Join me and pledge to work with and hire comms people on merit

On merit

Merit. I just love that word and what it means. To quote the Oxford Dictionary, the noun merit is understood to mean, “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.” Hence the phrase, to be deemed worthy of something on merit.

I was reminded of the notion this week, by a journalist who was Tweeting about being treated poorly by a brand. Her frustration was in part to her feeling that she was being mistreated by the brand’s agency due to her cultural heritage. I completely understood her frustration and her sense of injustice, hence why I’m writing this post.

In one sense, we’re lucky to work in the Gulf. It’s an up-and-coming region which has attracted some remarkable communications and media talent and experience from around the world. There’s a dynamic feel to working in such a multi-racial industry.

At the same time, I often get the feel of tribalism, of people in companies and institutions wanting to work with one of their own, not for any other reason than culture or nationality. It probably doesn’t surprise many of us that people stereotype (and if you don’t believe me, look at this research from Berkeley-Haas Asst. Prof. Ming Leung who analyzed 3.9 million applications), but there’s also official discrimination – the hiring of certain nationalities to fill quotas – as well as unconscious bias . Finding people on merit, who can do the best job, seems to be a challenge we employers often get wrong.

The question I then have to ask is what does bringing the wrong people do to our industry, or even people who are too junior or who don’t have the right understanding of the role or the audience? In my own view, it devalues the work of us all, pushes us farther away from the board room, and loses us respect from those we work with, be they colleagues internally, media professionals or other stakeholder groups.

We have to look beyond traits such as race, nationality, gender, and ask if the person you’re looking to hire and work with has the right attitude, understanding, skills and experience for the role. We need more diversity and inclusion in our industry which mirrors that of our audiences and communities, and that will happen by understanding our biases and looking beyond them to finding the best talent out there, who deserve and will succeed in a role based on their own merit. That includes working with representative bodies such as the CIPR, IABC, Global Alliance and MEPRA who promote skills-based learning and certification programs.

I’m willing to take a pledge now to work with and hire comms people on merit. I want you to join me in taking this pledge. Either share this article or leave a comment below. Together, we can and will change the comms industry for the better, to be a function that respects and promotes the notion of merit.

What PR training do you want MEPRA to offer in the Middle East? Share your thoughts with us.

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Are you a communications professional based in the Middle East. Do you want to improve your abilities, learn new skills, and develop your career. As part of its commitment to the region’s communications industry, MEPRA Academy is calling out to all communications professionals working in the Middle East to have their say on its new training programme set to begin in September.

By completing a short survey on current skills, expectations and preferences, industry professionals will help design a programme that is responsive to local needs and supports a wide range of practitioners.

As the Middle East’s leading industry body, MEPRA is committed to providing education and training that is aligned with global standards, responsive to industry trends and meets the needs of communications professionals across the region. Through its Academy, MEPRA hopes to provide an avenue for continuous professional development at every stage of a practitioner’s career.

To complete the short survey and have your say, please click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/mepratna

 

 

 

What makes an award-winning communications campaign?

There's nothing better than being recognized for your communications work. Just make sure you're focusing on these three key points.

There’s nothing better than being recognized for your communications work. Just make sure you’re focusing on these three key points.

I’m fortunate to have been asked to judge many communications campaigns, for the likes of the Middle East Public Relations Association Awards, the Holmes Report’s SABRES, the International Association of Business Communicators’ Quills, and the Global Alliance Comm Prix Awards. That’s many hours spent pouring over communications campaigns.

As a judge, what do I look for? What is, to me, an award-winning campaign? There are three basic points:

  • The reason why: Firstly, what is the logic behind the campaign? What is the organization trying to achieve? And is the why supported by research or insights derived from the stakeholders the organization is looking to engage with and influence. This could be as simple as focus groups, one-to-one interviews, or information derived from surveys. Too many campaigns aren’t supported by research, and as such there’s no logic or a clear, evidence-based objective underpinning the campaign.
  • What was done: We now come to the activation piece, both the strategy and the tactics. How innovative was the overall strategy in terms of its budgeting and composition. How effective were the tactics re stakeholder targeting and engagement. Were the tactics used suitable for the audience, and is there a strong enough idea at the heart of the strategy? How well has the strategy blended together different channels?
  • Where are the results: A well-executed strategy will show not only strong outputs but also clear outcomes and, ideally, business impact. An award-winning campaign will clearly demonstrate the impact their work has had on the organization and stakeholders. And here I’m not referring to AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalencies), but rather other measures such as sentiment analysis, awareness, recognition and credibility. If you want more information on what measurement means, have a look at this white paper by Ketchum’s David Rockland.

If you can get each of these elements right, you’ll stand a good chance at winning an award, no matter the competition. So go and do your good work, and be recognized for it. Good luck, bon chance and bil-tawfiq, especially to all those entering into the MEPRA Awards today and over the past couple of days.

‘Bigger, Better and Smarter’ – how the Middle East’s PR industry rates its performance & development in 2015/2016

The Benchmark survey looked at communications practice areas. The results suggest media relations will soon be replaced by social media as the top communications priority.

The Benchmark survey looked at communications practice areas. The results suggest media relations will soon be replaced by social media as the top communications priority.

Yesterday was a busy day for the PR industry in the UAE, with two events on the same day. The first, which was organized by bespoke agency Secret PR and named PR Pressure, was held in Dubai and tackled the everyday issues faced by both PR professionals and their friends in the media sector (more on this later). The second event of the day was held by the Middle East Public Relations Association in Abu Dhabi and focused on innovation.

As part of the build-up to the event, MEPRA launched the Benchmark survey. Through a self-assessment approach, the research seeks to understand where the industry is headed, what is being done well and where improvements need to be made. And with 138 responses, including from 100 in-house departments, 34 agencies and 4 senior independent consultants representing over 1,611 PR professionals across 14 Middle East countries, there’s a lot to ponder.

Firstly, let’s look at the issues thrown up by the Benchmark research. According to respondents, the nature of the public relations is changing. While media relations is still seen as the backbone of the sector, the survey’s respondents expect this to change over the course of 2016 as social media becomes more important to clients and different stakeholder groups alike. There’ll be a similar growth in areas such as influencer engagement, employee engagement, and integrated communications.

There are also major challenges to tackle in the region’s communications sector, including the need to demonstrate results and show a return on investment. And then there’s the money issue; it’s clear that falling oil prices and subsequent slowing in the region’s economy is beginning to bite. In 2016, two out of three respondents see investment in PR staying the same or growing, down from 87.0 per cent in 2015. Similarly, the proportion of people who see budgets falling has more than doubled (13.0 per cent in 2015, up to 34.0 per cent in 2016). There does seem to be a silver lining however when it comes to budgets; one in six respondents expect budget growth of more than 20 per cent in 2016.

A fifth of respondents claimed they were world class. Would you agree?

A fifth of respondents claimed they were world class. Would you agree?

When it comes to performance some in the region’s PR sector clearly don’t lack for confidence – a fifth of in-house departments and agencies regard themselves as ‘world class’ (those scoring themselves an average of more than 7.0/10 for both practice and performance, across 12 elements of communications, were rated as ‘world class’). Despite this, there’s clearly a need to improve in terms of doing things differently; scores on the area of innovation were the lowest recorded by the survey. Responses were low (a rating of 2.31 out of 5) for the statement: ‘The PR industry in the Middle East is more innovative than the industry in other regions’ in 2015. Similarly, the statement: ‘Middle East campaigns are not afraid to ‘disrupt’ – to ignore established convention – to stand out and achieve results’ in 2015 was rated as low with a score of 2.49/5.0. This may change in 2016, as 12.6% more respondents expect the industry to become innovative.

Based on the survey results, another area which the industry has to get right is its hiring and retention practices, especially when it comes to attracting graduates, particularly locals. Talent acquisition scored 5.26 out of ten, and staff retention 5.16 out of 10. Graduate recruitment and attracting local talent were even lower, at 4.58 and 4.32 respectively.

Research is one thing, experiences are another. During the PR Pressure event there were strong emotions expressed on the issues of media relations, ethics and talent (check out the hashtag #PRPressure for all of the posts on the event). It was clear from those media who were present and talking about their own interactions with the PR industry that we still have a long way to go if we’re going to become ‘world class’. Similarly, unless we get talent issues right, including a focus on training, development and certification (which is a major failing as far as I’m concerned), then whatever progress we make will be unsustainable. If the industry keeps on bringing expats in to do a job at every level, it’s going to fail in engaging with local audiences (there’s also the issue of forced localization, which I’ll blog about at a later date).

While the industry may feel that it’s moving in the right direction (and in many areas it is), maybe it’s time for a more honest glimpse into the looking glass, to start addressing key areas of what we do and how we do it. I desperately want to believe that we’re ‘bigger, better and smarter’, but while my heart feels one emotion my head thinks something else. I for one am looking forward to next year’s MEPRA Benchmark. And if you want to play your part and fill in the survey, get in touch with MEPRA.

The Dabo-Edelman deal and what it means for the Gulf’s communications industry

What does the Dabo-Edelman deal mean for the region's PR industry?

What does the Dabo-Edelman deal mean for the region’s PR industry?

It’s rare to see any big changes, any mergers and acquisitions, in the region’s public relations sector. The region, especially Dubai, is the home for hundreds of PR agencies and communications consultants. But every now and then a piece of news shakes up the status-quo. The last big acquisition of a Dubai-based agency was in 2008, when Grayling Huntsworth acquired its regional partner Momentum.

Edelman, the world’s largest independent communications agency with 5,000 plus employees and 2014 revenues of 780 million dollars, announced last month that it would acquire Dabo & Co. Founded by sisters Camilla and Lucy d’Abo, the agency has around 65 staff and its clients have included the likes of BMW, Unilever, Canon, DHL, HSBC, Hilton Worldwide, Qantas, Nokia and Rolls-Royce.

The media coverage has focused on what Dabo brings to Edelman. Here’s what Matthew Harrington, global chief operating officer, Edelman, was quoted as saying.

“Globally Edelman looks to invest in firms that are committed to reshaping the focus of the communications marketing industry, and Dabo & Co demonstrates this vision through its highly creative, client-centric approach. As the industry develops in the Middle East, this partnership will position us to create engaging and innovative communications programs that support our clients’ needs.”

For Dabo, the acquisition is the next step in their development. The agency has done a number of things which have set it apart from other regional agencies:

1) The investment in local talent – Dabo has focused on developing the skills of its staff, including everything from regular opt-in lunch and learns to offsites for the whole agency. Dabo does more than this, and provides young, talented executives with the opportunity to stretch their abilities. They’ve had one MEPRA young communicator of the year, Jamal Al Mawed, and another who was the runner-up last year, Rijosh Joseph.

2) Self-promotion – Despite us being in the business of communications, PR agencies are not well-known for promoting their successes. Dabo has bucked this trend and has focused on showcasing its successes through awards and nominations. The agency has won MEPRA, Dubai Lynx, and Campaign ME awards for its communications work, as well as other recognitions such as Great Place to Work.

3) Full-service provision – Dabo was quick to spot the opportunity presented by working with clients to offer a range of services including both digital and events thus making themselves a one-stop shop for all of their clients’ communications needs.

What I’m still trying to understand is what this will bring to the table for Edelman. This isn’t a case of Edelman entering the market – they’ve been in the UAE for a number of years with some high-profile accounts such as Mubadala. Plus, Dabo is UAE-based and so won’t give Edelman a foothold in new geographies. However, the argument being made in the media is that Dabo will allow Edelman to expand its consumer reach – Dabo’s clients are primarily B2C brands which are household names. But again, Edelman globally works with the likes of Unilever, Starbucks, Samsung, and Johnson & Johnson. Has Edelman under-delivered on its business potential in the Middle East to date?

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out for both agencies. Dabo are the rising star, and they’re an example of how those with experience in the industry and some regional know-how can establish an agency in an already-crowded market that will grow and be successful. As for Edelman, will Dabo give them the momentum they need to become one of the top three agencies in the Middle East? I can’t wait to find out!

The Gulf’s Communications Sector and the Challenge for Authenticity

Is the communications industry in the Gulf authentic enough?

Is the communications industry in the Gulf authentic enough?

I am, sometimes, allowed to get out by my better half. And this month has been replete with communications events. Two in particular come to mind. The first was an anniversary for a well-known communications consultancy firm which was celebrating a milestone for its UAE-based operations. The second was for a social media network which was talking about the largest advertising period in the region, namely Ramadan.

Both events struck me, but probably for the reasons that the organizers hadn’t intended for. At the first event, for the consultancy anniversary, I’d have expected to have seen a couple of nationals. After all, a number of the company’s clients were government bodies and we were in the capital where the ratio of nationals is much higher than in Dubai. But, unfortunately, there was only one national. Instead, the audience was western, English-speaking and middle-aged.

The second event was just as perplexing. Despite Ramadan being a part of Islam (Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting), I didn’t see a single Arab or Muslim talk about the event. At both events I was left asking myself, where are the personal insights, where’s the local understanding which I can either learn from or relate to?

In truth, these occasions are a microcosm of the communications and marketing industry in the Gulf region. We’re facing an issue with sustainability – there are far too few nationals and Arabic-language speakers in the industry, especially in high-level positions. To me this essentially means that, as we don’t accurately represent the audience we are trying to communicate with, that we’re not able to do our jobs properly.

I often get asked if I can suggest or recommend good talent, both by agencies and clients. Instead, let me offer a different suggestion. Let’s go straight to the source. Do you know how many young, talented nationals and children of expats who have grown up in the UAE are studying communications? We’re talking about at least 3,000 communications students between institutions such as Zayed University, Canadian University in Dubai, Abu Dhabi University, the American University of Sharjah, the American University of Dubai and Middlesex University. And then there’s the Saudis, the Bahrainis and others in the Gulf.

There’s enough talent out there, particularly Arabic-speaking youth, who want to get into the industry. However, we need to engage with them. The below are just a couple of ideas to get us all engaged on making the communications industry sustainable:

1) Get on campus! There are so many on-site events at universities and both agencies and companies need to step in, to both understand how much talent is out there as well as to educate students on what career opportunities are out there for them, especially for nationals who prefer a government job.

2) Mentor, mentor, mentor – the second option is to engage with students over a longer period. Mentoring allows students to learn from middle to senior-level professionals in the industry and for both to exchange their views. In a time where social media dominates, mentors can also learn a great deal from Arab youth on digital trends.

3) Bring in the interns – the longest-lasting and the most meaningful of the three engagements, an internship will allow students to get on-the-job experience with, hopefully, a view to joining the organization they’re interning with. An internship is the closest thing a student will get to a real-life job and will enable them to complement their in-class learnings with hands-on experience.

Organizations such as the Middle East Public Relations Association are promoting all of the above, in the hope that the industry becomes more representative of the communities in which we live. If we’re hoping to communicate as well as we can to all of the audiences that make up the Gulf, we have to take a different approach to hiring and promoting talent. Bringing in the expat with no local experience or understanding is no longer the right thing to do. We have to be authentic if we are going to be relevant. Are you up to the challenge?