My 2018 Predictions and Hopes for the PR & Communications Function (Part 2)

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Continuing from my predictions yesterday, here’s my top four list for how I hope the industry can improve in 2018 (image source: http://www.marketingland.com)

This is part two of my 2018 wish list (I’d rather not call it a resolution list, as we all know how resolutions end up). These points underline how I think we can move forward as a function and become better as an industry. Here we go.

My Hopes for 2018

  1. Gender Equality – 2017 was a defining year for gender equality, with campaigns such as #MeToo underlining how much still needs to be done for women to have parity with men in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, these campaigns passed over much of the Middle East, with little discussion of sexual discrimination. With others leading by example and not just words (Iceland is the first country in the world where companies with 25 or more employees now need to get government certification to prove that they offer equal pay for work of equal value), will 2018 be the year when the industry promotes gender equality? Some agencies have already begun; following her appointment as the new CEO for MEMAC Ogilvy in September, John Seifert, Ogilvy’s worldwide chief, said Patou Nuytemans would be “a real agent of change” for the company. “Patou is one of our boldest and bravest leaders,” Seifert said. “She will be a brilliant role model for a whole pipeline of young female talent who will become the leaders in our business.” I’m hoping for more positive change for all the women working in our industry.
  2. Merit-Based Hiring I’ve talked about merit-based hiring before, and the damage that is being done to the industry by unsustainable practices, especially hiring based on nationality. We’re already facing a hiring crisis in cities such as Abu Dhabi and Doha when it comes to government entities and communications roles; there’s not enough experienced nationals to fill these roles, and expats are often only offered one-year contracts, which just isn’t good enough to attract the right talent.  Both the private and the public sectors need to work together to understand how to create a long-term plan that encourages Arab nationals to join the industry/function. Governments also need to appreciate the importance of diversity in their communications function, especially when communicating with a diverse range of stakeholders (and communications leaders in the government sector, especially expats, need to start speaking truth to power). We’ve got to move away from quotas/filling roles with certain groups, and think differently to ensure that we have the right people in the right roles. Only then will communications be valued and used as much as it needs to be.
  3. Promotion of Arab talent – We’re facing a shortage of Arabic language natives in the industry. This has been exacerbated by challenges in bringing Syrians into the industry (Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians make up the vast majority of talent in the industry who can read, speak and write Arabic fluently). With the Eastern Gulf facing its own issues due to a focus on English-language across education systems and at home, the PR industry has to address the Arab talent question. It needs to do more with universities across the region and prioritize promoting communications and public relations as a viable career option for Arab nationals. The industry also needs more Arab national role models who are willing to step up and act as role models for others (considering how many agencies and communications professionals there are in the region, there are simply not enough visible leaders and mentors, both from the wider Arab world and especially from the Gulf). Let’s hope 2018 is a good year for Arab talent.
  4. Better Government Engagement – The past couple of years have seen a transformation in terms of how governments in the region communicate with their stakeholders. Government leaders are online, on social media, and they’re actively pushing out communication. This year is transformational for two countries in the Gulf, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with the introduction of tax. As the American saying goes, taxation leads to representation. This may not be the case in the Gulf region with the expatriates, but now that we have a proper taxation system in place, there will be more questions from expats especially as to where the money is being used. More transparency and engagement from the region’s governments will go a long way to building trust with the public. If governments are going to continue improving how they communicate, they’ll need a more diverse set of communicators, both in-house and agency-side (see point 2).

There you have it, that’s my wish list for what I’d like to see the industry doing this year. Do you agree, and do you have any more you’d like to add? As always, I’d like to hear from you.

The New York Times looks to Arabic, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat goes Chinese

The New York Times’ Mark Thompson expects the newspaper to focus more on the Middle East next year; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat is moving further east, to China (image source: http://english.alarabiya.net)

All eyes in the media world seem to be looking East. First, at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, we had New York Times Company chief executive Mark Thompson talking about how the New York Times is looking to print and report in additional languages next year (the paper currently publishes in English and Chinese). Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Thompson spelt out his vision for the New York Times and its relationship with the Middle East.

“We will look at other languages and obviously Arabic is on this list. We would not want to do anything that was not very high quality, and it’s got to make economic sense.”

“The appeal of the Middle East – whether we do an Arabic edition or not – is that it is a big region which necessarily, because of the extremely complex and unstable politics of the wider region, is fascinated by news,” he added.

“We also believe that a lot of people would be interested in other perspectives. For the really international news brands the Middle East is an opportunity you cannot ignore.”

Not to be outdone, one of the region’s largest and most respected newspapers is looking to launch its own Chinese version of the newspaper online. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat already publishes in both English and Arabic and has numerous apps and digital editions in addition to its online portal and hard copy – its Android app has around 25,000 unique users on a daily basis, and I’m sure its applications on the iPhone and iPad have the same amount, if not more, readers.

What is fascinating is Al-Sharq’s focus on Asia. The newspaper, which claims a daily circulation of 230,000 copies, is looking to establish itself in and around the largest economies in Asia. As part of this drive, the newspaper’s editorial management is looking to print in Mandarin Chinese. With Saudi’s increasing focus on Asia (the newspaper is owned by a Saudi-listed company), the move to publish in Chinese makes sense. Will other Arab newspapers follow suit?

Will Huffington Post’s entry into the Gulf be a game-changer?

How will the Huffington Post affect the Gulf’s media landscape? We’ll find out early next year. (image source: http://www.aim.org)

Being in the Middle East’s media sector can often feel like waiting for a bus. You can wait for years for a new launch (post-2008 in any case) and then all of a sudden you have two of the world’s largest news portals announcing expansion plans. First we had Buzzfeed, and now we have the Huffington Post. The local site Doha News broke the story earlier this month. According to the piece, the site will be partnered by the former director general of the Al Jazeera Media Network Wadah Khanfar and his media firm Integral Media Strategies.

The site will be in Arabic and will launch early next year. HuffPost Arabi, as it will be known, will be based in London. HuffPo founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington is quoted by Doha News as saying the site would “bring more Arab voices into the conversation and deepen the world’s understanding of life in the Arab world, from its problems to its accomplishments to its untapped potential.”

The site will include a combination of aggregation, blog posts from a wide variety of sources and original reporting from HuffPo reporters and Khanfar’s team.

Launched in 2005, the original Huffington Post redefined online media by working with bloggers to aggregate news. The site was the first online news portal to win a Pulitzer and was sold in 2011 for 315 million dollars to AOL. Besides English, the Huffington Post is published in French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German, Portuguese and Korean.

However, how will the Arabic be received? Firstly, Khanfar was one of the driving forces behind the success of Al Jazeera. However, with him at the helm HuffPost Arabi is likely to be persona non grata in many of the Gulf states due Al Jazeera’s implied support for Islamist groups and perceived interference in the internal politics of governments across the region.

In addition, much of the dialogue that the Huffington Post is looking to encourage in the region can already be found online on social media. With its base in London, five thousand kilometers from the Gulf, how will the HuffPost Arabi be able to distinguish itself in a crowded media landscape that is government controlled? I can’t wait to find out.

Will there be more Farsi-language newspapers? On its 35th birthday Al-Sharq Al-Awsat goes Iranian

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in Farsi? It’s going to happen, and most likely soon.


There’s few pan-Arab newspapers of note. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, or AAA as I and others so lazily call it, is one of those papers that is everywhere and which demands respect. The green-tinted paper, which only this week celebrated its 35th anniversary and which was one of the first to be printed offshore in London, is a must-read for anyone looking to understand politics in the Gulf and between the Gulf states and the rest of the Middle East.

Owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, the paper is set to again make history by being the first tier-one newspaper in the region to publish in Farsi. While I don’t have the full details on when or how (I’m assuming that the focus will be more on online rather than an actual print version simply to reach as many Farsi speakers inside and outside Iran), the move may mark the beginning of an effort by Saudi Arabia – the Saudi Research and Marketing Group is run and majority owned by the Saudi Royal family – to proactively communicate with Iran’s people directly in their own language.

The timing is also fascinating, coming as it does after the conclusion of Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad’s time in office and the election of the new President-elect Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani has been described as a moderate and one of his many tasks may include reducing the amount of censorship imposed on Iranians living in their own country; Iran has one of the most sophisticated web filter systems active globally today allowing the Government to block any external site at will.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s Farsi move may be long overdue. There’s been concerted efforts by the Iranian Government for some time to speak directly to an Arab audience, most noticeably through its television station Press TV. Will other Gulf governments follow Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s lead and print their own Farsi language paper or launch more Farsi-language websites?