Zeenah dumps Ketchum for Edelman in Oman

Setback for Ketchum as a leading partner agency in the Gulf cuts ties

Ancient heritage and charming landscapes draw tourists to Oman
Ancient heritage and charming landscapes draw tourists to Oman

Ketchum suffered something of a setback in the Middle East last week when a leading PR agency in Oman that it had a partnership with switched sides. Zeenah PR, a Muscat-based local agency signed an agreement with Edelman on 1 May bringing to an end a six year long relationship it had with Ketchum.

Differing views

James MacLeod, general manager of Zeenah PR told PRWeek the two sides decided to part ways through "mutual agreement".

Although Zeenah claims to have been 'affiliated' to Ketchum on its own website the latter denied having any tie up.  "We don't have any affiliates in Oman and there was no contractual agreement between Zeenah PR and Ketchum Raad," insisted a spokesman for Ketchum-Raad. "Since 2012 all Oman work for Ketchum Raad clients has been handled directly by the Ketchum Raad regional team, out of the UAE."

"Zeenah's decision has no bearing whatsoever on our PR business", Ramzi Raad, Chairman & CEO of TBWA-Raad Group told PRWeek. TBWA and Ketchum are part of the Omnicom Group.

The partnership

Zeenah PR will now officially represent the world’s largest public relations firm in the Sultanate of Oman. It will provide local expertise and on-the-ground market support to Edelman in Oman.

"This partnership will enable us to deliver additional value to our clients by adding depth to the range of services and resources provided, as well as supporting Edelman with a local perspective on the media landscape here in Oman," said Mohammad Al Farei, managing director of Zeenah Group.

Zeenah PR is part of the Zeenah Group that offers "full services" across the fields of branding, advertising, media, digital and social media, PR, events and publishing. Since its founding in 2003, Zeenah PR has grown to become a leading agency in the Sultanate employing over 60 fulltime staff. Its roster of clients is a mix of state owned and private entities. This includes a number of international automobile brands, the Oman Electricity Transmission Company, Oman LNG and the state investment promotion agency, Oman Invest.

The risk

Edelman’s partnership with Zeenah PR, however, comes at a difficult time. Oman’s economic growth plunged to 2.8 percent (nominal terms) in 2013, its slowest pace of expansion since 2009.

Oman lacks the vast oil wealth of neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the UAE but it does export crude oil (although not as a member of OPEC). It has been a bastion of stability and under the leadership of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has transformed itself from an impoverished backwater into a modern economy, albeit one highly dependent on expatriates and foreign workers. But the popular monarch is getting old and has no anointed successor. This possibly carries with it some mid term political risk for Edelman clients.

"Our entry into Oman has little to do with the current market situation. It is a function of having identified a partner with a like-minded approach," Robert Holdheim, CEO of Edelman South Asia, Middle East & Africa told PRWeek when questioned about the timing of the partnership. "As part of our expansion plans in the Middle East, we are seeking partnerships with top players in key markets where we do not have a direct presence," he explained.

Muscat ramped up public spending following minor protests demanding jobs and an end to corruption in 2011. Job creation for young Omanis has since become a top state priority. The government created 100,000 new jobs in the civil and defence sectors between 2011 and 2013. Many of these are "make-work" jobs that have raised fiscal stability concerns. The IMF says job creation schemes will put strain on the government budget. But the government’s attempt to diversify the economy and shift attention to the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) has been widely welcomed. Although deeply religious in outlook, Oman subscribes to a liberal view of Islam. Its ancient heritage, scenic landscape and cool weather are a big draw for tourists.

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