How to destroy a brand through poor communications – the Nakheel example


I’ll admit it. Every now and then I do get pangs of schadenfreude when I see brands being pulled up online by the media and the public. However, seeing a brand destroy itself is a different proposition.

I’ve been watching Nakheel for some time, and I’ve written about the company and its bad media habits before. The Dubai government-owned real-estate developer is responsible for some of the Emirate’s most iconic projects, including the Palm Jumeirah and The World. However, its customer service is, unfortunately, just as infamous as its successes are famous.

Last week, Sarah Townsend of Arabian Business wrote a scathing piece on Nakheel. Entitled ‘Nakheel PR: The toughest job in Dubai?’, she took a sledgehammer to Nakheel’s reputation The article is well worth a read, especially for those of us whom have spent long enough in the region to forget what quality journalism looks like.

If it were just one person taking aim at Nakheel, the issue would be manageable. However, due to our digital world reputation-bashing is a team sport. The article has gathered seventeen comments, all negative and some from disgruntled Nakheel owners. My favorite is the below.

A comment from a not-very-happy Nakheel property resident on the Palm

A comment from a not-very-happy Nakheel property resident on the Palm

On top of this, Nakheel is facing additional issues regarding its stalled Palm Jebel Ali project. However, it’s not the media which is causing trouble for Nakheel, but rather angry investors who have yet to see their properties take shape after years of delay. To quote from The National.

Hundreds of investors on Dubai’s Palm Jebel Ali have called on developer Nakheel to restart the project.

An estimated 400 to 450 people, most of whom made down payments during Dubai’s boom years between 2004 and 2008, find themselves in financial limbo.

All the units under the Palm Jebel Ali project, including its signature and garden villas and water homes, are “under cancellation”, according to Dubai’s Land Department.

In November, 74 homeowners wrote to Mohammed Al Shaibani, the head of the Ruler’s Court and Dubai Investment Authority, to look into the matter.

“The lack of certainty as to when our homes will be built has caused, and is causing, tremendous financial and emotional suffering for us and our families, and many of us continue to endure ongoing mortgage and rental costs while we are waiting,” the letter says. “Many of us have invested our life savings into the Palm Jebel Ali.”

Over a 100 Palm Jebel Ali owners have set up a group on Twitter with the handle @PJAOwners to lobby the government on their issue (bizarrely Nakheel doesn’t have an account on Twitter and there are several Facebook accounts, none of which seem to be legitimate).

For an organization which claims to be one of the largest and most successful property developers in the world, the media issues that Nakheel has gotten itself into are unforgivable (blacklisting the media doesn’t help). Having said that, many of the company’s issues are rather to do with how they operate. Public relations can never be used as a figleaf for unpopular or damaging actions. As Mark Twain said, “The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”

At the end of her article Townsend stated that Nakheel are looking for a PR exec to join their ranks. I could be even bolder and suggest that they look at how they do business and rebuild their reputation first. Anything else would be putting the cart before the horse and will continue to destroy what is left of Nakheel’s brand. I’m betting things will get worse for Nakheel in terms of its brand image and reputation. But I won’t take any pleasure from watching this sorry story of a brand being destroyed from within.

#Sandance and the virality of events going wrong

There’s few occasions which are as viral as events on social media: put together several hundreds or thousands of people, all equipped with mobile devices and the communication (usually via social media) will increase in line with the anticipation. However, that concept is equally true as an event goes from bad to worse and eventually to meltdown.

Last night, on New Year’s Eve, anyone with a care to watch would have seen how one event in Dubai went from band to worse and finally ended up in disaster shortly before midnight. Sandance is a music festival held on the huge Sandance Beach in Atlantis on Dubai’s Palm. Sandance is usually held on dates such as New Year’s Eve and last night was no different with headline acts such as DJs Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold and Axwell.

Unfortunately for the planners of Sandance, Dubai was planning to break a world record last night for the most fireworks used in one event – 400,000 in total over a space of six minutes to be fired from the Palm and the World Islands off the Palm.

The Palm was supposed to be was in lockdown from 8am on New Year’s Eve; anyone wishing to enter had to have a car pass to keep the numbers of people limited to residents and hotel guests. Unlike previous Sandances, this year’s New Year’s Eve party at The Atlantis was shuttle bus only to keep traffic to a minimum. Seventy-five buses were to be used to carry nearly 17,000 partygoers between 5-9pm from Dubai’s American University at Media City to the venue about six kilometers away.

The plan didn’t go accordingly and due to an excess of traffic on the Palm people heading to Sandance on New Year’s Eve were stuck on shuttle buses for more than three hours. Many even spent the stroke of midnight on buses or walking trying to reach the event. And the frustration which included broken down buses, poured onto Twitter… (and also video)

Sandance bosses did use social media to post a few notes on Facebook, including one update which pointed to the reasons behind the chaos: “The NYE traffic on the palm is being controlled by Dubai Police and Nakheel. We are in touch with the authorities to smoothen traffic. We appreciate your patience.”

At the other end of town it was also a long night for Dubai Media Inc. The Emirate’s media organization was supposed to be livestreaming the fireworks from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and possibly also from the Palm. However, it looks as if their servers weren’t able to cope with demand and visitors to DMI’s website. The difference is however that people hadn’t spent hundreds of Dirhams to visit DMI’s website or spent hours on a bus waiting to get to a destination they never reached.

For all those who were stuck on the buses my heart goes out to you. Sundance was poorly planned: the organizers put far too much faith in Nakheel and the police to ensure a good flow of traffic. That didn’t happen it seems. However, as evinced by social media the organizers will ultimately be held to blame. Could they have done more on the night via social media? Maybe, but there’s little you can do when things go wrong on New Year’s Eve to ease the pain of plans which go awry.

Why stonewalling the media is always a bad idea: Nakheel and Arabian Business

Another day, another flood. Nakheel’s attempts to stem the tide of negative PR by not talking to media simply won’t work (image source:

For those that don’t know Nakheel, you’re in for a treat. The Dubai government-owned real estate developer and the name behind the world-famous Palm Jumeirah is a byword for customer relations fiascoes these days. The company has run into a number of public relations calamities over the past two year, including issues such as service fees, numerous floods, and, most recently, a new development with lakes forming from putrid water.

Like any other company, Nakheel has both fans and detractors. However, a recent story on Nakheel by popular Dubai-based news portal Arabian Business raised my interest. The piece, which was about the recent flooding at Nakheel’s Al Furjan development, included a significant paragraph at the end.

* Nakheel no longer responds to media enquiries from Arabian Business, nor does it grant this publication access to any of its media events or announcements.

When a company feels that it has to stonewall, restrict access to and stop all relations with a media outlet there’s something very wrong. Whatever the company expects to gain from this action, I can guarantee all that will result is more negative publicity and an inability to counter negative stories by providing comments from the company itself.

In these cases, my advice to any company facing a barrage of negative media is understand what is at the core is the issue and why there’s so much negativity surrounding the company’s public perception. For Nakheel, maybe their time would be better spent addressing customer service and engineering issues rather than duking it out with the media. In the meantime I’m looking forward to reading more stories about the company on Arabian Business.