority will also be responsible for approving the template for voluntary work agreements in coordination with bodies accepting volunteers, in addition to setting up a database to register volunteers in the emirate. (my emphasis here)

Analysis – All volunteering must be part of a wider agreement, and all volunteers must be logged into a database by the CDA.

Specialised volunteer work 

The law specifies that certain qualifications, expertise and conditions are required when it comes to specialised volunteer work, and specialised volunteers will need to have a license and the necessary permits from relevant bodies.

The CDA will issue licenses for specialised volunteer work when it ascertains that all conditions listed in this law have been met.

Analysis: If you’re a specialist (say a lawyer, or an accountant) then you’ll need to get permissions from the CDA (and other bodies) before volunteering. It’s not clear what other bodies the law is referring to here.

Volunteering teams 

Volunteers can set up teams, according to the law, on the condition that the team is registered in the official CDA database, and the nature of these teams, as well as terms and conditions that they should meet, will be set through a resolution issued by CDA’s Director-General.

Volunteers or volunteer teams are not allowed to collect donations or announce that donation will be collected until they have notified the CDA and have received the approval of concerned bodies.

As per the law, specific hours can be allocated during the official working hours of public and private employees in Dubai to participate in various volunteering activities, as long as it does not infringe on their vocational rights. The employers of the volunteering employees will have to coordinate with the bodies who are accepting the voluntary work prior to nominating any of its employees for carrying out institutional voluntary work. The public and private bodies will bear the responsibility for any consequences resulting from the voluntary work of the volunteers.

Analysis: If you’re a corporate or public sector body and you have a team donating their time, the full details will need to be logged by the CDA. No donation-collecting will be allowed (that’s already in practice at the moment). Plus, it looks as if the CDA is requesting corporates for employee volunteering to only happen during office hours. Any work done will be the responsibility of the organization which the volunteer employees work for.

Obligations of bodies accepting volunteers 

The law obliges government and private entities, including civil establishments licensed to work in Dubai, to set their voluntary standards and regulations and provide the Community Development Authority with these standards and controls, as well as to identify categories of volunteers and the nature of the work that each category can perform provided that the volunteer work shall be compatible with the volunteer’s qualifications and intellectual and physical abilities. 

The entities shall be obliged with training volunteers to carry out the tasks entrusted to them and helping them to highlight and foster their talents and ensure that their abilities are used properly.

The entities obligations include recording the volunteers’ data, the nature of voluntary work entrusted to them and the number of hours they volunteered in the database approved by the Community Development Authority, providing volunteers with necessary equipment, tools and information, and with insurance against injuries, infections and civil liability for harming others. 

Entities accepting volunteers shall be thereby responsible for all voluntary work expenses, including that of for the treatment of volunteers of any damage sustained while performing volunteer work, provided that such damage is caused due to the fault of the bodies in which they are volunteering with.

The entities obligations also include ensuring the safety of volunteers and beneficiaries of voluntary work against any damage that they may suffer from in the course of doing voluntary work, developing a preventive and safety system in coordination with the competent authorities, not to assign volunteer with more than (420) voluntary hours within one year, overseeing volunteers to verify that they are doing voluntary work as required, awarding the volunteers appreciation certificates once they complete the voluntary work perfectly.

Analysis: This seems to set out the need for all those entities involved in volunteering to have minimum written standards on the type of volunteering they’re offering/engaged in, who volunteers and whether the two are suited to each other. All volunteering needs to be logged and that information provided to the CDA. Charities will be liable for ensuring that volunteers are treated well (would this require insurance, I wonder?).

Voluntary work agreement

According to the law, the bodies accepting volunteers may seek help from volunteers as per the voluntary work agreement prepared by the CDA. The agreement shall contain all details regulating the relationship between the volunteer and the body they are volunteering in.

The law stipulates that the volunteers must not be less than 18 years old, otherwise, they need to get the approval of their guardians. Volunteers must be of good conduct and physically capable of undertaking voluntary work.

Analysis: The CDA will begin issuing voluntary work agreements to codify and professionalize volunteering. Volunteers will need to have clean records in order to be able to volunteer.

Rights and duties of volunteers 

The law stipulates that volunteers must abide by the voluntary work agreement and complete the voluntary work perfectly within the pre-determined time. Volunteers must respect the principles, goals and regulations of voluntary work set by bodies accepting volunteers. They also must respect the confidential information that they come across while carrying out voluntary work.

Volunteers must commit to the limits of the voluntary work, its goal and not to delve into the affairs of the bodies they are volunteering in. They must maintain the equipment and devices that they are given for voluntary work and to give it back to the bodies once the voluntary work is done.

Analysis: I’m not sure if any is needed here!

In conclusion, the law seeks to codify, measure and professionalize volunteering. However, there’s lots of questions still to be asked. How complex will volunteering become, and what other legislation or activities will the Government of Dubai undertake to promote volunteering. As the law has now been published, it’s already in effect. Charities, individuals and organizations involved in volunteering will have six months to ensure their full compliance.

You can download the full law here (in Arabic) – Dubai volunteering law

Why I decided to #deletefacebook and why you need to think twice too

I’ve had enough of being the product for an unethical company. Hence I have decided to #deletefacebook (image source: http://www.beebom.com)

Like many of you, I’ve been reading the unraveling story of how Cambridge Analytica harvested and manipulated the data of 50 million Facebook users to build a system to predict and influence choices during the US Election in 2016. If you haven’t read about this yet, please watch the video below from the Guardian and The Observer media teams led by the remarkable Carole Cadwalladr.

This story is so remarkable that it seems more at home in Hollywood than in reality. But it is important to us all. Over 2.2 billion people use Facebook; that’s just under a third of the world’s population.

We are the Product

I’m not naive, I understand the trade-off when using any social site. To quote media theorist and writer Douglas Rushkoff, companies like Facebook sell us and our data to advertisers: “Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually the people who are paying are the customers. Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don’t know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don’t know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers.”

I’ve always been ok with that, and it was a trade-off that I’ve been willing to make. But the reporting around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s inaction concern me. As far as I’m concerned, Cambridge Analytica basically stole, with Facebook’s consent, 50 million user profiles. Facebook’s system gave Cambridge Analytica the ability to take from the 320,000 people or so who used it all of their friend contacts on the site. The 49 million people whose data was taken and then misused had no idea about what was happening and how their information was used to manipulate American voters in 2016. And I assume most of them still have no idea, because Facebook didn’t tell them.

Does Facebook care about us?

I have no intention of being manipulated online by firms like Cambridge Analytica, and I don’t want them to access data without my permission to reach my friends and family. Unfortunately, the best way for me to ensure this doesn’t happen is to not be on Facebook. I know many people who work at the firm, and they’re good individuals. But there’s something wrong at the top of the organization. Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytica issue as far back as 2015. It took them three years to go public on this. Why?

 

Mark Zuckerberg may talk about connecting the world, but let’s be honest here. Facebook is a business, not an altruistic charity. It cares about revenues. And, sadly, that is leading Facebook’s leadership down a dark path with no care about me or my rights as a user. To quote the firm’s privacy policy on its collection of data, “We receive data whenever you visit a game, application, or website that uses Facebook Platform or visit a site with a Facebook feature … sometimes through cookies.”

What does Facebook care about more? Is it revenues or users? To me, the answer is obvious.

Facebook’s Lack of Ethical Leadership

Balancing what is profitable with what is right has never been easy, especially for publicly-listed companies. The expectation is that revenues will grow, quarter over quarter. While Facebook’s revenues may have grown, I’ve yet to see any ethical leadership from the company on pretty much anything. Facebook staggers from scandal to scandal. Take for example the story about how advertisers could target audiences by ethnicity, leading to the revelation that a brand could focus on users interested in antisemitic topics. Facebook’s leadership promised action, and little was taken.

And then there’s the story of how fake news producers have manipulated the site, most extensively during the US Presidential elections. What was Zuckerberg’s response (which has since come back to haunt Facebook)?

“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea. Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”

The behavioral pattern hasn’t changed with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook’s executives remained silent for a week. Zuckerberg pledged that 2018 would be the year that he “fixed Facebook.” Maybe a more pertinent suggestion would be for him to finally admit that he’s out of his depth and that he hands over to a leader who can balance both ethics and business.

 

I’m no longer the Product

There are other reasons why I don’t love Facebook like I used to. It’s impact on the media industry, a profession that I started out in at the beginning of my career, has been disastrous. For all the above, I’ve decided that enough is enough. I don’t want to be the product any more. What I do want to do is share a message with Facebook that the company has to change. And as I’m the product, it won’t be able to sell my data, including all my likes and my posts, to advertisers. I’m still thinking over what this means for my presence on other sites such as Twitter and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook). But my taking a stand with others who have stepped away from the site, I hope that we’ll force the company to change for the better. There needs to be respect  and protection for us as users, which the company’s leadership has never shown through its actions. I’ve taken the decision to #deletefacebook. Maybe you should too.

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

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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?

Lessons for the PR Industry from the Dubai Lynx

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The Dubai Lynx highlighted the issues that communicators (and their marketing colleagues) will need to face up to. But is anyone listening?

It was an early morning, but the 6.30am start from Abu Dhabi was certainly worth it. The Dubai Lynx is always worth a visit for anyone working in marketing and communications. The Festival, which is organized by the people behind the Cannes Lions, has been going for over a decade. And, as the two disciplines of marketing and communications coverge, the Dubai Lynx (which billed itself this year as the MENA region’s biggest celebration of creative communications) is becoming a must-attend for communications professionals.

For me, there were two basic takeaways from the Dubai Lynx:

  1. It’s all about data, data, data: Every other word seemed to be data. The push to incorporate data – big, small or something in-between – is understandable; the marcomms industry has always struggled with the question of ROI, and data measurement, when used wisely, should help answer the question of what are organizations getting for their money’s worth. When analyzed well, data will also help marcomms professionals better understand both their audience and their impact. However, what wasn’t mentioned was ‘creativity’. Have we swung too far over to talking about data, rather than marrying data with creativity? While I’m sure there are computers and algorithms that are far smarter than me, I doubt there’s any machine which understands the human mind better than we can. Could a computer have understood why the ice bucket challenge would have gone viral? Or the success of the Chewbacca mom? I doubt it.
  2. Agency Convergence gathers steam: There’s no marketing or communications in our industry anymore, as the list of agencies offering everything under the sun grows longer. Those marketing agencies who were already one-stop shops are going further, and breaking down the internal silos to promote better integration between the various disciplines. Some PR firms are creating new roles, such as creative leads and digital heads. And then there’s the big consultancy firms, the data goliaths such as Accenture, IBM and McKinsey, using their IT know-how and their understanding of strategy to break into the marcomms industry (we’ve already seen this with Accenture and IBM, and expect to see it with McKinsey in this region following their acquisition of marketing firm Elixir). For an industry which used to be mainly focused on media relations about a decade or so ago, this is a seismic shift. Expect to see the gap between those offer an ever-expanding range of services (think creative, digital, public affairs, technology) and those who stick to old-school offerings such as media relations to grow significantly over the coming year.
  3. Marketeers are doing PR (and some of their work is exceptional): One of the best PR executions I’ve seen in a long time was from last week. It was the ‘Fearless Girl’, a statue commissioned by State Street Global Advisors and executed by McCann New York. The concept, which was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, saw the ‘Fearless Girl’ face off against the famous Wall Street Charging Bull. The stunt symbolized the power of women in leadership and emphasized that companies with women in top positions perform better financially. Ask anyone in the business and they’ll tell you that McCann isn’t a PR agency, but rather a creative. However, much of the work which has been winning plaudits at Cannes recently has essentially been PR work executed by creative agencies.

The PR industry has gone through some remarkable change over the past decade. However, we’re going to see much more disruption over the short and medium term as creatives and consultancies move into new disciplines. Are PR firms ready to both embrace data and expand their own offerings? Or are we about to see another wave of industry consolidation over the coming five years? Time will tell.

Recycle Old News or Stick to Brand Values? How will firms deal with Trump?

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Trump’s Twitter attacks have targeted a number of firms. His behavior may not change when he takes up the Presidency today.

Trust me, it’s happening. Today, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. And, judging by the past couple of months, Trump will personally run his agenda of making America great again across the entire business community. Shel Holtz has written a fantastic piece about the impact that Trump has when he Tweets about a company which he feels isn’t doing enough to support his American vision.

Companies will have two basic strategies to deal with this new type of political risk; they can either recycle old news, or they can resist Trump’s attacks, and fight back (yes, you read that right, brands will go up against Trump).

We’re already seeing firms come out with a raft of job announcements. This week General Motors said it would invest US$1 billion in its U.S. manufacturing operations, which will lead to the creation or retention of 1,500 jobs, adding that it would also add another 5,000 American jobs “over the next few years” in finance and advanced technology. Fulfilling another Trump pledge, GM announced that around 450 jobs will be returned to the US as GM transfers back parts production from Mexico.

Other firms have also put out jobs announcements. Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos publicly rowed with Trump during the election campaign, announced that it’d hire over 100,000 staff over the next 18 months. “It’s a very powerful headline, and the timing certainly makes Trump look good,” Ivan Feinseth, an analyst at Tigress Financial Partners LLC, told Bloomberg. “It’s going to happen in the first year and half of his administration. Bezos couldn’t have set him up any better to look good — timing is everything.”

China’s Alibaba has sought to allay Trump’s Chinese angst by promoting job creation in the US. Last week, Alibaba chairman Jack Ma met with the president-elect to tell him that the Chinese Internet giant would create 1 million jobs for Americans by helping small domestic businesses sell to Asian markets via Alibaba.

Job creation in the US is a tactic that many firms will seek to copy over the coming months as Trump takes charge. How many of these announcements will stack up, who knows. We’ll only know for sure after the space of months or years. However, many brands will be tempted to win favor with Trump’s administration and stay out of his crosshairs by pushing job news. The questions many will ask are, is the news real (for example, will Alibaba really be able to create a million jobs for Americans?), and is the news old? It’s been alleged that the GM announcement was planned as far back as 2014.

The other approach that companies will take is to stand up to Trump. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Levick, president and CEO of the Levick public relations and communications firm explained why.

“Other companies will realize that the king doesn’t have a lot of clothing here,” he said. “At some point in the not too -distant future, a company will realize that there is greater value in being courageous and standing up to the president.”

To date, the best example of a brand fighting back against Trump is Vanity Fair. The publication, whose editor Graydon Carter has long been a critic, ran a piece in December last year titled, “Trump Grill Could Be The Worst Restaurant In America”. Needless to say, it didn’t go down well with the President-Elect.

The magazine responded  instantly, running a headline banner ad across its own and other sites entitled “The Magazine Donald Trump Doesn’t Want You to Read.” The result was 40,000 new subscribers.

“Vanity Fair played that perfectly,” Scott Farrell, an expert in crisis management and the president of Golin Corporate Communications, told the New York Times. “‘This was the magazine that Trump doesn’t want you to read.’ I think their response was consistent with the brand’s DNA.”

Firms will either have to proactively plan to put out information that will appeal to the new administration. Or they’ll have to plan on how to respond to a potential attach. Whatever they do, brands will have to move with speed, to counter Trump’s use of Twitter. Whichever route brands take, crisis comms experts (and the rest of us) are going to have an interesting four years. Unless someone turns off the WiFi in Trump Towers, that is.

Guest Post – Failing at the basics

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The anonymous editor really isn’t impressed by the lack of communication skills on show on the region’s agency side

Here’s a guest post for you, from our anonymous editor who has some advice for us public relations professionals in the region. Enjoy the read!

Here’s a question for you PR practitioners – what would your client think if a journalist told them ‘I emailed your agency with a request two weeks ago but I didn’t get any reply from them’?

The client wouldn’t be impressed, right?

So why, as a journalist, am I faced over and over again, with deafening silence when I contact so many different agencies? In the past six months, I’ve had numerous occasions where I have sent a request to an agency, and gotten absolutely no reply whatsoever. The same agencies are quite capable of making constant phone calls to my mobile when they want something, but apparently seem to think it’s OK to not even acknowledge an email sent ‘proactively’ by a journalist.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a reply, even if its just saying – ‘we got your email and our team will be in touch’. I don’t know whether you are waiting for the client to respond, but at least telling me you are working on it, or that the client is away, lets me know, so I can find another source or another interview subject if you aren’t able to reply by my deadline.

Sometimes an email may go to the wrong practice team or to someone who is on holiday. But everyone should know that if they are the wrong person, they need to pass the email along to the right person. An ‘out of office’ message is a simple courtesy. Even if you are not working with that client any more, not replying is bad for any future relationship with that reporter.

At the end of the day, your client is paying you to field media enquiries – I don’t expect 24-7 service (even if many clients might seem to believe they own every hour of your day!) – but your client has a right to expect communications from media during office hours are answered asap. Not ‘I was in meetings all week’ or some other excuse…

Failing to respond to an email from a ‘customer’ is a basic failing in business practice, for any business. When the business is PR and you are selling the strength of your ‘relationships’ with the media, it’s just plain stupid.