George Stothard, PRJS - A true cause for celebration

How the public relations industry in the Gulf Cooperation Council has finally come of age.

George Stothard
George Stothard

It is clear that 2009 has been a great year for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) PR industry. It has been, arguably, a defining period that should be celebrated. The GCC economy generally fared better than almost every other part of the world and PR has been the least affected of all marketing disciplines.

The biggest cause for celebration, however, is that this year saw the PR industry in the GCC grow up. Here is a snapshot of how the jobs market has evolved in each major location.

Dubai

As recently as summer 2008, the PR talent pool in Dubai featured a bewildering mix of overpaid, underqualified, dollar-chasing and often disloyal practitioners interspersed with glimmers of real talent. Great PR practitioners of every creed have always been here, but they were hard to find and even harder to keep hold of. Thanks to a strong dose of economic reality, hundreds of less skilled people have received something of a shock: redundancy, pay cuts and the need to compete hard on talent alone. This is welcome news: recruiters can now work with conscientious practitioners who take their careers seriously, and hiring managers can take their pick. Dubai really has come of age.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the UAE city du jour and every quality PR agency in the world knows it. Fleishman-Hillard opened its doors here in the middle of the biggest recession in living memory. Unemployed Dubai-based PROs now have a stark choice: keep waiting for a Dubai job and watch their savings shrink, or move to Abu Dhabi. Many now endure the daily commute. Salaries are skewed by the anti-free-market hiring of locals, but aside from that, the only real challenge is getting enough talented practitioners on board to cope with demand.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

A GDP of $469bn and more than 28 million inhabitants made focusing on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a no-brainer for the PR industry in 2009, but it is difficult to grow and sustain an agency here. Attracting and retaining talent is the biggest obstacle. Senior Western unmarried PROs are happy to work here for a while, but those with families rarely touch it. Sourcing senior Arab talent is difficult. Many wish to leave, and those who remain often lack the experience needed. It is hard to define a positive direction for our industry here. What is true is that its GDP growth and various infrastructure developments present an enticing challenge.

Qatar

The evolution in Qatar is fascinating: its conservative culture and corporate politics make it a prickly market. While Qatar is clearly booming and in-house opportunities seem plentiful, many major government projects refuse to hire ex-pats, including Jordanians or Egyptians. Sourcing great people has become a problem. Crucially, however, Qatar has enjoyed the spotlight during 2009, thanks particularly to the Qatar Foundation and its myriad projects.

Bahrain

Some PR firms invested heavily in Bahrain this year by making senior hires; others complain of a shortage of business and downward pressure on fees. The general feeling is that it is hard work with diminishing returns. Luckily, many senior PR directors want to move here for lifestyle and cost reasons. The glut of senior talent coming in from the West means Bahrain can take its pick.

Summary

A tighter job market has worked wonders for the region's PR industry. It has introduced a new work ethic in many and burst the salary bubble for most - which is very good news.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

Which media have proved the most accurate/comprehensive in reporting the effects of recession in the Middle East?

The National (newspaper).

What organisation has enhanced its reputation this year by remaining open in its communications?

Mubadala would be the obvious choice. It is totally transparent with its earnings and patently listens to its advisers. It has a strong team and it continues to shine.

Has the development of internal communications progressed or regressed in the past 12 months? Why?

I can see no evidence of either happening this year. 

- George Stothard is head of Middle Eastern operations at recruitment agency PRJS.

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