Can We Please Appoint (Qualified) Comms People to Comms Roles?

people talking

“Did you hear about the time they appointed a banker to head up communications in the White House?”

It’s rant time. I saw the news this morning that President Trump is expected to name Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. This follows the move by United Airlines to promote its general counsel to effectively head/oversee global communications.

When is the last time any self-respecting firm went out and hired a CFO who wasn’t a chartered accountant. Or a legal counsel who was not licensed? And yet, despite crisis after crisis, firms and organizations are still appointing people to look after their reputations who are neither qualified nor have the necessary experience.

While I’ve written before about merit, this is different. As an industry and a function, we need to start promoting the idea of a global qualification that will be a prerequisite for stepping up to a certain role or responsibility. 

Organizations need to know that the person they’re bringing in is competent at all times (particularly during a crisis), is ethical in their behavior, understands how to listen to and engage with all stakeholders, and is able to show a proper understanding of how communications delivers organizational value through measurement. A certification should be able to prove this and more.

The CIPR has developed its accredited and chartered status labels. The IABC also has its CMP and SCMP certifications. As an industry, isn’t it about time that we come together, through a global body such as the Global Alliance, to push for certification for members and for hiring managers and organizations who are looking for communications professionals to favor those practitioners who are globally certified?

I’d say yes, it’s about time.

GEMS foot-in-mouth syndrome and the curious case of the disappearing comments

Please don’t put your foot in your mouth. If you have to say something do mutter the words when the room is empty, or when you’re in the middle of the ocean. And it’s also advisable to stay away from media (image credit: http://www.ronedmondson.com)

There’s a condition that I like to name foot-in-mouth syndrome. Basically, foot-in-mouth happens when an executive talks to a journalist and doesn’t think before they speak. This results in classic ‘how did they say that’ quotes which often whip up a storm of protests from all and sundry.

This week we had one of the best foot-in-mouth moments I’ve read for some time. The chairman of GEMS Education, the UAE’s largest provider of primary and secondary education, gave an interview to Gulf Business. The story was rapidly picked up by Arabian Business and has provoked hundreds of comments from some very angry parents. The quotes which did the (most) damage were below.

Parents have no right to complain about fees if they choose a high school they cannot afford, GEMS Education chairman said of “grumbling” parents in an interview with Gulf Business.

“If you put your children in a school that you can’t afford then you can’t grumble,” Sunny Varkey said.
“You understand what I’m saying? You must choose a school that you can afford.

“It’s normal human behaviour [for parents] to defend fees. But parents can very well see which are the schools that are good, outstanding, fair, or not good. And, accordingly, they can choose a school.”

I love media sites on the internet, partly because of the ability to leave comments and the inevitable pearls of wisdom that readers leave. Varkey’s foot-in-mouth (and if you can’t see why this is a disaster of an interview for Varkey, you’re beyond the pale) was attacked from all sides by parents. Comments included such wonders as ‘It’s no wonder GEMS and HSBC (?) are the two most hated firms in the UAE’, and ‘If graduates from your schools are as arrogant as you are then your schools are definitely not worth the tuition. I would highly recommend getting media training before giving out interviews.’

I wish I could show you more comments; the last time I saw the piece with the comments section still live there were 98 printed which must be a record for the site. However, Arabian Business’ publisher ITP has taken off comments for this piece, either due to the severity of the comments or, more likely, someone possibly threatening legal action.

What happened to the comments on Sunny Varkey’s case of foot-in-mouth? I don’t know. But I can at least leave you this cached screen shot to show you that what goes on the internet can always be found!

Where did the comments go? Only ITP and GEMS will know!

Where did the comments go? Only ITP and GEMS will know!

Is too much government intervention good or bad for innovation in the Gulf?

Is the Gulf’s innovation being hindered by too much government intervention? (credit: techpionions.com)

There’s been a couple of news stories recently that caught my eye. One was an interview on Kipp Report with the managing director of an online website called Tejuri.com. The article, which you can reach here, focuses on how Tejuri.com positions itself as the official online distribution channel for retailers registered with the Emirate’s Department of Economic Development.

Aside from the wisdom of launching an online distribution channel that is government-supported in the year 2013, the piece got me thinking about other areas. One example is non-governmental work, which (surprise, surprise) is often not only regulated but led by government-related bodies. And then you’ve got the ultimate example of government intervention, which is the ownership of the upstream and downstream oil and petrochemical sectors, numerous financial institutions and other businesses. And then there’s the sovereign wealth funds.

My question to these and other government interventions is how much do these activities stunt growth and disrupt innovation? Here I’m going to refer to United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization and Insead that ranks the top ten most innovative countries. The original piece from Bloomberg is here.

Switzerland, Sweden and Singapore are the most innovative countries in the world, according to a study by the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization and Insead that found a wide gap between rich and poor nations.

Innovation is an important engine of growth and new jobs, the Global Innovation Index 2012, which ranked 141 economies, showed. The index considered institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure and market and business sophistication as well as as the results of innovation such as patents and software in determining how countries fared.

Finland ranked fourth, followed by the U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland and the U.S.

Numerous surveys such as the above and this research one by the United Nations University show that governments help foster innovation most through investing in social capital (read education) and through financial funding – the irony in some parts of the Gulf is that education is in the hands of the private sector rather than the government. Governments then have to step back and then let individuals and businesses get on with it. The same can be said of the non-governmental sector, which, pretty obviously, works best without governmental support s groups and communities work to best pinpoint social issues and tackle them.

The argument often goes that entrepreneurs drive innovation and that governments need to reduce their interventions, reduce bureaucracy and increase financial support for small to medium sized firms to drive growth. However, is that what we are seeing in the Gulf? Or are we still not fulfilling our potential due to too much, rather than too little, government intervention?

Mission Impossible? Rehabilitating the image of the UAE’s expat education system…

The question used to be who’d be a teacher. Today it’s more likely be to who’d be a school owner in the UAE? The country’s private education system has been under attack recently for the cost of educating (mainly) expatriate children. There was a wonderful article written by Arabian Business Editor Courtney Trenwith about the issue of high school fees in the UAE, and an apt comparison was made between secondary education in the UAE and tertiary education back in the United Kingdom.

An Arabian Business investigation last month revealed the startling fact that it costs more to send a child to some Dubai schools than a British university.

Fees for a three-year old are as high as AED55,000 (US$15,000) per year, while they escalate to AED69,283 for a typical child aged six to nine, to AED79,733 for many ten to 13-year olds and as much as AED96,140 for the most expensive secondary schools.

Meanwhile, a year’s tuition at universities such as Cambridge and Oxford is less than AED53,000. Until recently, UK university fees were even cheaper.

One of the largest private education firms is GEMS, which claims to educate over 110,000 children and be the leading Kindergarten to Grade 12 private education operator in the world. In December of 2012 GEMS announced that it would close Westminster School in Dubai, which caters to 4,800 pupils from ages five to 18-years old.

The issue which has been covered extensively by the online portal and business publication Arabian Business has caused an uproar with parents who are naturally concerned about the disruption to their children’s education. In a letter sent to parents which was published by Arabian Business, GEMS said the Westminster School would shut in June 2014 with students being given priority placement in other GEMS institutions.

“In recent times our ability to invest the resources required to produce the improvements needed, both educationally and in infrastructure, have been severely restricted because of the current fee structure… We simply cannot offer a high quality education at this level that we see as our duty to provide. Indeed, salary increases during the same period have been at a level higher than any fee awards,” wrote GEMS executive director Dino Varkey to parents.

And now we come to the issue of communications. There are few subjects as sensitive as education, especially when it is for your own children. As the largest company in the industry and one which seems to be making the most headlines, GEMS should realize it needs to do more in terms of its messaging. The company is currently looking to hire a PR and communications manager in Dubai through LinkedIn (if you’re interested in Mission Impossible do click through here).

The question I’d pose to GEMS is how can anyone justify charging more for a year in high school than for a year in university? As there’s little to no public schooling system here for expatriates (in theory an expatriate child can go to a government school but fees will still apply) what are parents to do apart from swallow the bitter pill? But will that help GEMS and the other companies in the long-run? Isn’t the issue more than simply looking at how to spin the company line on high educational costs and school closures? Isn’t this more about the fundamentals of the business, which need reassessing?

The very same Dino Varkey told Arabian Business editor Anil Bhoyrul in an interview in March 2011 that:

“The ambition that we work towards is five million students by 2024. If we got to the five million number as a conservative [estimate] we would be a $60bn company; we would be employing 450,000 teachers, 55,000 senior leaders – that’s the size of organisation that we are trying to build. ”

In the meantime I spotted this recently in a book store in Dubai. As always, if you don’t keep the customer happy someone else will muscle in and try to offer a better service at the same or a lower cost regardless of your communications strategy.

There's always an alternative but would your child be happier and better off boarding in the UK than going to school in Dubai? And would it be cheaper?

There’s always an alternative but would your child be happier and better off boarding in the UK than going to school in Dubai? And would it be cheaper?