‘Middle East PR industry is fast-growing and dynamic’ - Weber Shandwick India CEO

Weber Shandwick's India CEO Valerie Pinto discusses the importance of 'authentic' PR in integrated campaigns, and the challenges and opportunities for Middle East PR.

Valerie Pinto is Weber Shandwick India CEO and a Dubai Lynx jury president for the PR category
Valerie Pinto is Weber Shandwick India CEO and a Dubai Lynx jury president for the PR category

PRWeek Middle East talked to Pinto in her role as PR jury president for the Dubai Lynx festival, which has since been postponed until September due to coronavirus.

Can you discuss the relationship between PR and advertising campaigns – what makes creativity in PR so unique?

PR and advertising brilliantly compliment each other. PR has the ability to make an advertising campaign come alive, through real life, creative, storytelling. With the power of network, collaborations, and research, PR contributes to the insight and later goes on to support the launch of a campaign to ensure sustenance. 

PR, being earned at the core, is consciously attuned to deliver creative ideas that bring believability and credibility to a campaign, that advertising finds hard to achieve – given that it’s largely paid. 

Therefore, for PR to effectively support a campaign, it is extremely critical to think through how best the campaign can be brought alive by connecting it with consumer realities, in a manner that is relatable and reflective of the message of the campaign. This requires PR to think out of the box, deep dive into the insight, and sieve through networks to bring plausible meaning to the campaign. 

How do creative PR campaigns lead the way within the wider industry?

Research on behaviour reveals that consumers crave authenticity. Given the emergence of several social and digital platforms, it’s become hard to sieve through tonnes of content that gets thrown at the consumer. Millennials and most consumers today seek genuineness from brands. 

PR has always been about delivering authentic, real and credible stories shared via print, electronic and digital mediums. 

So now, more than ever, brands are leaning on PR to tell 'no fluff' stories, backed by data and insight, to create believability and stickiness for the customer and the brand. Everyone has a story to tell, but PR has the power to create the story that extends from the insight, and brings it alive through authentic partnerships, while mobilising social and behavioural change. 

What are your expectations for entries in the PR category at Dubai Lynx and what are you hoping to see inside the jury room?

Being on the jury at Dubai Lynx, and reviewing work from around the world is exciting, but it also comes with the responsibility to recognise campaigns that are path-breaking, and those that challenge the profession to think differently as it moves forward. 

I’m looking for entries that go beyond their initial intended objectives and create impact, navigating through challenges and the clutter we see around us. It’s the innovative ideas that really make an impression and stand out amongst all the entries that come our way. It’s those that tell the real story based on data-driven insight and leverage the power of real people to amplify those messages, striking a behavioural change or mobilising impact. 

Digital disruption is set to be a hot topic at the festival. Why is it so important going into 2020 and beyond? 

Today every company is a digital company. No business today can continue to operate through its traditional approach. Most sectors have to reinvent themselves and challenge the status quo. All of this because of the growing power of digitisation. In the future, every business will have to transform.

With the transformation of business comes the transformation of communication. Not being able to leverage the power of data and knowledge that becomes accessible through this digital transformation, will be unacceptable. 

What challenges exist in the PR industry at present, with a specific focus on the Middle East?

The industry is challenged with a paucity of the right talent to reimagine the next phase of what PR will have to offer. There will be a strong need to hire talent with different skillsets, from outside the industry, but the bigger challenge is making this talent work within the traditional set up of PR. The transition takes time, change stirs the pot, and having the resilience to survive this shift will be the biggest challenge for the industry.

What are the opportunities for the current PR industry in the Middle East?

The PR and communication industry in the Middle East is fast-growing and dynamic. There is an increase in awareness among people who are looking at PR to build reputation and manage crisis, as opposed to just media relations.

A large majority of the population is aged 30 years or younger and the penetration of digital and social media is one of the highest in the world. This is ensuring a steady shift from traditional media to digital and social media platforms. 

In 2018, the UAE introduced new laws where influencers have to apply for a license from the National Media Council. This ensures that influencers engage with their audience in the most authentic manner and are fully in sync with the values of the organisation they are representing. This will limit the scope for inaccurate information or representation.

It is evident that the PR industry in the UAE is setting new benchmarks and raising the bar. 

Valerie Pinto is the CEO at Weber Shandwick India and the Dubai Lynx jury president for the PR and Glass: the Award for Change categories.

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