Creatives, PR and Media – Where are the Gulf’s Faces to Watch?

There’s many young faces to watch in the Gulf’s creative, public relations and media industries, but if you’re looking for Gulf nationals on the agency side you’ll be sorely disappointed. The industry must find ways to solve this issue of diversity and inclusion.

I’ve enjoyed reading about the future of the region’s marcomms sector over the past couple of weeks in Campaign Middle East. The publication has listed the ‘ones to watch’ in the creative, public relations and media sectors. The people featured are an impressive bunch, and just reading about their abilities, potential and experiences at such a young age (they’re all 30 or under) is inspiring.

I was struck, however, by one detail. I didn’t see anyone I recognized as a Gulf national. There was so much talent from countries such as Egypt and Lebanon, but no one from Saudi or the UAE.

For anyone based over here, it’s probably not a surprise that there’s not enough diversity and inclusion in the marcomms industry/function, especially on the Agency side (this listing was Agency-focused). While there are Gulf nationals working agency-side, especially in Bahrain and Saudi, there’s certainly not enough.

How Can We Attract More Nationals?

The marcomms industry isn’t alone in struggling to attract enough young national talent – only one percent of the Emirati labor force is employed in the private sector, compared to 60 percent in government. But the landscape across the Gulf has shifted in a number of countries. Governments in Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia are heavily promoting the idea of nationals applying to the private sector. More nationals are also eager to try new fields, particularly in the creative space. Here’s my suggestions on what each party must do to change perceptions and encourage diversity and inclusion.

The Industry and National Misconceptions

Let’s begin with the agencies and private sector firms who hire (the client side). We’ve got to break down the misconceptions and stereotypes around nationals, focusing on two key points. First, there’s the issue of work ethic; for far too long, there’s been a view that Gulf nationals don’t want to and won’t work the longer hours that the private sector asks of them (governments traditionally worked from 7 or 8am to early afternoon). Second, there’s compensation; Gulf nationals have often earned more working for the public sector.

I’m not going to be naive and pretend that these issues don’t exist. In Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE there’s a high differential between private and public sector pay for nationals, as well as additional benefits such as longer vacations.

However, we’ve already seen a shift in Bahrain, Oman and Saudi, where it’s common to find a national working in marketing or comms on the client side. To their credit, some agencies such as Gulf Hill and Knowlton have always looked to hire local in these markets (they had a large roster of Saudis some years back, and they’ve also hired a number of Bahrainis). In these markets governments are both telling their nationals to look towards the private sector and reducing the compensation differential.

For many in the private sector, they’ve not even put in the effort to test if the old stereotypes are true. There’s nowhere near enough engagement with universities across the region, not enough internships for nationals, and little in the way of mentoring. These are low-cost activities, which both agencies and clients should be undertaking. At the very least, they need to look for local talent, so they can benefit from insights that only nationals can bring to the table.

Governments and Talent Development

The private sector is only one half of the challenge. The other is governments.  Understandably, the region has long sought to develop its own talent. The number of nationals working in the marcomms function has risen rapidly, at least on the government side. It’s understandable that many nationals, particularly in Qatar and the UAE, would want to work in the public sector – pay in these two countries is, generally speaking, much higher. Plus, there’s a preference for locals, meaning there’s less competition for positions.This has become a double-edged sword. There’s more marketing and communications jobs in government, pay is better, and there’s less competition for these roles. What this has led to is young nationals being advanced into senior roles, often when they’re not yet ready or experienced enough.

If governments are serious about developing local talent, they’ve got to change this approach to public sector hiring and instead focus on long-term development, in partnership with private sector firms. This could include funded internships, either at home or abroad, as well as engagement with industry associations such as the IABC to promote certifications and long-term career mapping (I’ll share more about this soon). What’s clear is that national communicators who have worked only in one sector are missing out on all the potential learnings and development the other can offer, including the ability to work with and learn from other nationalities and culture (diversity and inclusion is also an issue on the government side).

Advice for Young Gulf Nationals

My advice for any young Gulf national is simple. Go and explore the private sector, understand the training and development it can offer you, and ensure you’ve tried every single option before you go into the public sector. If you’re after a challenge and you’re passionate about what you do, the money and position will follow. But if you want to be the very best you can be, and learn from a wider group of people from around the world, then moving into the private sector will be the best thing that you can do.

Likewise, we need you. We need the industry to be more diverse and inclusive (this equally applies to the public sector, where there aren’t enough expats working today), we need your insights and knowledge, and we need your understanding of the local culture, behavioral psychology, and awareness of how the Gulf’s local communities are changing. Today, we don’t have enough of this on the agency or client side. And it’s our loss. This scenario needs to change.

If you want to talk more, message me. I’m always giving my time to universities, to talk about the profession and help you understand your options. I’m happy to answer any question you may have, and point you in the right direction.

The Best and Worst of Media in the UAE

The UAE’s media community has come together to support long-time radio and television host Jeff Price who needs surgery to help alleviate a rare brain condition.

There are days when you see the best in people, and there are days when you feel the opposite. The pas couple of weeks have shown the UAE’s media industry in both lights.

First, at the end of June, there came the news that the UAE’s Radio 1 and Radio 2 stations would close indefinitely. The decision to pull the plug was effectively made by Abu Dhabi Media which withdrew the frequency licences from Gulf News Broadcasting. I did occasionally listen to the channels, and I’ll miss them (I’m probably one of the few people in the industry which values radio’s reach and impact, especially considering how long people spend in their cars in the UAE).

The worst part of the story is the layoff of the production team and talent who worked on the two stations. Between 25 and 30 people have been let go. The below statement was the only public comment that I know of which made on the closures.

“Gulf News Broadcasting LLC is today announcing that with immediate effect it will no longer be managing the Radio One & Radio Two stations.

“This is as a result of unforeseen circumstances, which are beyond the control of Gulf News Broadcasting LLC.

“Gulf News Broadcasting LLC would like to thank all its employees, advertising partners and supporters for their contribution, effort and commitment for the successful management of Radio One & Radio Two stations over the last 10 years.

“No further comment will be made.”

And now for the better side of the media industry. Some of you may know Jeff Price. For those of you who don’t, I’ll quote the words from his own Go Get Funding site.

Jeff has been in the UAE for over 22 years and during that time has hosted numerous radio and TV shows, he helped launch City 7 TV, Radio 1 and 2 and was the voice of family entertainment for many of Dubai’s premium events Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, Legends Rock Dubai Tennis, Dubai Duty Free Tennis and many more. He has lived a high profile life, achieving a huge amount.

What most people don’t know is the incredible amount he’s also done behind the scenes. Jeff has tirelessly championed just causes from repatriating Filipino workers who’ve become too ill to work and can’t get home to raising funds for charities helping construction workers families and those coping with crippling disabilities.Being the Jeff we know and love, he doesn’t mention these projects, causes and achievements, because that is his way.

Yes, he’s worked with everybody from Richard Branson to Chuck Berry, James Brown, and the Black Eyed Peas, and been instrumental in launching the careers of many of our favourite household names, but his passion has always been to help and fight for those unable to help themselves.

Now Jeff needs your help. Urgently.

Earlier this year after searing headaches, Jeff was diagnosed with a rare brain condition that leaks fluid into his skull. Whilst he does have medical insurance, this was not able to cover 2 life-saving operations. Jeff, along with our family, friends and generous colleagues got him through the first two surgeries, but now the money has run out. Jeff needs to raise more than 300,000 AED to have a valve fitted a third time to reduce the pressure on his brain and for further medical treatment required in this complex diagnosis.This is time sensitive as daily his sight is failing and the short–term memory and speech areas of his brain are being damaged.

It’s time to give back to Jeff.

He’s brought joy to countless millions over the years and been a true credit to the UAE expatriate dream, working hard, mentoring others and giving without hesitation to those less fortunate. All while bringing up the two children he adores – 13 year old Maddy and 3 year old CJ, who so many of you also know and love.

We are now asking for Jeff’s vast international family of friends to contribute if they possibly can. Jeff has never shied away from seeking help for those in need, but at a time when he needs that help himself, he feels unable to ask you himself, so we have to do it for him.

We are setting up a fully audited and transparent online contribution blog so that you can pay cash directly and contact others who can help too.

We all know from Jeff being a part of our lives, with his warmth, humour and compassion, that Jeff would help you in a heartbeat.

It’s his time now.

Please give what you can to help us get him the treatment he desperately needs as soon as possible.

Members of our community have helped Jeff reach half his target of 65 thousand pounds. Let’s show how good we are, by donating to Jeff during his hour of need. You can donate at his Go Get Funding page here.

Changes in the Region’s Media Scene – BuzzFeed in, Dubai One is out, and we say goodbye to Iain Akerman

In the spirit of Ramadan, here’s a BuzzFeed cat meme to get us all excited! (image source: BuzzFeed)

The summer is traditionally a quiet period for the region; the same goes for Ramadan. This year seems to have been the exception to the rule. First, we had Gulf News reporting that BuzzFeed is considering opening an office in the Middle East. The website publisher, famous for its kitten memes and political coverage, apparently sees an opportunity in Arabic with a local audience, according to the piece written by Gulf News’ Alexander Cornwell.

BuzzFeed, the news and entertainment website best known for its pictures of cats, wants to expand into the Middle East with the launch of an Arabic website.

Launched in 2006, the United States website, which is steadily increasing its hard news content, has already launched UK, Australia, France, Brazil and Español (Spanish) editions. Since November 2013, the website has seen more than 130 million unique monthly visitors, of whom 30 per cent are from outside the United States.

Scott Lamb, Vice-President of International, BuzzFeed, told Gulf News in a phone interview that the Middle East is one of two regions where BuzzFeed is most interested in expanding to.

“There is nothing like BuzzFeed in the Arabic-speaking content,” he said…

Lamb said that there is no set date for the launch of the Arabic language website and that it would have to wait until next year after Germany and India, indicating that the finer details are yet to be worked out.

Asked where BuzzFeed would base its regional operations given that many major international media outlets have set up bureaus in Dubai in recent years while Beirut and Cairo are seen as more traditional regional hubs for news bureaus, Lamb said that it had not been decided.

“We’re not that far down the road,” he said, “We have a fairly big office in London. One possibility would be doing a lot of the coverage from there. But if we were to set up in the region, we would want a physical presence.”

BuzzFeed New York office produces much of its Spanish content.

BuzzFeed started producing hard news content in 2012 with coverage of the US presidential election. Since then it has hired Miram Elder, recruited from The Guardian, as its Foreign Editor.

Internationally, BuzzFeed has had reporters on the ground covering Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Elder has also led coverage of two topics that are heavily discussed on social media, women’s rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.

“We saw this very vibrant conversation around the news in those two spheres [and so] we wanted a team to create original content,” Lamb said.

BuzzFeed plans to continue to increase the amount of hard news content, but Lamb said it would not be stepping away from the traditional social media friendly content of cute cats and quizzes that it is still best known for.

“Ideally, we are looking for a 50/50 mix … we try and keep it very balanced,” he said.

As if the thought of cat memes alongside Arabic-language LGBT news wasn’t enough, the second piece of news was the closure of Dubai One, the English-language television station run by Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI). The channel, best known for programmes like HerSay and Out and About, will lay off 80 percent of its staff as reported by Arabian Business.

Dubai One was created to cater to expatriates in Dubai and the wider region. The channel has fallen behind the likes of satellite provider OSN and the Saudi-owned giant MBC.

Sarah Ahmed Al Jarman, the general manager for Dubai One, told Arabian Business via email that “we have stopped our 4 locally produced shows”, without elaborating. Al Jarwan also referred any further questions to the DMI inhouse public relations team.

And last but not least, we have to say a sad farewell to the Editor of Campaign Middle East, Iain Akerman. Iain was spoken of by those in the creative and media sectors as a journalist to be both feared and respected – he’d chase his sources for breaking news and he’d often champion investigative journalism. I once remember talking to one agency head who referred to Iain with a pained expression. Iain, I wish there were more like you here. You will be truly missed.