PR deserves boardroom seat, says agency boss

Public relations firms in the Middle East must take a seat at the boardroom table of clients, according to the regional CEO of Weber Shandwick.

Rolf Olsen said that PR in continental Europe and the Middle East was "lagging slightly behind" that of more developed Western markets.

"PR here tends to be part of the marketing strategy rather than the corporate strategy," he said.

"While media relations is very important to us, we would like to move up the value chain and be a discussion partner on message development, coaching of executives, corporate social responsibility programmes and helping people to have great crisis management. We want to work with the C-level management in a much more forceful fashion."

Olsen also said that capital in the region meant that it was looking at opportunities in financial PR.

Olsen was in Dubai to meet with senior executives of Promoseven Weber Shandwick, which is his network's affiliate partner in the Middle East.

As vice chairman for overall Weber Shandwick operations in Europe, he is also involved in overseeing international client relationships and growth.

Olsen said PR businesses in the West were growing faster than advertising and other communication disciplines -and that trend will occur here in due course.

He said that Dubai was established as a regional hub but it was now moving up a level to become one of the business capitals of the world, and clients would demand the services of "world class" marketing firms.

"There is a fascinating challenge here to educate people on what PR can do for their business," he said. "We want to help international businesses based here to go into the rest of the world."

When asked to rate the quality of PR in the Middle East, he said: "It is mixed. Some companies are in a less developed state and others are very much cutting edge."

He added: "The standard of the people that I have met is very high. On the client side, I think the standard is quickly catching up.

"The biggest battle we have is to find great people."

He also called for clarity in the image of Dubai that is being portayed to the rest of the world.

"What the world needs right now is a lot of bridging and dialogue. Dubai has a big role to play in that process, in terms of the diversity of the region and the momentum," he said.

"The underlying opportunity is not fully understood in the West. There is an opportunity to enrich the picture that people have. It's not just skyscrapers. There is an opportunity to do things with greater clarity."

Olsen joined Weber Shandwick in 2001 from Motorola EMEA where he was vice president of corporate marketing, communications and PR.

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