Lessons for the PR Industry from the Dubai Lynx


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.

Going above and beyond: How IBM is supporting Sharjah through training and education (and all for free)

Corporations often about about giving back. The phrase corporate social responsibility is often uttered by executives. But how many companies really get their hands stuck in when it comes to providing knowledge, skills, and experience to local communities.

IBM’s remit has included encouraging ICT adoption among Sharjah’s youth

One company that I admire and respect for how it does things differently is IBM. IBM, or Big Blue as the company is also known, is a vendor to the Government of Sharjah for its e-government project. IBM did what few other vendors do, and sent a team of volunteers over to Sharjah to help develop a communications strategy that would promote Sharjah’s e-government services to the Emirate’s citizens and residents. Here’s a couple of bite-size quotes from IBM’s press memo.

An international team of 14 IBM employees chosen for the company’s Corporate Services Corps program has arrived in the United Arab Emirates to volunteer their expertise in support of e-literacy and social development in the Emirate of Sharjah. As part of the project, the team will work alongside the Sharjah e-Government Directorate, Sharjah University and the Supreme Council for Family Affairs Centers.

The team of 14 IBM experts from the United States, India, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Australia will be on the ground in Sharjah for a month. At the Sharjah e-Government Directorate, a team will help refine a national strategy for promoting e-services of the Sharjah government to residents.

At the Supreme Council of Family Affairs, an IBM team will help the council and its organizations realize an e-literacy program and move closer towards realizing its goals of helping Sharjah women and youth improve their IT skills.

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps are teams of subject matter experts who give their time free of charge for a month to help local economies, improve skills, and provide a foundation for success in a variety of disciplines to small businesses, educational institutions and non-profit organisations.

As a person who is passionate about communications, I find it interesting that IBM focused on working with Sharjah on how to promote e-services. In a sense it acknowledges the truth that having a good technical setup and list of services just isn’t enough. If you don’t know about the services and/or your habits are ingrained then you won’t use a new services. It’ll be interesting to see how IBM and the Sharjah Government will look to tackle the issue of change, to promote services that contrast with how government affairs have been traditionally run in the Gulf (think lots of office trips and paperwork).

In addition, how will the initiative have tackled internal change, to convince government employees who would have never thought about either using e-services or promoting electronic government.

I’d love to know if IBM considered the prospect of using traditional communication methods such as a majlis (usually a night-time gathering of several dozen men, or women, in one room discuss everything from personal issues to business) to talk about and listen to ideas on how to publicize e-services as well as demonstrate the ease with which one could complete a government transaction or service without having to talk to someone face to face or leave one’s house or office.

How will IBM and the Sharjah Government promote e-services to a society that is both traditional and conservative?

In a conservative society with many different cultures, nationalities and languages what tactics can be used to convey a message successfully? The thought of using centuries-old concepts and practices to make a success out of a cutting edge technology project to change how government services are requested and delivered is fascinating. Again, I wonder what IBM came up with on this project.

All in all, this is what CSR should be about. Supporting a government e-services project through communications? Providing advice and training for getting more women and youth into technology? And for free? I hope others follow in IBM’s footsteps. We all could do with more corporate love through such projects.

PS for more news on IBM’s Corporate Service Corps initiative have a look at the website http://www.ibm.com/ibm/responsibility/corporateservicecorps/ or follow the hashtag #ibmcsc!