’PR is undervalued in the Middle East’ - Weber Shandwick CEO

In an interview with PRWeek Middle East, Ziad Hasbani, regional CEO – Weber Shandwick MENAT, talks opportunities and obstacles in the Arab world.

Ziad Hasbani is regional CEO for Weber Shandwick MENAT
Ziad Hasbani is regional CEO for Weber Shandwick MENAT

Tell us about Weber Shandwick; how does your firm differ to the other PR firms that operate in Dubai, the UAE and wider Middle East?

Much of Weber Shandwick’s success is anchored around our commitment to being “in” our clients’ business, not just on it. I believe our ability to adapt to a fragmented, fast-changing and saturated environment is a key factor setting us apart. I am also very proud of our great talent, which we manage geographically and strategically across the region, through a unique dynamic matrix approach.

What have been some of the firm’s most notable achievements - and what can we see on the horizon for Weber over the next 12 months and beyond?

There have been many highlights in the past couple of years, mainly in terms of our network performance, our people, and our offering. Over the past year, we’ve added a new creative director, strategic planners, senior designers, videographers, and expanded our research capabilities. We won major clients in many sectors, including energy, banking and financial services, consumer products and services. Our insurance practice was established and we created a new investor relations tool. At the moment we have more than 150 professionals in the MENAT region.

How do you think the Middle East fares to the rest of the world when it comes to public relations?

The Middle East is so diverse that it cannot be considered one market. PR in the UAE is no different at all from what you see in North America, Europe and Asia. The market is highly sophisticated and very creative, be it on the client side, agencies or media. PR campaigns from the region compete and win many international awards every year. Markets such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt have evolved very fast in a short period of time, and we’re seeing great talent producing fantastic work with exceptional results from those markets. I think the Middle East has all the potential to compete globally. In this market, it is your reputation, your work and the solutions you bring to clients that determine your market share. 

What are some of the challenges you think the Middle East presents that the industry doesn’t experience elsewhere?

The comms industry in the Middle East doesn’t operate in isolation. It is affected by the overall market environment, be it uncertainty, economic or political crises, financial challenges. All these factors leave their mark on comms budgets, talent availability, clients’ requirements and priorities. However, in a few Middle East countries the level of understanding PR and the value it brings to the business is still undervalued, which requires more comms education from agencies. I’d also say that talent in this region seems to me to be a bigger challenge than in other regions – it is not easy to find multilingual communicators on both agencies’ and clients’ sides.

On the same note, what are some of the opportunities/advantages that the Middle East has in comparison to other regions/parts of the world?

The Middle East still has a lot of business and economic potential, and the comms industry is a reflection of that. Most countries have set their visions and embarked on transformational journeys with robust reforms. I think this will continue to be seen at various levels from healthcare, sports and tourism, to the diversification of economic sectors, attracting foreign direct investments and focusing on the welfare of citizens. All of these elements will create tremendous opportunities for our industry. So we need to always be prepared to help our clients tell their stories, while building and protecting their reputation.

If you could see one improvement in the PR industry in the region what would it be?

Despite a lot of progress, I’d say measurement of PR campaigns and their impact on the business is something we can improve on. Technology is a main driver for measurement and I’d like to see more adoption and investment in that area.

What country in the region offers the most PR potential as we enter a new decade?

I don’t think one country in this region will monopolise PR potential and opportunities. The UAE will continue to offer great opportunities beyond Expo 2020, and Saudi Arabia with its ambitious Vision 2030 has just started. Qatar has the World Cup to look forward to. In the next decade, I believe these three countries will offer the most PR opportunities.

What does the future hold for Weber Shandwick MENAT? Any plans for expansion?

We never stop evolving. Our plan is to keep building our capabilities and the skills of our people, adapt to a transforming environment, taking advantage of what technology offers us in order to keep supporting and creatively solving our clients’ communications and business challenges. We are present in most of the region and can support clients from different offices – the key thing is to have the right people, skills and commitment to deliver a world class client experience with measurable results.

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