Focus On... Egypt

Government ownership of the media in Egypt has made PR activity in the North African country extremely difficult to action in the past. Egypt has been a republic since 1953, ruled by the National Democratic Party leader, president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, since 1981.

The Egyptian constitution now guarantees freedom of the media and this is increasingly being respected. As a result, there has been a recent boom in the growth of broadcast, print and online media in the country.

This has allowed what is currently a relatively immature comms market to start to see an upward growth trend.

 

Lowdown

Due to internal perceptions of and general confusion over what the role of comms is, the industry worth is difficult to ascertain.

The nature of the Egyptian PR industry is one of great complexity. The political climate and a general lack of understanding of how comms works have had a major impact on the development of this new sector in the country.

Rania Azab, MD, 4 PR said: ‘Media was mainly owned by the government with too many restrictions for PR activities. PR in Egypt has always been confused with advertising and sometimes administration.'

She added: ‘There are a lot of challenges facing the industry. Mainly, educating the clients on the value of PR and that it is not a commodity but rather an important strategic function.'

According to Promax PR's regional director and head of strategy Cem Arikoler, a fast changing media landscape and understanding who does what and where, makes the job of a comms professional a difficult one.

He said: ‘Dealing with the Egyptian media for the last 12 years from a regional perspective, I can say that it's not an easy market to deal with. There are over 200 daily newspapers some of which have a lifecycle of only six months.

‘The challenge always remains to know who is whom as sometimes a newspaper with a million readers a day can have a "journalist" who will in fact ask for financial returns on any publicity.'

 

Influence

According to Azab and Arikoler, the most influential publications are those owned and run by the government, suggesting that a great degree of control is still maintained by the governing party.

Lahram, Alkhabar and Elgomhorya are the key print titles, all of which are state run. El Masry Al Youm and El Sherouk are both independent titles currently becoming increasingly popular and challenging those produced by the government.

In terms of broadcast media, Azab explained: ‘Apart from the national TV stations, there are a wave of competing talk shows that have high viewership and great influence on the public opinion; Al Ashira on Dream TV and El Qahir El Youm on Orbit, 90 Minutes on Mehwar.'

In terms of channels, Arikoler cites Al Jazeera and Al Arabia as the most popular channels, both of which do not broadcast from Egypt.

Digital media is currently increasing in power. Ziad Hasbani, MD, Weber Shandwick/Promoseven Public Relations explains that over the past two years, more Egyptians are obtaining their news from online sources, with dedicated online news portals increasingly springing up.

He said: ‘Internet penetration has grown over 2000 per cent since the beginning of the century, while Facebook has over one million users in the country.'

Social media use has grown with the rise of digital media, according to Hasbani.

Azab cites Facebook and LinkedIn as the key social media platforms but adds that Twitter isn't really on the radar in Egypt at present.

 

Bellwether brands

Telecom companies are among the key brands working in the Egyptian market. Mobinil, Vodafone, Etisalat and Telecom Egypt are competing for space in this arena.

HP and P&G are also two of the big hitters in the market.

Arikoler explains: ‘They have systemic media approaches, public outreach activities and government relations. Both brands take their PR seriously.'

However, he adds that many brands cut back on PR spend due to the downturn.

‘Cultural sensitivities' are cited as a key problem for major global brands by Hasbani.

He said: ‘The reputational challenges American/international companies face are the fact that they are successful, well, known brands operating in a Muslim country. There are a lot of cultural sensitivities that need to be taken into consideration and adeptly managed.'

 

Agencies

The market is a tough one for larger global agencies to get a foothold in, according to Arikola. Many global brands are represented by small local affiliates.

Rada Research, Editor, Weber Shandwick/Promoseven, Edelman/Promax and WPP agencies all sit in the agency mix.

Azab said: ‘There is a good number of multinational agencies that came recently into the market. There is no industry ranking, so it is difficult to name the most successful.'

 

Politics

The government has started to understand the importance of the PR industry and as a result has started investing in it.

Arikola said: Over the course of the years we have seen a major development of the public affairs industry. It's now augmentation, discussions, convincing and using PR to pressure decisions. It's not under the table politics anymore.'

There are currently no specialised agencies involved with public affairs or lobbying.

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