Public relations is growing and expanding rapidly and is the "profession of the future" in the Arab world - but Middle East PR shops have to battle to gain the attention of "spoiled" journalists and social media influencers, says the founder of a MENA communications firm.
Duha Shabib, CEO of Dubai-based agency Not a Cliché, says a regional trend of trying to "impress" media and influencers to "get noticed", makes it a competitive market for brands and communication houses.
"I think one of the biggest challenges is the spoiled media and influencers who are very hard to impress especially here in the Middle East," said Shabib. "Social media influencers and journalists are being so spoilt and most brands raise the bar very high because they send expensive gifts and also, they have been bombarded by hundreds of pitches a day.
"This will make it near enough impossible for our brand stories to get noticed in the sea of emails flooding to their inbox - as well as the number of gifts they receive."
Despite its own unique set of challenges, Shabib says PR is needed more than ever in the Arab world.
"Public relations is still looked at as a tool for organisation to foster its image through public information, publicity and propaganda, and planning and research are badly missing, mainly in public sector organisations but - in spite of these drawbacks - public relations is the profession of the future in the Arab world.
"It is growing and expanding rapidly in all sectors of life and Arab countries need PR to meet the challenges of democracy, public opinion, civil society and globalisation.
"Public relations is among those industries that have undergone major shifts in the past few years. Thanks to modern gadgets, improved connectivity and social media, working in PR is now as fashionable as ever."
Egyptian-born Shabib said there is more specialisation in terms of what agencies offer their clients today - rather than just a 'one size fits all' solution.
"PR in the Middle East is more into using '360-degree communications' rather than a standalone media relations and traditional PR communications.
"Digital and social media are also taking over traditional consumer PR - especially in Saudi Arabia. All the PR experts are competing to create engaging and sharable content, and fully integrated communications solutions to clients are absolutely essential for maintaining growth."
Despite a talent shortage often being cited as one of the biggest obstacles facing PR houses in the region, Shabib disagrees.
"In truth, talented professionals possess several specific qualities, of which the average pro is deficient. They know how to fight adversity, seize opportunities, pitch stories, maintain a positive image, cultivate strong media connections and build strategy."
When it comes to the regional market, Shabib says Saudi Arabia - for its ability to "attract foreign investors and its cash flow"; Egypt - "expected to have the strongest economic growth in the Arab world in 2019 and 2020"; and Oman, because "it has a lot of new business in need of PR", are the most exciting emerging opportunities for the communications world.
Formerly a financial analyst and investment banker, Shabib began her PR career in Dubai at Hill & Knowlton Strategies, where she headed up the sports, entertainment and corporate divisions. She then joined the Chalhoub Group, managing the PR and social media for some of the groups largest brands, including home-grown concept TRYANO.
Her latest role, before setting up her own company, was communications director for department stores Galeries Lafayette and LE BHV Marais.
Shahab said she established Not A Cliché to "fill the gap in the market" and provide tailor-made and 360-degree marketing campaigns that include digital, social, PR, influencer and celebrity relations, and production.
"Understanding the importance of a 360-degree approach to communications, I wanted to create a hybrid agency providing the perks and tailor-made services that come with an independent and creative foundation, yet achieve international results and exceed expectations," she said.
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