Postcard from Qatar: A young, growing powerhouse where patience is a virtue

Infrastructure is struggling to keep pace with meteoric economic development but opportunities exist for those with patience and local understanding.

It is impossible to have a conversation in Qatar without mentioning the oil (or gas) price. Whether in the majlis (‘salon’ is closest in English) or at an expat gathering, the price of crude is on everyone’s lips. Oil trading at a 13-year-low has accelerated tough but necessary spending decisions in gas-rich Qatar, felt
by clients and consultants alike. But in a time of relative economic slowdown – Qatar’s GDP is forecast to grow at nearly seven per cent this year according to the World Bank – there remain bright spots in the pervading economic gloom, and clients who value their reputations. 

Qatar’s economic development over the past 20 years has been meteoric. Ambitions to diversify beyond oil and gas to a sustainable knowledge-based economy have catapulted this small Gulf state into the international consciousness. Qatar aims to become an international sports, arts and education hub, and to grab a slice of the global cultural tourism pie.

Qatar’s infrastructure struggles to keep pace with its development – mundane battles with traffic mean Qatar’s several billion-dollar upgrades to its road network, and planned Doha Metro, cannot come soon enough. On a policy level, Qatar is working hard to reform its more arcane labour practices, using the hosting of the 2022 World Cup as a catalyst for change in the Arabian Gulf: dialogue with global NGOs is constant, and progress tangible, if international headlines can be unforgiving.

Clients looking to establish themselves in Qatar should consider the following:

Opportunity is real, but patience is a virtue. Beyond oil and gas, the culture, education, sport and construction sectors display continued growth; Qatar has strong emerging banking brands. Business relationships are rooted in trust and take time to mature. There is a very real sibling rivalry between Qatar and the UAE – it is a mistake to serve Qatari clients from Dubai.

Local understanding is as important as an international viewpoint. That means investing in recruiting and training the next generation of communicators from across the Arab world, in alliance with local and global universities; listening as well as talking, and putting a premium on high grade Arabic content.

Campaigns must be integrated, social and grounded in audience insight. Just bec­ause it works in London, New York, Dubai or Riyadh, it does not mean it will work in Qatar. Like many Arab countries, Qatar has a young, highly educated population – 70 per cent under 30 – with one of the highest penetrations of smartphone usage globally.

Qatar’s government supports the local news-publishing industry, but newspapers are widely circulated and poorly read.

In a microcosm of global media trends – fragmenting audiences, growing choice and mushrooming social usage – compelling content is king. A snapchat from Qatar can be more persuasive than a postcard.

The oil price has led to rationalisation of capital projects in Qatar, and an associated consolidation of the agency world. Opportunity remains for those who can demonstrate commercial value from reputation – they too can be the talk of the majlis.

Neil Daugherty is managing director of Blue Rubicon Qatar

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