The Media, the Web and Influence – a Journalist’s Response

 I wrote earlier this year about the waning influence of media, and how the media could tackle this through more transparency and better use of digital.

The piece elicited a response from one journalist here in the UAE whom I greatly respect. I wanted to share that response with you below.

On auditing and transparency:

Yes, there’s a lack of transparency and yes, there should be auditing but I’m not sure how much that would help. Most advertisers either don’t care or don’t understand that a publication with smaller numbers but the right target audience could still be valuable. In any case, an insane amount of deals are done because the media planners/agency guys and publishers are friends. So to your point, even if there were to be proper auditing, I’m not sure how much it would help the media industry regain its influence. 

On influencers and audience profiles:
Okay, the media and influencers should be treated separately. By default, media (and journalists) are – or should be – influencers, but in the context of the way the term is used here, they are not. So, why are we talking about an influencer who will give a breakdown of their followers? This is an issue, but a completely separate one.
With regards to media building reader profiles, yes they should but it’s important to define whether it should be sales or editorial. The issue of trust and transparency is relatively not as pressing when dealing with editorial because they have nothing to gain per se by bluffing/inflating numbers and audiences. Moreover, if editorial is interested in covering a story, they will do so (or at least, they should) regardless of PR/comms professionals pitching or not pitching said story. In fact, PR/comms need to think beyond what they want to communicate and instead look at what journalists want to do and try and be a part of that – something I’m sure you’re more than familiar with. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to speak to a company when they want to push something but not when you’d like them to weigh in on something.
On journalists as influencers:
There needs to be a line between journalism and whatever passes as content nowadays. Journalists should NOT be content creators and distributors for brands. It has to be either/or. They can’t have a balanced view if they’re speaking for a brand (understandably so)…it’s the whole reason we strive to keep editorial and sales apart. If anything, we need more journalists – not content creators or influencers – to dig up new stories, angles, and perhaps most importantly, be brave enough to pursue those stories.
Have a view? If you do, then drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And to the journalist who wrote this, I’d like to say thank you.

What challenges will communicators face in 2017?

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It’s no understatement to say that 2016 was a shock to the system. We’ve faced political upheavals, the rise of populists and the proliferation of fake news, and that’s just for starters. The Middle East region has been impacted by continuing conflict as well as financial belt-tightening caused by low oil and gas prices. Needless to say, 2016 hasn’t been the easiest 12 months for many communicators.

So what do we have to expect in 2017? Looking into my crystal ball, I see  a number of issues that will grow in prominence. Here’s my take on them:

  • Political Interference and its Impact on Brand Values

The rise of populist politicians isn’t anything new, but their use of social media to communicate directly with their publics, eschewing traditional media, is something brands will have to deal with. We’ve already seen how Donald Trump is impacting brands in the US (examples include his tweets on Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which have wiped billions off company share values).

Communicators will need to work out how to deal with this new type of political interference. They’ll need to improve their online engagement, using the same social media tools as these politicians (Twitter, I hope you realize how much of a god-send Trump is for your platform), as well as espouse brand values that stakeholders believe in and want to defend.

There’s a danger here that brands will retreat into communicating in the same populist language as the politicians, or simply keep quiet and hope that the storm will pass them by. I hope that brand owners and communicators will instead engage on issues with a purpose and positive values.

  • Expect More Fake News

Whether we like it or not, fake news is here to stay. The year that was 2016 saw fake news become a cottage industry, with ‘content producers’ in places like Macedonia spewing out false stories which went viral through social media and which generated thousands of dollars of ad revenues. Much of this fake news was focused on politics; this is likely to change in 2017, with fewer key political votes. Instead, we’re going to see more fake celebrity news, as well as fake news in languages other than English. This may play into regional conflicts. Brands need to be aware of what is being said about them, especially in Arabic, Farsi and other regional languages.

  • The Continued Rise of Social Influencers

 

Whether you like it or not, 2016 was the year of Social Influencers. This trend is set to continue into 2017, particularly with Snapchat having opened up an office in Dubai, and with brands/organizations realizing that they have to do more to engage with stakeholders online. Expect there to be more questions around online metrics such as reach, engagement and, most important of all, return-on-investment. Also expect that the cost of working with social influencers will rise, particularly in locations such as Dubai, Kuwait and Riyadh.

I hope that brands will start to think differently about the type of social influencers they’d like to work with, and begin nurturing relationships with real fans with smaller followings rather than purchase engagement through influencers who have large followings but who don’t necessarily understand or love the brand. In other words, we need to rethink what social influencers are and what they mean to us.

  • The Urgent Need to Prove Our Worth 

This is a perennial favorite, but we’re going to struggle to underline the value that we bring to our organizations in 2017. Why? Because of an inability to link our outcomes to organizational objectives for many of us, partly due to a lack of awareness/understanding about the need to leverage measurement values. We’re also lacking a universal definition of what we do and globally-accepted certifications that prove we can walk the talk. The Global Alliance is working hard on the first issue, and others such as the CIPR and IABC are pushing ahead on the second. However, we’re still going to struggle with proving our worth to those that we work with and others that we need to work with.

There are a number of others who have shared their own views. Wadds has a longer list which is a fascinating read (you can see it here), and Omnicom’s David Gallagher has written down his own thoughts on the issues we will face in the year ahead.

What are your thoughts. What challenges will we see, and what are you looking forward to in 2017? I’d love to hear from you.

Goodbye but not farewell to Lisa Welsh

Lisa is a model professional, and she'll be missed in the region's public relations industry (image source: Hill + Knowlton Strategies)

Lisa is a model professional, and she’ll be missed in the region’s public relations industry (image source: Hill + Knowlton Strategies)

I don’t often write about people in our industry, but there’s always an exception. It’s with a heavy heart that I wish farewell to a public relations professional who has set the bar for our profession.

I first engaged with Lisa almost a decade back in 2006/2007, when I was working as a journalist and she was part of the technology team at Impact Porter Novelli (alongside Chuma Goodwin, Omnia Samra and Mohammad Zaher). She had a tough remit, which was to handle IPN’s tech clients which included HP and Google. Lisa was able to handle both client demands and the media effortlessly, going above and beyond to explain what her clients were doing to a media pack, many of whom had no IT background.

We both moved on (me back to the dark side and client-based marketing communications, her to a bigger agency role), but I kept looking in on her work. She joined H+K Strategies (to all of us old-timers, Gulf Hill and Knowlton), as a director. She rose up the ranks to the managing director for the UAE. She’s left her own legacy through a team and work that is among the best in the region’s industry. I’ve judged a good deal of H+K’s work recently, and it’s been of an exceptional standard. I can see Lisa’s attention to detail and her belief in measurement and outcomes shining through all that H+K is currently doing in the UAE.

Whenever we talked, I would often try to encourage Lisa to come and volunteer, either at MEPRA or with other public relations or communications bodies. Although I felt that she wanted to, she was as always honest and truthful; she said she didn’t have the time to commit. That’s one of the many reasons I respected Lisa; she cared about her reputation, and the reputation of the industry. I will miss her Northern wit, her integrity and her belief in always creating excellent work that would inspire others. I hope this is a goodbye and not farewell, Lisa!

How will Snapchat’s Dubai opening change the region’s social media landscape?

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The Middle East’s social media scene is going to get much hotter with Snapchat opening up in Dubai (image source: hashtag-me.com)

It’s finally happening. The ephemeral social media network, the reason behind the doggie nose pictures and floral crowns, is coming to the Middle East. Yes, Snapchat is almost here. The story was broken by Communicate Middle East last week, with Cairo-based online publisher Digital Boom adding more details. I’ve included all the information below from both stories.

As reported by multiple industry sources, Snapchat is ready to make its entry into the Middle East market with its first office in Dubai toward the end of this year.

Heading the operation will be Hussein Freijeh, who is best known for his long-standing role with Maktoob – and then Yahoo – for more than a decade, until Yahoo shut down its Middle East operations in late 2015.

While pricing levels have yet to be set for Middle East customers, Snapchat will be offering a number of products, including geofilters and SnapAds. The service, which is especially popular with internet users under the age of 18 across the Gulf region, revealed in June that 150 million people were using the service each day globally, surpassing the daily active users on social media micro-site Twitter. The app had 110 million daily users in December 2015.

Snapchat’s timing of its move into the region is fascinating. The company may IPO as early as March next year, and the Gulf is a fast growing market for the firm’s app (possibly its fastest worldwide). How will brands react? It’s a difficult one to say, as Snapchat has an interesting range of advertising products which are different from anything in the market. In terms of the youth market, Snapchat will be the key platform to use. However, how will this affect spending on other platforms? Will Snapchat pull in dollars from Instagram, its closest rival, or from other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

What is clear is that with Snapchat opening up its platform to advertising in the MENA region, brands here will have to develop a Snapchat presence and start learning about this unique social media channel. To date, there are few Arab brands on the site (Souq.com, Al Hilal Bank and a couple of hotels are some exceptions I know of), and brands will face a steep learning curve if they’re to get the best out of Snapchat and engage with its young audience.

Snapchat and what it offers communicators

I’ll be the first to admit, that Snapchat is still a mystery to me. And, judging by my conversations with others, I’m not the only one. However, Snapchat is the social network for young millennials, with 60% of users in the US aged between 13 and 24 years. The service has over 150 million daily users (these numbers are higher than Twitter’s own daily usage). The service reaches 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar numbers over here in the Gulf.

As communicators, we have to embrace Snapchat (whether we understand it or not). While much has been written on Snapchat, on how to use it, as well as how Snapchat compares to other products such as Instagram, I wanted to share different ideas on how to reach an audience via the hottest social media channel for youth in the Middle East region.

Several of the most effective options that we communicators have to reach out via Snapchat are paid-for. Snapchat’s advertising solutions are very different to what you’ll be used to on other social media platforms. Here’s three of their top solutions.

Your Traditional Video Ads

Let’s start with the basic Snapchat ad. Called Snap Ads, these products begin with an up to 10-second vertical, full screen video ad that appears in the context of other Snaps. Brands can give Snapchatters the choice to swipe up and see more, just like they do elsewhere on Snapchat. Snap Ads give brands the opportunity to embed further content as well; by swiping up on the video, the Snapchatter will be able to access extended content including long form videos, articles, app install ads, or a mobile website. Snapchat claims that the swipe-up rate for Snap Ads is 5x higher than the average click-through rate on comparable platforms.

Sponsored Lenses

And now we get to the fun stuff. Sponsored Lenses offer a different take on brand activation, offering not just an impression, but what Snapchat calls “play time” — the time Snapchatters spend playing with the interactive ad you’ve created for your brand.

It couldn’t be easier for Snapchatters to use the Sponsored Lens product. To activate Lenses, Snapchatters press and hold on their faces. The product is designed to promote engagement; lenses can include prompts like “raise your eyebrows” to trigger an animation. Snapchatters can send Lenses to a friend or post a Lens to their Story. On average, Snapchatters play with a Sponsored Lens for 20 seconds.

Sponsored Lenses can prove extremely popular – take the example of Taco Bell and its Cinco de Mayo Snapchat Lens which was viewed 224 million times.

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The Taco Bell Sponsored Lens was the most popular in the app’s history, and was used by millions of Snapchatters.

Sponsored Geofilters

The third option for creating paid-for engagement on Snapchat is sponsored geofilters. This product does what it says; when Snapchatters in a specific location(s) take a Snap, they’ll be able to see the Geofilter and use it to explain where, when, and why they took the Snap. The campaign can cover a country, a city, or even a location such as a mall, an airport, a monument or a hotel. In the US, a single National Sponsored Geofilter typically reaches 40% to 60% of daily Snapchatters. A good, simple example of a Geofilter is shown below from Yankee Stadium, and was created by 6S Marketing.

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Snapchat Geofilters give Snapchatters the option of branding their Snap with your location-specific messaging. Check this out this filter from Yankee Stadium courtesy of 6S Marketing

The Drawbacks

These options aren’t available as of today in the MENA region. However, my hope is (well, it’s more than a hope) that Snapchat will be opening up soon in Dubai and provide these products to brands locally. The other caveat is cost. Snapchat advertising products don’t come cheap. The Fast Company reported that Snapchat was asking US-based advertisers to cough up hefty sums of cash for a Sponsored Lens: $450,000 per day for Sunday to Thursday, $500,000 for Fridays and Saturdays, and $700,000 for holidays. There are cheaper options, but you’ll have to have a decent budget to play on Snapchat.

However, if budgets allow and once Snapchat expands into the Middle East, be prepared to go Snapchat crazy!

The REAL Entrepreneur of the Week Series – A Sit Down with Shelina Jokhiya

Shelina Jokhiya went from head of legal for a global FMCG to a solopreneur as she set up her business Decluttr Me

Shelina Jokhiya went from head of legal for a global FMCG to a solopreneur as she set up her business Decluttr Me

As they say, if you want something doing, you should do it yourself. I’ve been following a local publication as it recounts stories of entrepreneurship in the region. Whilst setting up a mentorship program, a series of CSR events, or an organization that aims to empower youths (and which doesn’t yet seem to be up and running sadly) are all praiseworthy, for me they’re not examples of entrepreneurship to look up to.

I’ve set up my own business, and there’s nothing harder, or more rewarding. Becoming an entrepreneur essentially means letting go of security for risk, and committing yourself to working harder than you’ve ever done before to achieve your dreams.

In keeping with my aim of sharing stories to help others, I’ve asked a number of entrepreneurs who I know and look up to, to tell their story.

First up is Shelina Jokhiya. Shelina is the founder of UAE-based startup Decluttr Me. DeCluttr Me has recently become the first international accredited member of the Association of Professional Declutters and Organizers U.K. (APDO). Hailing from the UK, Shelina is a Solicitor by education and profession, and was previously Global Compliance and Corporate Governance Manager for Super-Max.

I asked Shelina a number of questions about what it means to be an entrepreneur, why she made the leap and her advice for others thinking of following the same path.

Q: Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?

Shelina: I wanted to start Decluttr Me as I had dreamt about helping other people to declutter and organize for 15 years and finally got the fire to do it after being an in house lawyer for several years. It wasn’t about being an entrepreneur, but more about creating this service.

Q: What do you do and why do you do it?

Shelina: I own DeCluttr Me which is a decluttering and organizing services for homes and office in the UAE and GCC region. I go into homes and offices, declutter the junk, and unwanted items and organize everything that is left into proper systems.

Q: What is different about being an entrepreneur versus being in a job?

Shelina: I am a solopreneur so you have to do everything. I have become MD, Sales, Marketing, HR (fortunately I only have to deal with myself) Finance, IT, Social Media, Legal (the easiest bit) and Business Development as well as off course professional organizer. I am jack of all trades. I do outsource some elements such as creative elements of my business to save me time and energy.

With a job you work mostly the set hours, have a steady income and have to answer to someone at some point. And most importantly you have the steady income (I know I repeated it twice). However, being an entrepreneur I have been able to see the sun more as I get to go out during the day to meetings, events or just to go shopping or see a movie (Star Wars was watched at 9am in IMAX, best thing ever). I have met more people getting out there networking than I would ever have met staying in my corporate office and I have met some amazing clients from different parts of life, cultures and nationalities. It’s been an eye opener and great in that sense.

But then I do work at midnight catching up on admin.

Q: What’s your advice to others?

Shelina: If you think it will be easy to run your own business you are wrong. It is more stressful than being a global head of legal! Save up a lot of money so you have the money whilst you are growing your business. Network a lot! I go to networking events twice a week to talk about my business and to get known. I am now known as the declutter woman and have received business from word of mouth and meeting people at the networking events in this country.

Remember it takes a year and half to get the business running and nearly 3 years to make a profit. Everyone told me this and it was accurate for me. If you get an investor it might be different.

My business is not a sexy app or a cool techie service so I haven’t attracted investors. Which is fine for me, but if you do want investors remember you will lose control of your business, have to answer someone (again) and create the dreaded business plan (I created mind maps for my business rather than business plans).

Also get a mentor. I have a few amazing people in my life who are my mentors and sounding boards for my business. They are supportive but practical with their advice which is what I need.

You will lose a lot of friends starting this business. Remove the negative people and keeping on going. it will work out in the end.

Q: What’s it like being a female entrepreneur in the region?

Shelina: I don’t know to be honest as I don’t think about myself as an “entrepreneur” or a “female entrepreneur”. I run a successful business which takes up my time and my mind and that’s all that matters. If you have faith in your business and have a strong work ethic, then it doesn’t matter what sex you are in this region or any other region. Whoever you are, people will try to disparage your work and others will be massive supporters of your work.

What does Instagram’s UAE communications remit say about how outsiders understand the region?

Instagram has been a huge hit in Saudi, especially among the Kingdom's youth. How will Instagram's comms team reach out to these groups? (image source: http://sustg.com/)

Instagram has been a huge hit in Saudi, especially among the Kingdom’s youth. How will Instagram’s comms team reach out to these groups? (image source: http://sustg.com/)

Client wins can often make interesting reading, especially when the brand is a household name. Last week was no exception, with the Dubai-based House of Comms winning a brief to represent Instagram in the UAE.

The news caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Firstly, House of Comms is enjoying remarkable success; the agency which was founded in 2012 has expanded rapidly, picked up a host of big name clients and won numerous awards for its work. The agency’s growth reminds me of the rapid rise enjoyed by Dabo & Co (which was eventually bought by Edelman). House of Comms does have an affiliate network across the region, including in the Gulf.

What struck me was Instagram’s choice of market to enter into. While the UAE is the regional public relations hub of the wider Middle East region, I would have thought that the company would have taken a more regional approach to public outreach (Editor’s Note: the agreement with House of Comms is for the UAE, but also includes advisory work for other markets). For instance, the first market to embrace paid influencer marketing, particularly on Instagram, was Kuwait. In terms of numbers on the platform, Saudi is the largest country in the region by far, with a greater number of users than the UAE. Egypt is another key market for the picture and video service. If you’re looking for details on Instagram usage, have a look at the stats below from the second quarter of 2015 from an earlier blog.

In terms of the Gulf, it’s no surprise that Saudi leads the way – there are 10.7 million monthly active users in the Kingdom (just over a third of the population). The UAE follows with 2.2 million monthly users. And, to the West, Egypt has 3.2 million monthly active users. What’s even more impressive is daily active users – a whopping 6.1 million for Saudi, 1.2 million for the UAE, and 1.1 million for Egypt.

In addition, there’s the parent brand to think of. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has its own PR agency in the region (which is regional). Up until recently, that agency was supporting Instagram. So, why the change? Would having two agencies for the two brands help or hinder media outreach, especially when Instagram is known as a Facebook product?

While the agreement is only for the UAE, I hope that Instagram, one of the most popular social platforms in the Middle East, expands its regional approach to engagement. The Instagram team should have oodles of data to look at when it comes to usage in each and every different country, and they’d be smart to look at Twitter’s model of engaging with influencers to get them onto the platform. Let’s hope that as a digital business, Instagram takes a data-based approach to engagement in an emerging market and work in key markets, rather than follow the much traveled path of using a hub to work remotely instead of actually doing the hard work and going in-country.