Africa is the world's third-largest continent, covers a fifth of the planet's land mass and holds more than a tenth of its population.
It stretches from the Mediterranean coast of Morocco to the deserts of Namibia and from Liberia in the west to Egypt and the gulf nations.
The early 1990s saw a flood of investment as African countries embraced multiparty elections, liberalised their economies and halted civil wars.
In fact, between 1992 and 1995, inward investment trebled and World Bank figures showed a number of nations with economic growth rates of a respectable six per cent.
The flip side is that, apart from being the world's poorest continent, many African countries still teeter between democracy and dictatorship and, in PR terms, grounds for optimism are not what they were even a few years ago. 'The huge enthusiasm from 1995 to 1998 has given way to a huge dose of reality,' says College Hill director Mark Garraway. South Africa's transformation from grade-A pariah to rainbow nation sparked a surge of interest in the continent from outsiders. Since then, there has been renewed fighting in Angola, social unrest in Zimbabwe and atrocities in Sierra Leone - to name but three crises.
However, Garraway argues that the positive signs remain: 'No one has a crystal ball. But if the politics sort itself out, the economic base is there.'
Africa by region
There can be few markets where the value of the local approach is as high. The continent can be divided into two regions: north and sub-Saharan, which in turn can be split into French and English-speaking nations. Arabic countries, such as Algeria and Tunisia, have tended to ally themselves with Europe and the Middle East. 'That strip tends to look at itself as Mediterranean Arab rather than African,' says Gavin Bennett, the Church Orr Group MD East Africa. Following the international rehabilitation of Libya and the development of COMESA, an African nations trading group, this may change.
The enormous region south of the Sahara had a combined growth rate of just 2.5 per cent. Three nations achieved seven per cent growth (Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Rwanda), but the Economic Commission for Africa suggested that only Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa have the basic structures required to develop further.
As befits the country receiving 37 per cent of the continent's direct foreign investment in 1997, South Africa remains the most developed market in PR terms. Brunswick, Citigate, College Hill, Fleishman-Hillard, Text 100 and GCI are among the firms plying their trade, along with locals TWS, Baird's, Sussens, Sasani Communications and Meropa.
Since the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, PR has become tougher but much more interesting, says Fleishman-Hillard Vallun Wilkins MD Lucien Vallun. 'The government is a lot more active in communications and has outsourced a lot to agencies,' he says. 'There has been debate on a variety of issues such as HIV/Aids and the deregulation of industries. It is a much more dynamic environment, and the need to communicate effectively with stakeholders has placed substantial demands on PR professionals.'
The major business change post-Apartheid has been the number of brands and companies willing to invest in the country. Clearly, targets have shifted from a predominately white audience to an increasingly important black one, says Frikkie Botha, chief executive of Johannesburg-based Arcay.
The development of PR
Ben Upaa Ayede set up The Quadrant Company in Lagos, Nigeria, ten years ago, when agencies were thin on the ground; now the city is a hub for West African PR. 'The demands of business are changing,' Ayede says.
Although Quadrant is teaming up with Arcay on a campaign for the World Health Organisation in West Africa, such regional work is comparatively rare. However, outside interest has led to an elevation of the role of PR.
Ikenna Offor, Swaziland Public Relations Association executive director, recalls that just three years ago, the majority of people in PR positions 'had no conception of what they were doing.' Now, organisations 'are beginning to grasp the idea that they need PR.'
Aggressive moves by South African banks and telecoms in the rest of Africa will also necessitate the continued development of PR networks and alliances.
'We are bringing Northern Hemisphere skill sets onto the ground on a transaction-by-transaction basis,' says Garraway. Bennett, based in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, agrees. 'We need to be able to perform as well as an agency in London.'
The Middle East outlook
The Middle East resides at the opposite end of the wealth scale with a blossoming PR sector. The 'Mediterranean' Arab nations of North Africa often reflect the African experience more than its traditional trading partner.
For example, Serena Hylton, manager of Cairo-based Burson-Marsteller affiliate Asda'a, observes: 'I don't think people are so familiar with PR.' This year client Visa International wanted PR help in Morocco and neighboring countries and could find nothing suitable.
However, Egypt offers a vibrant mix of small, independent generalists handling local work and larger agencies from international networks. Manning, Selvage & Lee and Porter Novelli are the biggest players overall in the Middle East and Africa, with Incepta/Citigate Dewe Rogerson and Ruder-Finn in third and fourth place, respectively.
Business and social differences are visible, even within the region. For example, images of an exposed female arm are acceptable in Egypt but not in Saudi Arabia.
The Middle East - comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - has a burgeoning PR industry concentrated on media relations, with the hi-tech business booming in particular. Jim Donaldson, regional director of Dubai-based Gulf Hill & Knowlton, maintains that the region is the fastest growing IT market in the world. A couple of years ago, office equipment extended to typewriters. Now e-mail, the internet and videoconferencing are de rigeur. Hi-tech firms represent 30-40 per cent of GH&K's client base.
Other disciplines, such as internal communications and reputation management, remain underdeveloped. The two main languages are Arabic and English, which means that communications across the region can be driven centrally and adapted at a local level.
Donaldson predicts that the region's PR industry has the potential to double over the next two years. As the economy continues to grow and broaden away from its traditional reliance on the oil industry, more local agencies are going to spring up and more global players are going to realise they need a presence there.
INTERNATIONAL AGENCIES OPERATING IN AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST
RANK AGENCY NAME AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST INCOME (DOLLARS) %
99 99 98 CHANGE
1 Manning, Selvage and Lee 3,846,000 2,834,000 36
2 Porter Novelli 2,426,000 1,739,000 40
3 Incepta/Citigate Dewe Rogerson 1,561,208 N/A N/A
4 Ruder-Finn 1,230,000 1,049,000 17
5 Peter Martin Associates 1,028,500 840,000 22
6 Havas/Euro RSCG 111,000 N/A N/A
Sources: PRWeek US Top Agency Rankings; PRWeek UK European Rankings
Auditing: Please refer to main chart on pages X-XI for audit