Strategic communication is by its nature very culture-dependent, yet I keep reading about how hard it is to find local talent especially in the Gulf state countries.
A wise man recently taught me that every story, every book, every play and every movie you watch will always have five chapters so, to analyse the situation, let me tell you the story of my young career in five chapters.
Chapter 1: the change.
The world is constantly changing, but no country among the G20 nations is changing as rapidly as Saudi Arabia right now. In the six months since I joined H+K in Riyadh, I’ve noticed that everyone - government, the private sector and non-government entities - want to tell their stories. They want to communicate with citizens and with international audiences to tell them of the change which is taking place. With this high demand comes great challenge.
Chapter 2: the challenge.
While international networks can offer the expertise and capacity to execute global programmes, too often they lack the local talent needed to provide real insight and understanding of the local market. This is especially true in the Middle East – and Saudi Arabia in particular – where the communications industry is still very much in its infancy, and ‘the PR’ is often regarded as the person who processes visas!
Chapter 3: the solution.
With an industry still establishing itself in Saudi Arabia and a very small pool of experienced, local talent to draw on, nowhere is the process of training and mentoring so acute. It’s not in anyone’s interest to throw junior staff into the deep end and let them learn on their own. Equally, while old classroom style training might be helpful to build core skills they often absorb chunks of time and are a financial drain. I’ve learned most in a very short time through shadowing experienced professionals.
Chapter 4: your hero.
Over the past years as a student, I’ve sat in classrooms in Saudi Arabia, Ireland, the U.S. and the UK and, in all those experiences, I’ve never learned as much as I have over two weeks in May from shadowing "Khawagas" – foreigners in Arabic.
This shadowing was special because it was a bi-cultural learning experience as part of the great team that worked on an international assignment. I shadowed one of H+K’s senior consultants from the United States from whom I learned so much both professionally and personally.
We were a great team, where I provided the local cultural perspective, and he guided with his experience. Little time was wasted actually telling me how to do stuff, but I learned by observing. With the 20 consultants flying in from all around the world, there was a great opportunity to match every senior with a junior local consultant.
Chapter 5: your future.
In fast changing, emerging markets like Saudi Arabia professional development programmes are critical to give nationals the skills – and experience – they need to mould the shape of the industry in the future.
At H+K we have structured training through a 40 hour commitment to training each year for all staff, while initiatives such as the Dave Robinson Scholarship provide opportunities for young staff to transfer on secondment for three months anywhere in the world to share ideas and perspectives, gain new skills and make friends across the network.
In summary, investing in local youth is investing in future. Having a national talent pool is crucial for the sustainability of a business, and this is especially the case in industries like media and public relations where culture is at the core of everything we do.
Meshari Abokhodair is an account executive with Hill+Knowlton Strategies based in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He represents the new generation of young Saudis who are global citizens that understand the dynamics of change within the Kingdom.
Meshari holds a Masters in media and public relations from the University of Leicester and a Bachelors in public communications with a minor in marketing from the American University, Washington DC.