'Middle East is comparable to UK comms market' - Edelman's Middle East CEO

This week I had the pleasure of attending a PRCA roundtable with the UK's executive director for government communications Alex Aiken.

Having started my career as an intern with the UK government 20 years ago at what was then called the Central Office of Information (COI), I was keen to hear firsthand from the man now responsible for more than 4,000 communications professionals in multiple departments and agencies, over 130 live campaigns and one of the biggest comms issues in the world right now in Brexit.

Prior to the session starting it was briefly discussed that there is a tendency to assume the UK comms market is more mature than in the Middle East. The reality is that there are several developments that cut across both geographies.

Truly seeing the value of research and data – it was widely agreed research, data, and analytics is now a necessity in truly optimising strategies and tracking in real-time campaign effectiveness.

As an industry, we are seeing more and more organisations asking for extensive research to inform their plans. What was agreed in the session though is that we have to ensure what is planned and communicated truly reflects the insights drawn from the research in the first place.

The importance of aligning communications – the UK government is globally respected for making sure their communicators all tell an overarching narrative at multiple touchpoints. In fact, it is a model of government departments that Dubai and Saudi Arabia are trying to replicate for their own comms.

Alex made clear though that it is more than just putting processes and grids in place – it is about everyone in an organisation truly seeing the importance of buying into that alignment and how it can positively impact on behaviour and outcomes.

As the PR industry in the Middle East continues to redefine itself by adding new disciplines such as creatives and planners to their ranks, the UK government is having to evolve as well. This is driven by a similar desire to be more dynamic and contribute to fast-paced peer-to-peer conversations taking place across multiple platforms – such as 10-15 second videos – something unheard of when I started at the COI two decades ago.

Nurturing and retaining talent – irrespective of being in-house or agency, being at a comms, research or creative agency, the PRCA members in attendance unanimously acknowledged that continuing to nurture and grow talent should be a clear priority for the industry. In the Middle East, our industry offers graduates the opportunity to join the profession through internships or training courses at universities. Similarly, this is something the UK government is actively doing as it grows its own talent pool and brings on board people who are interested in a creative or digital career in the civil service.

So, while the UK government first put in place a communication apparatus during the First World War more than a hundred years ago (in the form of a Ministry of Information), the challenges and priorities today remain broadly the same for our industry across both markets.

Omar Qirem is the CEO of Edelman Middle East


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