MEPRA Leadership Majlis explore comms response to pandemic and what recovery looks like

Last week's first virtual MEPRA Leadership Majlis brought together more than 500 comms professionals to address topics including the 'industry recovery beyond the curve'.

(clockwise from top left) The Majlis in virtual format; Taryam Al Subaihi; Ilaria Buonpane; Preeti Chhatbar
(clockwise from top left) The Majlis in virtual format; Taryam Al Subaihi; Ilaria Buonpane; Preeti Chhatbar

The Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA) ran its sixth Leadership Majlis last week – a virtual event due to COVID-19. It included a series of daily sessions over one week, with communication leaders tuning in from the Middle East and beyond. Speakers explored how industry sectors responded globally to the current pandemic and how communicators can help brands speed up recovery, stay relevant and remain connected to their audience beyond the curve.

The event welcomed speakers from the UK Government, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, AstraZeneca, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Malaffi, Atlantis Dubai, Seera Group, IKEA, Chalhoub Group, Nakheel Malls, IRENA, EWEC, TAQA, Abu Dhabi Department of Energy (DoE), Mubadala Investment Company, Campaign Middle East, Twitter and more.

Industry leaders from ASDA’A BCW, APCO Worldwide, Brazen MENA, Four Communications Group, Hanover Middle East, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Manara Global also joined the virtual stage. The series culminated with a full day of virtual masterclasses with Twitter, Helpful Digital, Mubadala Investment Company and the UK Government Communications Services team.

Panels discussed a new sector each day, including government, retail, healthcare, travel & tourism and energy. A special session also took place, which addressed the future of the PR consultancy model and how the communications profession has transformed through the pandemic.

Speaking about the virtual format, MEPRA chair Jonty Summers said: “While we always enjoy seeing our members face to face, this year’s virtual edition of the Majlis enabled us to deliver more content than ever before. The sessions offered diverse perspectives on a range of industry sectors, with regional and international communication leaders all coming together with a common purpose of sharing learnings from the COVID-19 crisis and how our professionals can play their part in helping brands speed up recovery.”

Brazen MENA’s managing partner Louise Jacobson joined the Majlis’ opening session to address the future of the PR consultancy and how the pandemic has changed the way they work with clients. She said: “We are having to re-strategise on an ongoing basis and give value for money like never before.”

Discussing the importance of collaborations for the future of the retail sector, Chalhoub Group’s head of CX and strategic marketing, Ilaria Buonpane (above), said: “Developers and retailers need to build strong partnerships and invest in technology tools and data to create the best experiences for our customers. If it wasn’t clear before the pandemic, a comprehensive omnichannel approach is crucial for success in the future.”

AstraZeneca Gulf’s head of communications Preeti Chhatbar (above) emphasised the importance of empathy in communications during her panel session on how healthcare is evolving since COVID-19 began. Chhatbar said: “What I have seen stand out is empathy in how we communicate with our stakeholders. There are a lot of overwhelming challenges and we have to show we care and communicate that authentically.”

MEPRA Strategy board member and head of corporate communications at EWEC, Taryam Al Subaihi (below), joined the energy sector panel and highlighted the need to pass on lessons learned to the next generation of communications professionals:

“This pandemic brought us together as communications professionals and enabled us to learn from each other. It’s our role now to prepare those who come after us with the lessons learned,” Al Subaihi said.

Mubadala Investment Company’s director of corporate communications Umayma Abubaker and director of external corporate relations, Rashed Alharmoodi, both emphasised the importance of listening, whether it be with an internal or external audience.

“As communicators, you are as effective as the information you have,” Abubaker said. "You must listen to your employees and then use that data to advise accordingly."

“We need to continually find creative and innovative ways to communicate to our stakeholders,” AlHarmoodi added. Communications works best when you listen and then react, it’s how you build long-term trust in stakeholders."

The 2020 Virtual MEPRA Leadership Majlis was supported by Mubadala Investment Company, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, CARMA Global, Hanover Middle East, Brazen MENA, Emirates Global Aluminium and Travelport.

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