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?