The new mainstream media - go digital or go home

Mamoon Sbeih, president of MENA for APCO Worldwide says communications professionals have two choices today: We either go digital... or, we go digital.

Mamoon Sbeih, president of MENA for APCO Worldwide
Mamoon Sbeih, president of MENA for APCO Worldwide

It is self-evident that the phenomenal growth of the digital world has changed our lives forever. Its impact has rippled through industries and fundamentally changed the way businesses are run, the way we work and the way we communicate.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, the PR industry is yet to fully catch on to this seismic shift.

Quite why this is the case is debatable. Some say it is attributable to the demographics of decision-making roles entrenched in traditional thinking. Others suggest it is down to today’s decision makers tending to be more followers than trendsetters.

But one thing is certain, regardless of the reasons for this delayed uptake of the digital space: We must move with the times.

The sooner we accept and understand how the media landscape has undergone a fundamental shift, the better. The reality is that digital media today is not just some alternative channel, it is mainstream media.

Driven by a constantly connected and curious millennial generation, social media in the Middle East has become the lingua franca. In the UAE, 99 per cent of the population are active social media users. In Bahrain that number is 92 per cent, and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 25 million of the 33 million population use social media daily.

As such, this new era of media consumption and interaction will leave an indelible impact on our industry.

Before I joined the PR world in 2003, I had worked for 10 years with the World Bank. Back then, the digital media and mobile phone infrastructure was still in its infancy, even in developed markets. In developed and developing markets today, this infrastructure is fully established, with the capacity and speed of its parts constantly on the upgrade. All of which means faster, more seamless and more interactive engagements with brands, entities and people for end users.

What is now a sprawling matrix of a digital infrastructure has powered digital media to become the unstoppable force it is today.

Social media has impacted political elections and campaigns. It has altered peoples’ mindsets on brands and individuals. And it has shaped reputations of industry leaders and pioneers. Every leader – whether in business or politics – realises that they must embrace the power of social media to raise their profile and establish their positioning. If you are to have an impact on the world today, you cannot afford to be without a social media profile.

APCO Worldwide recently collaborated with Crowd Analyser and Hootsuite to develop the State of Social Media in ME Report 2019 – a document that offers industries marketing insights on how social media affects their sectors.

This report would not have been possible a few years ago. It required a new breed of communications expertise that we did not have. A blend of digital and social expertise, communications, PR and sector knowledge. And, along with our AI (Artificial Intelligence) Comms Lab, this new but essential skill-set showed us that the ground beneath the industry’s feet was irrevocably shifting; talent, communications analysis, and client services are all shifting with it.

Yet, to leave off where I started, the market has not always responded in a timely manner. Media pricing is not yet fully reflective of the digital opportunities and changes that have occurred. While the misconception that digital is cheaper than traditional media is being debunked, the world is beginning to catch on to the possibilities in the digital communications space.

So, communications professionals have two choices today: We either go digital. Or, we go digital.

It is those most able to adapt to change that will survive, after all. It’s time to get our digital survival kits out, don them and embrace this brave new digital world ahead of us before this window of opportunity closes.

Mamoon Sbeih is president of MENA for APCO Worldwide

Visit the Middle East Power Book 2019 here

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