How the Media Industry can regain its influence in today’s Social Media world

Is Print Dead

Print may not be dead in the region, but are there way that the media industry can regain influence lost to social media celebrities? (image source http://abcodigital.com)

I recently had an email exchange with a colleague in the PR industry here in Dubai on the issue of the communications industry and how to develop. I asked, what do we need to do better to make the communications function in the region better. His response was fascinating. To quote:

The truth remains that more and more media outlets are closing down, journalists being made redundant, consumers not reading much – but “following” social trends!

All what most of us have done is jump into the “influencer” band-wagon and discuss $ rates on the number of posts along with potentially a storyline. This should change. We need to find something more creative than being short-sighted to tap into the money.

But what keeps me awake at night (beyond other things, of course!) is what if media outlets close down, journalism as a profession becomes history – who the hell do we pitch our stories to?

While it’s true that the PR industry in the region has had a hand in the rapid and prominent rise of social media influencers, what about the case for the PR industry’s role in the declining influence of media, particularly print.

Here’s my two cents on how the media in the Gulf should work to regain its influence in today’s digital age. Let’s start with a look at one issue which the media has struggled with, namely transparency:

  • Audited Media – The number of audited print publications in the region is relatively low (we’re probably talking percentage-wise in the single digits). Whilst publishers such as ITP, and, most especially, Motivate have pushed for audited print titles, few others have followed suit. Audited numbers make our job of targeting the right media easy; we’re able to easily compare media titles, understand the reader breakdown and make a judgement as to whether a certain title is worth working with editorially (and then, later down the line, through advertising). It helps PRs clearly align media outreach with the business strategy, and it gives us trusted, independently audited numbers to back up our approach.
  • Unaudited Media – The vast majority of media in the region isn’t audited. Their numbers cannot be verified, and my assumption (which I assume is commonly shared in the industry), is that distribution numbers and readership is over-inflated. There’s no way that we can trust the circulation numbers given by publishers, and there’s no way that we can trust that the audience that we need to reach is seeing our messaging.
  • Advertising Media – Forgive the name for this third category. This is media which is created solely for the purposes of capturing advertising revenues, with limited to no circulation. With little to no circulation to talk of – in contrast to the publicized circulation numbers – such media and their publishers have done little to no favor to the reputation of media in the region. And it doesn’t help our cause in promoting media as the most effective means to reach out to our target audience, especially when the publication has effectively no audience.

The second issue is digital. Whilst some publishers, titles and journalists have embraced digital platforms including websites, podcasts, vlogs and social media, others have yet to leverage the power of online distribution and amplification. Digital remains a challenge for much of the media industry globally; no newspaper has been able to make a profit and run its business from its online sales revenues. However, with consumers in the Gulf region essentially living their lives online, does it make sense for traditional media publications to not be online?

The other aspect of digital which media needs to leverage is its ability to engage in real time with its audience, and build audience profiles. I’m yet to see or meet an influencer who will be able to give me an up-to-date breakdown of their followers’ interests, age ranges, geographies and other demographics. The media can and should be helping to build up reader profiles which in turn will help us work with them to target the right audiences. This requires trust and transparency, which is still hard to come by with many titles (see the above).

I feel its especially important that journalists build their online profiles. While many are being laid off as publications shrink, brands need reputable voices to work with. For me, there’s little comparison between a professional journalist and a social media influencer in the Gulf (there are exceptions). When reviewing a product, it’s much more likely that a journalist will give a less biased viewpoint, and will include both positives as well as negatives. That builds integrity and trust with readers, which advertisers should seek out as the holy grail of brand building. Journalists need to think about transitioning into content creators and distributors for brands, much like their social media influencer counterparts. The difference will be in their ability to tell a balanced story that is trusted by their readers.

Whilst the region’s media scene is slowly feeling the impact of ad spending shifting online (just look at the recent closures, including 7Days), I cannot and don’t want to image a day where we have no media to work with. The media industry has to play its part in changing to meet the needs of consumers, through embracing both transparency and digital platforms. I have a great deal of respect for the professionalism and expertise of many publications and journalists in the region, and I know how influential they can be. We need to ensure that their influence is recognized in a fashion that is understood outside of the media industry, by businesses who want to engage publicly.

Do you have any inputs or thoughts on the media industry and how they should change to remain relevant? If yes, then please do share them with me in the comments below.

More media launches in the Gulf – Newsweek Middle East and Inc.

Who wouldn’t want to be a publisher in the Gulf right now? While the industry is losing money left, right and center in the US (and in Europe), the Gulf is seeing a glut of publication launches. The newest titles are Newsweek Middle East and Inc. Newsweek Middle East was launched recently by ARY Digital Network, a Pakistani television company. Their first issue was launched in English at the end of October and an Arabic edition is also in the pipeline. The website is http://www.newsweekme.com. The publication’s two front pages are below, along with a short video from their Twitter feed (the team have accounts on Facebook and on Instagram, and for those of you young uns out there, they are also running a Snapchat account under the name @NewsweekME).

The second publication, which is yet to launch is Inc. magazine, a monthly publication focusing on fast-growth companies. To be based in Qatar, the publication has been hiring journalists from Dubai publishers and should launch by the turn of the year in both English and Arabic.

While the launches of local editions for two global titles is to be welcomed, especially the Arabic-language editions, the question is if/when will this region suffer the same slowdown in terms of ad sales (Newsweek stopped publishing in the US for sometime in 2012 and 2013 and went fully digital for a year). With the Gulf becoming a global pioneer in terms of digital firsts among consumers (for example smartphone penetration, social media usage), will advertisers realize there’s more ROI to be had in advertising online rather than in print? Let’s wait and find out.

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.

The cost, and ethics, of paying Instagrammers in Kuwait

Kuwait is known for its love of Instagram and local Instagrammers (image source: http://www.248am.com)

A fascinating blog post by Mark of TwoFortyEightAM has me focusing on not just the cost of using Instagrammers, but the ethics of advertising through influencers in this region. In his post last week, Mark published a list of how much Kuwaiti Instagrammers get paid per post by advertisers. To quote from Mark’s blog, here’s a sample of some Kuwaiti Instagrammers and how much they/their agencies charge (note: prices are in Kuwaiti Dinars and one KD is just under 3.5 US Dollars).

@ahmad_asb (134,700 followers) KD450
@alimubarak1 (68,152 followers) KD450
@ameralshaibani (204,455 followers) KD450
@ascia_akf (1,005,559 followers) KD850
@azizbader (497,708 followers) KD850
@basharnoo (342,316 followers) KD400
@batoul_alkandari (224,233 followers) KD450
@bb_alabdulmohsen (59,123 followers) KD350
@dalalid (866,687 followers) KD850
@daneeda_t (358,396 followers) KD450
@dr_shammat (887,156 followers) KD750
@elham_alfedhalah74 (1,758,795 followers) KD900
@faisalalbasri (474,132 followers) KD850
@fawaz_alfahad (111,874 followers) KD400
@groupwanasah_ (444,647 followers) KD350
@hayaalshuaibi_79 (814,972 followers) KD700
@kaftanusman (516,835 followers) KD500
@nohastyleicon (811,541 followers) KD850
@omaralothman (92,482 followers) KD500
@thedietninja (351,952 followers) KD550
@therealfouz (216,096 followers) KD500
@theveeview (631,973 followers) KD500
@yousif_alblooshi (171,520 followers) KD350

You can see pricing lists for one agency, Ghaliah, here.

What fascinates me more than the pricing (and the analytics) is that of the ethics associated with influencers such as the above. In the US, if an influencer is taking money for a post they’ll have to make this known to their audience – it’s a legal requirement to ensure that their audience understands what they’ve just posted online is paid-for and therefore is an advert.

However, there are few Instagrammers here who do the same. As mentioned by one of Mark’s visitors, one of the Instagrammers above does use a * to denote a paid-for ad. But as for the others, there’s no suggestion as to what is paid-for and not paid-for.

Is this right? As a follower, I’d like to know if someone is paid for promoting another brand. It’s honest and forthright. Unfortunately, we will have to keep on guessing whether or not these posts are free or paid-for. Maybe this is one area where we need more government legislation to help consumers know what is really going on.

As for the costs of these Instagrammers, it’d be interesting to know how advertisers track their return-on-investment for sponsoring these paid-for posts. While Kuwait is one of the largest markets for Instagram in this region, it’s still difficult to know what percentage of followers is real and what percentage is fake. Similarly, when you’re spending over $2k USD on an Instagram post what are your intended outcomes as an advertiser?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above, as well as how much Instagrammers get paid in the rest of the region. Ta for now!

Finance and entrepreneurship goes digital with souqalmal.com

I love entrepreneurs, I really do. At their best they’re gutsy, bold, decisive, innovative, and they’re not afraid of risk. Frankly, we need more entrepreneurs in the Middle East.

I had the pleasure and the opportunity to meet the person behind the idea of souqalmal.com last week. After stints with GE, Mastercard and the consultancy firm Bain Ambareen Musa took the jump into the entrepreneurial space to found souqalmal.com.

Souqalmal.com is the first website I’ve come across in the region which provides a comprehensive view of a variety of financial products, including credit cards, personal finance, home and vehicle finance, insurance and personal banking accounts. In other words the portal is an Gulf-based version of money.co.uk (the site presently caters to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) and is both incredibly easy to use as well as very handy when comparing different products in the market.

Souqalmal isn’t just about providing the basic data however. The site lets subscribers rate products, just as you would do on a Tripadvisor for a hotel or amazon.com for a book. As a consumer you get to rate that service and provide your input to hundreds and thousands of others who will be using the site. That consumer feedback element should raise the bar for the financial services industry in the region by highlighting what is both good and bad about the product and it services.

What I love most about what Ambareen is doing is that she’s established a business that is providing a much-needed public service. She’s dived in, she’s pushing ahead, and I do believe that she and souqalmal.com will improve what and how the financial sector offers and deals with the region’s consumers. I for one wish her all the success in the world, and can’t wait to start putting down my thoughts on souqalmal’s review sections!

Will Souqalmal.com and one person’s entrepreneurial spirit change the face of consumer banking in the Gulf? Let’s hope so!