Oil price slump fails to dent Middle East PR sector says MEPRA

The Middle East's public relations industry is undergoing a renaissance despite plummeting oil prices, according to new research by the Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA).

However, it says the sector faces long-term structural problems unless it rethinks the way it invests in people.

Following the Dubai-led boom of the 2000s, PR in the Middle East went into dramatic decline during the global financial crisis of 2008/9. More recently falling world oil prices have adversely affected the regional economy.

PRWeek recently produced a rankings and performance analysis of consultancies in the region as part of its Global Agency Business Report (see below for top 20 agencies in the Middle East). Media Consulta International, a Berlin-headquartered firm with 118 staff in the Middle East, tops the table for revenue generated in the region, with Burson-Marsteller and Edelman in second and third respectively, while Dubai's TRACCS was the fourth biggest player in the region.

MEPRA’s Benchmark report, launched last night in Abu Dhabi, surveyed comms directors and senior figures across 34 agencies and 100 in-house departments in 14 Middle East countries. Corporate respondents included BMW, Etihad Airways and Marriott.

It indicated optimism in the sector, with respondents seeing growth or improvement this year in 21 out of 22 areas surveyed.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 per cent) saw investment in PR staying the same or growing in 2016, but this was down from 87 per cent in 2015. The proportion of PR professionals who saw budgets falling nearly trebled from 13 per cent in 2015, to 34 per cent this year.

Despite this caution, one in six senior PR professionals expected budget growth of more than 20 per cent in 2016.

The fastest growing PR disciplines in the region in 2016 are expected to be influencer engagement, employee engagement and integrated comms. But the report also highlights concerns in areas related to people, such as talent acquisition, staff retention, graduate recruitment and attracting local talent.

Ray Eglington, group MD at Four Communications Group, and the MEPRA board member responsible for the report, said it was the largest study undertaken into the Middle East PR industry and one of great optimism.

"This is an industry that really sees itself getting bigger, better and smarter in 2016," said Eglington.

"Our benchmarking shows a clear correlation between improved industry practice, in terms of policies, processes and quality control, and performance, in terms of the results that agencies and in-house teams deliver."

However, Eglington acknowledged that the Benchmark scores on people issues raised serious concerns for the long-term health of the industry.

"No industry can prosper over the long term if it does not offer opportunities to new graduates. Perhaps even more importantly, no industry can prosper over the long term if it does not invest in employees from the markets in which it operates. This is particularly important for a service business in which people should be our greatest asset."

MEPRA’s new Benchmark survey was launched in March 2016, with the aim of developing the region’s largest data source on the work of the public relations industry.

Brian Lott, chairman of MEPRA and executive director of comms for Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Mubadala, said: "A core goal of MEPRA is to support the improvement of standards in public relations across the region. The Benchmark is a tool that allows agencies and in-house departments to see how their practices and performance stack up against the rest of the industry, and identify areas for improvement and investment moving forward."

Top 20 Middle Eastern agencies 2016

Rank

Agency Name

2015 Middle East Revenue

2015 Middle East Staff

Revenue Per Staff 2015

HQ

1

Media Consulta International

$21,115,688

118

$178,947

Berlin

2

Burson-Marsteller

$20,000,000

225

$88,889

New York

3

Edelman

$16,808,000

124

$135,548

Chicago

4

TRACCS

$15,200,000

186

$81,720

Dubai

5

Weber Shandwick

$15,000,000

50

$300,000

New York

6

APCO Worldwide

$13,975,700

126

$110,918

Washington, D.C.

7

Ogilvy Public Relations

$13,000,000

125

$104,000

New York

8

Cohn & Wolfe

$12,000,000

-

-

New York

9

Finsbury

$9,500,000

20

$475,000

London

10

FleishmanHillard

$9,000,000

50

$180,000

St. Louis

11

Ketchum

$8,000,000

35

$228,571

New York

12

Hill+Knowlton Strategies

$7,000,000

70

$100,000

New York

13

MSLGroup

$6,000,000

25

$240,000

Paris

14

Brunswick

$5,400,000

-

-

London

15

Golin

$5,000,000

35

$142,857

Chicago

16

Bell Pottinger

$4,432,360

27

$164,161

London

17

Four Communications Group

$4,357,655

31

$140,570

London

18

Grayling

$4,000,000

30

$133,333

London

19

Citigate Dewe Rogerson

$2,500,000

14

$178,571

London

20

Sermo Communications

$1,821,298

16

$113,831

London

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