Mediocre work, talent shortages and campaigns that fall short of global standards are the biggest challenges facing the regional industry, says the co-founder of an established Middle Eastern PR firm.
In an exclusive interview with PRWeek Middle East, Louay Al-Samarrai, managing partner and joint founder of agency Active DMC (Digital Marketing Communications), says the region continues to fall short when it comes to global PR standards.
"Mediocrity is the word that comes to mind," said Al-Samarrai. "We see a lot of that here from the talent that’s available in this region. This can also apply to ideas and campaigns that emanate from this region, which rarely get any global recognition.
"I mean campaigns that are truly created in the region, create impact and engagement and deliver on the marketing and sales objectives set, measured by globally recognised industry standards. This isn’t purely an agency challenge; this requires clients who can also think ‘big’."
Al-Samarrai says another challenge is that the region is still a very "sales-focused".
"This reflects in the budgets, approaches and tactical focus of the companies and organisations, with little regard for the long-term building or sustained approach to any campaign.
"The lack of real measurement here doesn’t help agencies or clients. AMEC (Automated PR coverage reports), for example, isn’t able to establish a real foothold here and apply some real measurement tools that are industry-accepted and recognised. We continue to have a credibility issue."
While the PRCA gives local firms great support, Al-Samarrai says the real focus should be on how practitioners learn to manage people and teams, as well as clients and the solutions they demand – including social media and media relations.
"I don’t see this being made available in a practical and regionally relevant way here. It’s mostly 'plug and play programmes' from other regions and markets. Lastly, I feel that on the client-side, until budgets are truly reflective of the objectives they want to achieve, we will see it continue in this region."
Al-Samarrai believes the region is behind in many ways, but said, like any region, industry sector or profession, "ours has the potential to be seen alongside the US and Europe in terms of things like professional standards, ethics and properly recognised programmes at secondary and higher education level that equip the future PR practitioners for their chosen careers".
The Middle East is a "dynamic" region, says Al-Samarrai, adding: "I truly believe that if you can enjoy, succeed and stay focused, you can really benefit from being in this region. If you then move on elsewhere, I see it as a positive start or move, rather than a sideways or even backwards move as it is seen by many in PR in the West."
On the dawn of a new decade, Al-Samarrai said the single biggest factor that could transform the PR sector over the coming years is "people and talent".
"Saudi is the obvious answer when it comes to expansion, but I still think that for the PR profession it’s still a challenging place to be, and the kind of business that’s there is very short term, reactive and press release driven - not to mention it’s a highly commercial media environment that’s quite limited at the moment," he added. "I hope this will continue to evolve, as the Saudi market is ever-changing."
Active DMC has more than 17 years of experience in the region, with a particular focus on the areas of technology, banking and finance. It was recently chosen to be the Middle East representatives of Code Red – a global cybersecurity network of hand-picked boutique cybersecurity firms – and recently won the account for Blizzard, a global gaming company.
Click here to subscribe to the FREE Middle East comms bulletin to receive dedicated news, features and comment from the region straight to your inbox. Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.
To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the Middle East bulletin, email Jennifer.Bell@haymarket.com